inFamous 2: I Walk The (electrified) Line

inFamous2boxartinFamous 2 is the best superhero game ever made.  It’s the best anti-hero game ever made.  And its one of the best open world games ever made.  I played the first inFamous close to launch and loved it to bits but years later just couldn’t get the enthusiasm up to take the plunge and play through the sequel.  And so it sat there gathering dust on my shelf.

The problem was I was never in the mood for what inFamous 2 advertised.  I didn’t feel like being an electric badass gliding and sliding my way around an open world shooting bolts of pure lightning from my hands at gangs of radicals and mutants, and I certainly didn’t feel like climbing buildings to find a seemingly endless number of collectibles.  It all just felt a bit ‘by the numbers’ after a generation of playing like-minded open world games that put you in the shoes of the one guy that can come up against innumerable odds and reign victorious.  And so main protagonist, social outcast and anti-hero Cole McGrath’s story of redemption and revenge went unfinished.

Until last weekend that is when I found myself grabbing the game and putting it in the PS3 randomly.  And I’m glad I did.  Putting the game on it all came flooding back.  So while for so long I delayed playing inFamous 2 because I didn’t feel like being an electric superhero pseudo jedi type, I was forgetting that the draw isn’t what the game does, but how it does it.  As proven by Sly Raccoon before, Developer Sucker Punch aren’t so much masters of concept than they are at execution and inFamous 2 is executed so well you won’t be able to put it down before you end the arc of the conduit Cole McGrath’s story.

Last(?) console generation saw the phrase ‘feel of the game’ creep into the vernacular of video game enthusiasts trying to describe that indescribable but very tangible feeling of having the controller in your hand.  inFamous 2 is for me the perfect example of how to use that phrase because everything just feels silky smooth.  Given how many options for approaching both combat and traversal at any one time it is a minor miracle that it never feels overwhelming.  When you watch someone else playing the game the barrier to enjoying the game seems insumrmountably high, as you watch them glide, slide, jump and climb, traversing the destroyed beauty that form the game’s urban areas.  Combine with that the fact that the game often requires combat to be managed simultaneously and you’re likely left wondering how many hands and/or fingers you’ll need to get through inFamous unscathed.  Once you’re in the game though all of that falls away and you’re left with a game that just feels right from the very beginning.  Even when things get more complicated by the additional traversal options given to you as you level Cole up, the developers doles out the new powers at such a pace that you’ll always be given the chance to learn your powers before new ones are handed to you.

And its not just the traversal that feels just right; combat too is equally as well designed and paced, giving you enough variety to keep you thinking about new and better ways to approach different combat combinations, while keeping it all balanced enough to make sure you never find a ‘killer combo’ approach to any given situation.  The result of all of this is a game that hits both combat and traversal for six – something many if not most sandbox games only dream of.

But what impressed me most about inFamous 2 was the twists and turns the story took, highlighted by the overused in recent times morality system the developers employed to give the player greater agency and choice throughout the course of the game’s narrative.  Like almost every other game that features some sort of binary morality system making decisions in either the good (blue) or bad (red) is tied directly to what character upgrades you’ll have access to – completing “red” missions will give you access to entirely different powers to if you played the goodie two-shoes “blue” path”.  It’s all a bit contrived, really, and a system that I’m not sure has meant terribly much outside of Bioware’s fare.  But inFamous 2, while definitely walking a path well-trodden, mixes things up while managing to not stray too far from the status quo by the writing and narrative that forms around it all.  The tale will take twists and turns as it progresses culminating in a few final decisions that won’t sit easy regardless of which path you’ve chosen.    It blurs that line between what is right for a few versus what is right for the many in such a way that is so well done that your loyalties will likely be tested.  As in the real world, good isn’t always good and bad isn’t always bad, something that I think Sucker Punch nails with its writing.  While the decisions don’t impact the way the narrative progress until the very end, it is the way they inactively affect your own relationship with the characters as the player that is where inFamous 2’s writing really stands out. It pulls at the player’s loyalties with characters that aren’t always what they appear to be by putting you in a position to really understand the plight of all of the parties you are forced to choose for.  Its clever writing more than clever mechanically absolutely; but it is pulled off so well that you’ll forget that the morality system is nothing but a different way to navigate a skill tree.

The thematically dark comic-book presentation highlights perfectly the tone and pitch Suckerpunch is going for with the series; and the anti-hero it creates is amongst the best in the medium.   Cole McGrath is a mildy interesting character but it is his interaction and contrast against the surrounding cast and their backstories that makes him so much more compelling than he appears on the surface.  On the surface inFamous 2 is about Government conspiracy, but look a bit deeper and you’ll see it is really a commentary on the social dynamics of an outcast.  Of course when all is said and done, inFamous 2 like its predecessor, is a well polished open world game that makes you feel like the all-powerful character it has you taking control of, and in some ways that’s all that matters.  But in other ways its nice to have a big dumb action game take a slightly more intelligent approach to how it frames that action within the context of its world and its characters.  Either way inFamous 2 certainly doesn’t disappoint.

infamous 2 screen