"Small problems hold Infamous 2 back from greatness, but there's still a lot of electrifying fun to be had in Cole's latest adventure."
The Beast draws ever closer. The prophesied monster from the end of Infamous marches toward its inevitable confrontation with Cole McGrath. Toppling your colossal foe is the impetus for your latest adventure, but there is something far more sinister stalking you: an unshakable feeling of deja vu. The superpowered third-person action that was once novel and exciting has turned predictable. New problems arise as well. An overactive camera is a mild irritant, but the biggest issues stem from aimless pacing and suffocating enemy encounters. Infamous 2 is a disappointing sequel, but a solid foundation ensures there are still plenty of thrilling moments. There's no denying the inherent fun in sliding along an electrical wire while shooting bolts of lightning from your fingertips. And a few notable improvements, such as revamped visuals and a robust mission editor, add to the experience. Infamous 2 struggles to reach the lofty heights of its superb predecessor, but wanton destruction and carefree exploration provide good reasons to see how Cole's journey plays out.
He's actual size but he seems much bigger than me.
A little bit of power is never enough. Cole can absorb an unholy amount of punishment, scale buildings with a simian grace, and wield lightning like he's Zeus' son, but such parlor tricks aren't enough to vanquish the all-powerful Beast. So he travels to New Marais to find out just how much stronger he can get. Although the premise is decent enough, the story lacks a hook to invest you in Cole's affairs. New characters such as Nix and Kuo are one-dimensional caricatures who represent the two sides of the morality coin, and the slight growth exhibited by this bland duo does little to make you care about their well-being. Zeke resumes his role as the comedic best friend, though his banal dialogue fails to make a lasting impression. The cast of supporting characters is certainly lacking, but it's the star who drags this ho-hum tale down. Cole is the kind of guy who chuckles at the term "penal code," and his gruff voice acting is just grating.
Karmic decisions should invest you in the story, but the implementation of the morality system is woefully inept. During certain story sequences, you have the choice to complete the mission in either a good manner or a bad one. Unlike in Infamous, in which evil and pure were sometimes indistinguishable, your options here are entirely binary. Without a moral gray area, there is no reason to give these decisions serious thought, which makes the adventure seem slight. This issue is compounded by how the game grades your actions. You may set out on a mission to rescue a group of hostages from a gang of armed assailants. Ideally, you would kill the henchmen to free the captured citizens, but it's not important to exhibit such loving care. Instead, you can kill the whole lot of them with a devastating tornado attack and still ring up the good karma points. The system is flawed at a fundamental level and turns what should be interesting decisions into laughable situations. The bright spot is that there are unique missions depending on which branch you choose, which makes it worth replaying this lengthy adventure.
In another life, Cole is a super dancer.
Thankfully, showing off your heroic powers is a lot more entertaining than the bland story. The controls from the original game are virtually unchanged. Exploration is still a strong part of this adventure, and movement is forgiving enough to ensure that even those afflicted by acrophobia have fun. Stickiness is the defining feature of your jumping abilities. Cole gets sucked toward nearby objects, which makes it a cinch to jump onto thin electrical wires or leap across treacherous rooftops. The breezy nature of your movement makes bounding across the city a pleasure, though just like in the original game, problems do crop up when you need to be precise. Cole has a mind of his own, so if you want to shimmy up a specific drainpipe, he may grab hold of a balcony, guardrail, or ladder instead. When you're out for a joy run in the sprawling city, these tiny issues aren't too noticeable. But things take a turn for the worse when you're caught in life-or-death struggles. Cole latches on to ledges even when you're desperately trying to flee from a treacherous shoot-out, and those moments can lead to more than a few frustrating deaths.
It's a shame the movement controls haven't been refined at all from the previous game. Luckily, combat suffers from no such problems. Shooting enemies with your lightning blasts feels as great as ever, which makes it a snap to pull off a headshot or land a sticky grenade right on some poor sucker's back. Infamous 2 is at its best in large-scale fights across the expansive rooftops of New Marais. Mixing up your attacks between long-range sniper strikes, devastating rocket blasts, and rapid-fire electrical bursts gives diversity to your actions, and you can seamlessly unleash your destructive powers while gliding along a wire or hanging precariously off a drainpipe. Melee has also been vastly improved from the original game. You now wield a two pronged bludgeoning device called Amp that lets you beat down your foes in a few powerful smashes. This is an effective way to clear out a crowd, though the camera is too interested in delivering a cinematic view during these attacks. It moves with a disorienting style that makes it difficult to know what's going on around you and where your still-living threats stand.
It looks like you're playing a video game from 1943.
Your attackers take many forms in Infamous 2. Gun-wielding lowlifes, mutated warriors, and repulsive-looking monsters give combat a dose of variety the original game lacked. Each enemy has a different weakness to exploit, and figuring out which of your attacks is most effective gives a layer of strategic depth to the lightning-spewing action. Bosses rear their heads every few hours, and these foul monstrosities are as ugly as they are large. They fill the screen with their vile presence, forcing you to make smart use of your evasive abilities as you await an opening to unleash a few deadly attacks. When these terrible beasts first appear, they bring with them a feeling of awe that makes you shake in your boots. But these oversized monsters reappear as you get deeper into the game, and once the surprise of their hideous design fades away, you're left fighting predictable enemies with inflated life bars.
