The first game I got for the PS3 was inFAMOUS. As part of the Sony 2009 first-party-boom, inFAMOUS was about as strong as any ice-breaker. A well paced action game with a large urban playground, heinously good controls and a roster of force-lighting attacks at your fingertips, it was certainly something that was selling me on my new console. Yet despite all its strengths, it seems to have gone on to be a title recognized only by, in the nicest way possible, the people who bothered playing it. Perhaps it came out too close to Activision’s Prototype, maybe a superhero-who-isn’t wasn’t a marketable enough concept for people to latch on to, but whatever the reason may be, folks just don’t seem to talk about it on the same level they do Uncharted, or even Sucker Punch’s own Sly Cooper. inFAMOUS 2 hopes to drive it all home, carrying the pulse of the first and wrap up both the narrative and the possibilities rooted in the first. Is there chain-lightning in the follow-up, or is there not enough power to keep this engine running?
The first inFAMOUS ended with Cole MacGrath receiving a dire omen of an entity known as “The Beast”, one so powerful and so dangerous that all his grave quests and choices were nothing more than preparation for their clash. Unfortunately for MacGrath, his first encounter begins prematurely, as the Beast surfaces in Empire City. MacGrath attempts to take him head on, but instead the fight leads to the destruction of Empire and Cole hightailing it to New Marais, a recently hurricane ravaged Southern town with obvious inspirations. In New Marais is Dr. Wolfe, a scientist and ex-First Sons, who’s promised Cole a device that will help stop the Beast in its tracks. But even this pitch for salvation finds offensives from the likes of Bertrand, a mad doomsayer who’s conquered New Marais with his hick militia. Cole’s woes escalate as New Marais is plagued by strange mutants, ice powered South African mercenaries and, of course, the Beast itself as it lurks along the East Coast.
inFAMOUS vets will get a booster based on their actions in the last game, slight wedges of “karma” leaning one way or the other. Moving around the city still has the same steady flow, where the game gives Cole a lot of leeway in scaling to ensure no urban architecture stops your adventure, and there have only been a few alterations to Cole’s overall powers in the name of keeping things interesting – being able to recharge while surfing power lines did make you several shades of invincible, even if I personally used it as a crutch. But the first act, overall, feels like an effort to re-accustom ex-players and let new players soak in how the first functioned. It’s at the second half of the map (which isn’t synonymous with the second half of the game) that what’s been added to truly warrant a sequel begins to reveal itself. New brands of powers emerge, which are dependent on some of your moral choices (and trust me, ice all the way.) Speaking of, the narrative basis of your morality becomes a little more fuzzy, which is exactly what these good/evil based quests so often miss.
Cole’s morals are basically torn between two key players, Agent Kuo and Nix. The former starts as Cole’s mentor and eventually his student, the latter a sociopathic swamp squatter whose powers, created in a way similar to Cole’s, tend to be on the destructive side. Kuo typically reacts to Nix’s suggestions by calling her the mother-of-all terrible ideas, which for the most part is true, but a revelation about the Beast and the plague that’s been wiping out most innocent civilians dramatically redefines everyone’s stance on their own abilities and Cole’s destiny. After that, not every choice will appear to have clean cut solutions, some decisions will be downright messy. Well, as far as key, decision-making parts anyways. Zapping pedestrians and hurling buskers into the ocean are pretty dick moves.
Something even more key to pushing this game up a notch, which is hard to talk about without making personal sincerity appear out of whack, is the way Sucker Punch embraces level design as a straight up playground by amping up the *ahem* inspired destruction. The first inFAMOUS started with you clamouring up Romanesque walls and ended with Gothic Revival. In New Marais, you’ll traverse the wake of what must have been a super-Katrina, suggesting that somewhere early on Sucker Punch decided not to pussy-foot around it. If this was going to be a video game based on that American tragedy, then they’d be swooping in full speed. The “Flood Town” area of New Marias is a dizzying maze of dislodged train cars, hackneyed outposts, floating remains of suburbs, rollercoasters of powerlines and oodles of water, which given that Cole starts to faint when stepping in so much of a puddle, makes for some interesting terrain. So many sandbox games get by too often on just giving you the space to float through, Sucker Punch is one of the few parties that wanted to make that space engaging to play in.
For both Sony and Sucker Punch, inFAMOUS, again, seems to be its omega underdog. It’s far superior to the first, in both the clarity and thoughtfulness of its narrative and its embrace of the game play. Missions are far more diverse, and there’s been chips at the overall structure to make the every turn feel more important. Battles can become chaotic at the spark of a stray bolt, and because the controls remain as tight as they were in the first, that’s more ecstasy than grievance. And yet here we are, months after the games release point, and it still seems to hover under the radar of vox populi. So if I can throw my voice in, get it. Be it your first, last or otherwise game that you wonder through on your PlayStation 3. You’ll be “shocked” to see what you’ve been missing.
Man, I’m good.