It might seem strange to complain that a game that sold over one million copies and has a Metacritic score of 85% never had the sales or the acclaim that it deserved, but when that game is inFamous, it’s a valid point. Why? Well, if you’d played it for any length of time, you’d know that Sucker Punch’s open-world superhero epic is one of the unsung heroes of the current console generation; a richer, deeper and more enjoyable game than rivals like Prototype or Crackdown, and packed with brilliant ideas. Original ideas? Maybe not, but not every game can steal ideas from GTA, Prince of Persia, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Gears of War and make them all work together. inFamous could, and inFamous 2 does it even better.
If you didn't play it, inFamous took place in the fictionalised New York of Empire City, and featured a rebellious young courier, Cole, who finds himself hired to transport a mysterious device which promptly explodes, resulting in the catastrophic near-destruction of his hometown. Instead of dying, however, Cole becomes imbued with a range of electrical super powers, enabling him to blast foes with lightning bolts, survive huge drops, knock enemies flying with shockwaves and grind along electric cables. Combine these with Cole’s existing climbing and parkour skills - now supercharged - and you have a hero capable of battling the various gangs and mutants now at loose on the streets. But Cole doesn’t have to be a hero. His new abilities can lead him to the dark side, preying on the weak and slaying anything and anyone that gets in the way of greater power. Take heed of your conscience, however, and Cole become the champion of the oppressed, bringing justice against evil, healing the sick and rescuing those in direst need. Famous or infamous - it’s your choice.
Now inFamous 2 continues in exactly the same vein. The action takes Cole to a new location - a fictionalised New Orleans called New Marais - with our hero on a mission to build up the powers he needs to confront a demonic being - the Beast - that is on his trail, ravaging the East coast as it goes. Cole’s efforts are complicated, however, by the activities of a brutal, gun-toting militia that has taken power in New Marais, and by growing numbers of monstrous mutants attacking the swamplands and graveyards that surround the city. There’s a solid core of story-based missions to pull you through the plot, some with good or evil options that will hasten your movement towards guardianship or notoriety, These are backed up by a range of achievements, collectible and side-quests, all of which work to boost your powers and unlock whole new ones.
The pleasures of inFamous 2 are very much those of inFamous 1: the thrilling display of super-powers in combat, and the joy of travelling through and over the city using a combination of sprinting, gliding, clambering and grinding. The fighting itself is much improved, with improved melee combat based around “the amp” - an electrified club - and a strong selection of lightning bolt, kinesis and shockwave moves that gets more powerful and more exciting as you unlock new powers. It’s hard to think of another open-world game that covers close combat, high-speed skirmishing and Gears-style, cover-based shooting with such skill, and as you reach the halfway stage, blasting scores of militia one minute, hurling impressively destructive mini typhoons the next, it’s a fabulous super-powered spectacle. Thanks goodness, too, that inFamous 2 doesn’t do the traditional sequel thing of removing all your powers from the original game and forcing you to start from scratch. Instead, you start with a great working base level, and just build and build from there.
The sequel also benefits from a more varied, more consistent and simply more playful world. With its decay, its old-world architecture, its heady atmosphere, its swamplands, shacks and flooded streets, New Marais is a brilliant setting for an open world game and one that feels, in its own comic-book way, alive. With more cables and tram-lines and some new, vertical conduits that send you flying up the sides of buildings, it’s also an even greater joy to get around. The whole thing has that classic Southern gothic feel, and after years where open world games have felt constrained to either Los Angeles, Miami or New York, it’s great to see a different urban world unfurl before your eyes.
Yet what really makes inFamous 2 such an improvement on the original is the approach it takes to structure and story. In a way, it’s much like the approach Ubisoft took with Assassin’s Creed 2 and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood after Assassin’s Creed 1, making the core more narrative-led and more linear, but reducing the game’s reliance on boring, repetitive tasks. It’s an approach that works wonders for inFamous 2 as well, with more interesting missions and bigger set-pieces, but still enough weird incidental side-quests, collectables and ad-hoc opportunities for do-gooding and evil-doing to keep you busy when you stray from the main path. There’s a well-judged balance between freedom and cinematic story-telling, and while the characters and plotlines aren’t the most original or dynamic you’ve ever come across, it’s enough to get and keep you hooked. Sure, there’s potential for the action to get repetitive - and at times it does - but in general the constant drip-feed of new enemies, new areas and new powers helps keep any boredom at bay.
All this is only helped by a reworked graphics engine which allows for better lighting and much richer levels of detail, but also some fantastic interactive or destructible scenery. This isn’t the kind of game where buildings can be ripped apart wholesale, but you’ll have plenty of fun hurling cars around, trashing towers and wooden terraces with energy grenades or vortexes and causing mayhem with exploding barrels. Plus, when the view zooms in for some cinematics, the character modelling and animation is more refined. From Cole to his chubby, 50s throwback sidekick, Zeke, some new super-powered allies and a genuinely creepy arch-villain, the cast look and feel more believable. If inFamous 2 isn’t quite as stunning a PS3 showcase as Uncharted 2, it’s still leagues ahead of mode open-world games out there.
Some might be sniffy about the lack of any multiplayer option, though we’d always rather have a great single-player game with no multiplayer than a mediocre one with a half-decent co-op mode. However, inFamous 2 does have something unique to make up for it: a mission editor which can be used to create new content for other players to enjoy in the game. There’s a steep learning curve, but it’s possible to create some quite sophisticated results. Provided you opt-in to user-generated content, amateur missions can be enjoyed just like those built into the game, and there’s hope that a supply of user-generated missions will spice up a second playthrough. As this is a good-sized game with the opportunity to try things from both a good and evil perspective, there’s certainly plenty of reason to come back for more.
inFamous was the best of the open-world superhero games, and inFamous 2 does more than enough to continue the good work. Good-looking, entertaining and massively rewarding, it gives you a great selection of powers and a superbly-realised world in which to use them, with more interesting missions and bigger set-pieces on top. Sony and Sucker Punch should be proud - this deserves to be one of the biggest action games of the summer, if not the whole year.