Tedious fights are a sour trend in Infamous 2. The combat is at its best in wide-open spaces, but all too often, the flexibility afforded by these locales is taken away from you. You may find yourself in a warehouse or surrounded by walls of ice, and with your movement abilities severely limited, fights turn into arduous wars that drag on for an interminably long time. Creatures that used to be bosses are tossed in alongside normal, low-level grunts, which turns ordinary missions into frustrating battles. To make matters worse, the health-regeneration system is as poorly balanced as the other combat elements. The screen turns to black and white when you take enough damage, and this makes it extremely difficult to properly see the environment. It's incredibly aggravating when you're near death and you can't tell if that's a deadly body of water you're running toward (Cole can't swim), or if you're able to climb the pipe in front of you. Furthermore, the black-and-white filter takes a long time to fade away, and often gets triggered again if you sustain only a couple of hits. This means you spend half of each fight desperately trying to see what's going on, which leads to more than a few untimely deaths.
Cole begins the adventure with a healthy number of abilities. You can glide along electrical wires, hover in the air, shoot lightning bolts, and toss grenades. As you progress through the adventure, you get new moves, including electrical blasts that mimic a rocket launcher or sniper rifle, and fancy-looking melee takedowns. The unlock system encourages you to be creative in fights. You have to meet certain requirements to gain access to some of your moves, which means you can't just rely on the same handful of attacks all the time. Although most of these moves either appeared in the original game or are quite similar, there are a few new offerings that make your repertoire more exciting. An area-of-effect attack lets you dispose of foes in style. Sweeping up a troop of lowly peons in a swirling tornado is one of the most satisfying ways to deal with enemies, and it doesn't get old no matter how often you do it. Movement hasn't been forgotten when it comes to new skills either. Toward the end of your adventure, you gain access to something that changes how you navigate the city. Using it is as exciting as anything else you can do, so it's surprising that you have to wait so long to acquire it. Considering that one of the most glaring problems with Infamous 2 is that it plays too much like the original, a lot of that familiarity could have been swept aside if this fantastic tool were handed to you early on.
Come for the Cajun cuisine, stay for the terrible monsters.
New Marais is roughly the same size as the first game's Empire City and is loaded with missions, side quests, and hidden collectibles. The mission variety is similar to what was offered in Infamous. Most sequences revolve around fights to the death, with a few twists thrown in to mix things up. Sadly, diversity isn't always welcome. For instance, during one mission, you man a spotlight as if you're in a turret sequence, but Infamous 2 doesn't have the creepy atmosphere to turn this battle against creatures of the dark into a heart-pounding endeavor. Most of the missions are fun, though, and the side quests do a good job of giving you different tasks to perform. Some of these test your agility, others your strength, and it's well worth completing these so you can upgrade your powers. When you don't feel like following the strict directions of the various missions, you can explore the city at your own pace. There are blast shards scattered in many out-of-the-way places, and hunting them down is a good way to show off the exhilarating freedom of movement without worrying about being precise.
However, the open-world structure in Infamous 2 ultimately leads to uneven pacing. In the original game, you followed a rhythm of killing enemies, jumping through sewers, and earning new powers, and there was a continual feeling of forward momentum. When you gave electricity to a blacked-out area, it meant something, since traveling through dark sections was a surefire way to die. Every action had a specific purpose, so instead of just doing missions because you had to, you felt as if you were making a tangible difference with every quest you completed. But that smooth pacing is absent in the sequel. The sewer segments have been scrapped in favor of sequences in which you must defend stationary objects, and though it's fun to fend off waves of attackers, these sections blend in with the other combat-heavy missions. The ramifications of this change spread throughout the entire game. It never feels as if you're making an imprint in this city. And earning new powers doesn't carry with it the same thrill because most of your abilities are so similar to those from the first game. Because of these issues, the pacing in Infamous 2 feels aimless, rarely pushing you to see what comes next.
Although Infamous 2 takes a step back in a few important areas, the visuals have been vastly improved. This is a great-looking game. Each neighborhood in New Marais has a unique feel, and seeing what secrets the city has to offer makes exploration rewarding. From the red-light district of downtown to the foggy wastelands of Flood City, there is personality in these different areas that makes it feel as if they are inhabited by real people. Flood City in particular is hard to ignore. It has more than a little in common with the 9th Ward of New Orleans. Help messages are spray-painted on top of shanties nearly drowned in the rising swamp water, and citizens are desperate for a helping hand. It's strange seeing a real-life tragedy portrayed in a video game, but it adds to the feeling that this city is lived in. The music is another strong point in this adventure. The game forgoes the bombastic tunes that normally accompany heroic exploits, and in their place is an ambient orchestral score. The most affecting song plays when you're near death. Dissonant chords highlight your distress, and the wailing melody does an excellent job of setting your mood.
Hurl cars at fine art!
Your first story play through will like take at least 20 hours, and you can extend your playtime significantly if you dive into the expansive mission-editing tools. There are so many options in this editor that it can be daunting at first, but if you stick with it, you can create a plethora of different quests that are on par with just about anything you find in the main game. The intricacies of mission design are at your fingertips. You can quickly set objects down and come up with a few goals, but things get a lot more complex for the eager designer. AI routines let you alter the behavior of every creature onscreen, and coming up with ridiculous scenarios is a large part of the fun. You can share your missions when you're finished, and it's easy for players to jump right in and rate what you've done. User-created missions appear on the map while you're playing through story mode. These are clearly marked in green, so you can avoid them if you just want to play through the story, or make a beeline toward them if you're curious what the community is up to. Whether you're an aspiring creator or you just want to play others' work, this is a great addition to the franchise.
If only the rest of Infamous 2 were as imaginative as the creation tools. In many ways, this follows the predictable formula for a sequel. Better visual design and more variety build on the original's foundation, and the core mechanics are still fun to mess around with. But bigger is not always better. Pacing issues sap away much of your motivation to see what happens next, and poorly balanced combat encounters turn explosive action sequences into frustrating drags. Although there are still plenty of enjoyable moments that conjure blissful memories of the original game, a number of small flaws make for an uneven experience. Infamous 2 proves just how difficult it is to capture lightning in a bottle.