Infamous 2 Review

Posted by in Video Games

If you watch the Giant Bomb Quick Look of Infamous 2 or listen to their 6/14/2011 Bombcast, you’ll hear them talk about Infamous in comparison with other modern triple-A third-person action games. To make a two-hour story short, Uncharted and Assassin’s Creed both had moderate or tepid initial offerings in their franchises (though I still think fondly of them both), but their sophomoric attempts were universally praised not just as relative improvements but also as game of the year contenders/winners.

So then what about Infamous? Well, it’s generally accepted that Infamous was a great game on its own. From the traversal to the story, it was just a moderately polished, very fun, fairly engaging game despite some niggling problems—chief among them the lackluster impact of moral choices and unfortunate difficulty spikes. How, then, can Infamous 2 hope to make the same critical leap in quality as Uncharted 2 and Assassin’s Creed II?

Honestly, it can’t. I’d rather not use this now cliché video game review phrase, but it sums up Infamous 2 so perfectly: “evolutionary, but not revolutionary.” Almost everything across the board is improved over the first Infamous, but nothing is exceedingly impressive or so drastically different that you just go “wow, I’m so glad I was able to experience that.”

At its core, Infamous is still about traversing a massive open world environment, and despite how ridiculously fun it was in the first one (as it was easily the best part), Infamous 2 has managed to surpass all expectations. First and foremost, there are now electric rails on the sides of buildings leading up towards the roof so all you have to do is jump on and you’ll soon be on sky-high.

This is in addition to some choice powers that have been included in the game. A purely good karmic reward, Cole can get an ice launch that, when coupled with the improved static thrusters (which actually lift and speed you up when activated), make it so you might as well be flying. The ice launch is such an incredible game changer that the mere notion of playing the evil side of the story and giving up that power made me weep. This is in stark contrast with the first Infamous where you had to wait about a third of the way through the game to get just the thrusters, whereas now you have the new kickass thrusters, crucial ice launch, and a lightning tether, but I didn’t really get much use of that since you had to aim and line stuff up with its limited range while the ice launch simply required you to hit R2 and proceed to lay pipe.

And even though the ice launch power is more than enough reason to go good the first time around in Infamous 2, Sucker Punch actually addressed one of my main complaints with the first game in that good karmic powers were categorically worse than the evil karmic powers. This time around, your good/ice powers are just as powerful (if not as much fun since you still have to worry about collateral damage, i.e. killing citizens).

However, the morale choices in Infamous 2 are still not all that great. It basically boils down to whether or not you kill citizens while you kill bad guys and pressing L2 or R2 at certain points in the game. It seems so contrived that when the game stopped and prompted me to press a button, a little part of me actually died inside and made me feel like taking the disc out and throwing it out the window. This lack of nuance is amplified by the fact that the good and evil embodiments in Kuo and Nix are so in-your-face it hurts. At the very least, the endings are different enough to where I felt like my choices mattered (more so than the first game where it felt like I was just watching the same cutscene over again with some different voice-over).

Speaking of which, the voice acting is…good? I mean, in general, I thought the actual voice actors were great and totally convinced me that these people knew what they were doing with that microphone. However, the new Cole McGrath is a total abomination in my mind. I eventually got over the new face the same way I eventually got over the fact that they replaced Katie Holmes in The Dark Knight, but the voice was such a botched move. I understand the goal was to get a new actor who could convincingly do both good and evil in voice and action, but the new Cole sounds—no offense to Eric Ladin—like a shady drug dealer, albeit a very well voice-acted one. I will say, however, that I actually liked Zeke this time around. He was a total 180, much like Rico in Killzone 3 (well, bad example, but still).

Zeke’s eventual pivotal reveal in the plot, however, was not so great (or that surprising, to be honest). In fact, the greatest issue I had with the story was that it never really had me gripped like the first Infamous did. In that game, I was always wondering in the back of my mind who is Kessler, why did I have that bomb, where are these powers coming from, etc., but in Infamous 2, the closest I got to wondering anything was where did the Beast come from. However, after 30 or so missions and no real hint of an answer, I stopped caring even though the actual answer ended up being kind of cool. Even the last karmic choice was kind of a letdown as moments before the mission (entitled “The Final Choice”), I said to myself “oh man, I hope they don’t…” and then they did. That’s just how superhero stories go, though, I guess; the origin story is always easier than the follow-up.

There are not just 30 missions, though, if that’s what you’re worried about. No, there are about 10 more story missions, 60 side quests, and an infinite supply of Red Dead Redemption-style random quickies. Then, when you account for the dead drops and blast shards, this is actually quite a sizable game. I don’t recall the actual amount of time I spent on the game, but I’d say on medium difficulty and collecting everything, I got about 16 or 17 hours out of it. Going through again on hard and on the opposite karmic spectrum will probably double it.

You could, theoretically, squeeze an infinite amount of value out of Infamous 2 with its UGC stuff. Users can create/play/share levels with a set of tools similar to those that Sucker Punch used to make their own story missions. The tools themselves are fairly easy to use and extremely robust—though not to the extent of LittleBigPlanet—but I just don’t see the draw. After 34 hours of playing through the game twice (or even once at 17 hours), do you really want more Infamous 2? If your answer is in the affirmative, then by all means, go for it, but despite how much I appreciate the addition and its refinement, it’s just not for me.

It’s odd, then, that some aspects of the game almost completely lack any sort of polish whatsoever. Sound design, for example: where is it? Whenever you purchase a new power, everything shakes and vibrates and the screens whites out a bit, but no sound? Not even controller vibration? And then when you stand in the middle of the city, there is absolutely no ambient sound. On a New Orleans-esque party square with a railcar and dozens of pedestrians meandering, it’s not right that I can hear Cole’s footsteps. Coming from L.A. Noire, it’s incredibly disappointing to come to an open world that feels as lifeless as New Marais (though it looks absolutely gorgeous).

That’s all the new stuff, but what about those “niggling problems” I brought up before? Well, they’re still there, just less of them. While the jump-on-the-vehicle-and-shoot-stuff missions are no longer a pain in the ass, there are still notable difficulty spikes in the game, especially when dealing with defense missions. They were never so difficult I wanted to quit, but they did make me feel cheated. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that it is an open world game and there will always be a certain amount of jank involved, but those deaths never felt justified. They were always at the hands of non-mission enemies coming in and amping up the numbers or one of those enemies that just bull rush you and shoot you off a roof into a pile of other baddies who continue to ravage your body with bullets as you struggle to finish your stun animation.

And remember that trailer that showed Cole fending off huge enemies and having amazing, cinematic battles with them? Well, true enough, those enemies are in there, but the battles are far from amazing or cinematic. To avoid being cheated and killed by being pinned against a wall or trampled or crushed by falling debris, these battles tend to take place from afar with potshots from your rocket or grenade abilities. Even when fought in an unrelenting manner, these battles still get to the point of tedium and bored me after the second or third encounter. By the time you fight your sixth ice titan, your eyes will just glaze over and roll into the back of your head as you sigh and mash away at the triangle button.

Truthfully, there’s nothing all that wrong with Infamous 2; it is, in fact, a very good game. The hits it takes in the story are more than made up for by the improved gameplay which, at the time I was playing the first Infamous, seemed nigh, uh, unimprovable. However, I really had no intentions to play this game in spite of my love for Sucker Punch and the first Infamous until a price drop, but when a free copy found its way into my hands, who was I to say no? In the end, I was glad I played it, but an Uncharted 2 or Assassin’s Creed II it is not.

Final Grade: B