Establishing a new brand is always risky business, but if your product weathers the storm and comes out the other side, then you gain the opportunity to forge ahead without the constraints of your original concept. This became Infamous developer Sucker Punch's mantra when it began work on the follow-up to its 2009 open-world game. To do this, it recognised it needed to grow both the characters and the world that they inhabit with physically larger monsters, better visual effects, and, for the first time, user-generated content.
The studio admitted during its presentation that it hopes it is building the next "game of the year." Unfortunately though, since there's no specific checklist to follow to raise a good game to the level of greatness, they're building the game they want to play. In doing so, the team is taking everything people loved about the original and then jamming its finger into the power socket and cranking up the juice.
Our demo was split into three parts: a boss encounter with the Behemoth, a game of hide the shards with Zeke, and a small taste of some of the content you'll be able to create with the user-generated content tools. With a couple of obvious exceptions during key story moments, Infamous was largely a game played at the grunt level. As an origin story, it followed Cole as he came to grips with his new and, at times, frightening powers. This included lashing out at something bigger and meaner than himself, but for the most part players took on groups of similarly armoured and skilled soldiers. Infamous 2 marks a turning point and sees Cole ditch the long sleeves of his courier jacket to show off tattooed arms. With this newfound confidence comes the chance to tackle new and even larger enemies.
The demo began with Cole arriving at the scene of a downed helicopter in the middle of the city. Searching inside, he muttered aloud that he was searching for an old man, though it remains unclear whether he's referring to new antagonist Bertrand--the leader of a local anti-deviant militia group--or Alden from the original game. Regardless, there seemed to be a venomous edge to Cole's speech, suggesting that perhaps this was less a rescue mission and more an operation to get even.
The end of the cutscene threw us straight into the world, and we stood facing a wide street lined by stout buildings draped in red party lighting. As we followed the star marker on our minimap towards suspicious-looking smoke plumes, a thunderous roar echoed through the cement gauntlet. A few more steps forward, the head of a giant bipedal reared its head and came into view. Even packing superpowers, it didn't seem like a good idea to kick it in the shin, and we turned to run for our life. The ambling beast was foolish enough to give us a glimpse at its numerous weak spots, revealing two pinkish glowing points on its chest before shuttering its ribcage to protect the goods. As we backed up it bellowed again, spitting phlegmy globs and giving us a chance to shoot it in the tongue. The dance continued through the streets--it lumbered ever closer while we did our best to return fire as we avoided the exploding cars around us.
Enemy militia put aside their differences for a moment, joining forces under a common enemy and rushing to fire at the creature by our side. The support was short-lived though, as the group was swatted away like flies at a barbeque by mutated humanoids (not unlike Dead Space necromorphs) that also joined the fray.
While melee attacks were functional in Infamous, they've become a more crucial element in the sequel, with Cole using a cattle prod to clobber anything and everything that comes within swinging range. Basic attacks can be combined with fancier execution moves, which are performed by tapping the triangle button when you've built up enough in your meter. These finishers are bone-crunching thumps, some in slow motion and most ending with the release of an electrical discharge that stuns nearby foes. Putting the stragglers to sleep with our justice stick, we turned our attention back to the monster destroying the city, shooting at exposed parts of its body as it muscled through buildings that impeded its path.
Where previously changes in colour from blue to red were your best indication of whether your attacks were doing damage, boss fights will now include health bars. A final volley of electricity from our fingertips smote the beast, but faded to white before we could bask in the glory of our kill.
While the first part of our demo put us in control of good karmic powers, providing fast, accurate bolts, the second arena was all about bad Cole. Dropping in, we jumped on the radio with old pal Zeke, who sent us searching for blast shards in a warehouse. Our only vague hint on their location was that they were being stored inside a box stamped with the militia's insignia. Anything wooden became fair game as we unleashed our dark side, and once we had found the specific crate and cracked a safe by zapping it, we then had the task of finding more just like them in other warehouses in the area. Of course, rather than let us simply waltz in and take their goodies, bad guys showed up to stop us. We were merciless as we tore them limb from limb, lobbing clustered energy grenades at anything moving and in the process removing the protective sheet metal covering the walls that had protected us from incoming gunfire.
Our mission ended with us dealing a final, killing blow to a large elemental ice creature who was brought around to our way of thinking by destroying its limbs one at a time. Stepping over the body to a waiting safe, we opened it to find not only blast shards, but also Bertrand's briefcase. What could be inside? The secret to Cole's past? An amazing tofu dessert recipe? We're going to have to wait and see.
The third and final section of our demo was a look at user-generated content and how it will be integrated into the game. Taking a page out of fellow PlayStation-exclusive title Little Big Planet 2, Infamous 2 will include a robust creation tool for building and sharing original missions. UGC levels will appear automatically in the game for players and act like normal side quests, marked on the minimap with a green icon. Accepting one plopped us on a rooftop, asking us to collect a giant coin and showing its influences, populating the sky above with orderly rows of the same enemies that had chased us when we fought the Behemoth. Our job was to shoot them down as they scrolled back and forth, dropping a line every so often. Floating bonus asteroids could be destroyed to slow their speed temporarily, making it much easier when used alongside Cole's rapid-fire energy shots. Successfully completing the mission rewarded us with a score (and can grant experience points) but didn't appear to offer much by way of comparing our score against other players. Nevertheless, it was an interesting diversion from the usual building climbing and wrestling with hobos.
Regardless of the type of content we took on in our session, one thing was abundantly clear: Cole has come to terms with his special skills on both ends of the moral compass. Running felt faster, hovering was much more effective when leaping from one rooftop to another, and weapons were exact and deadly. Through Cole, Infamous 2 unabashedly revels in its newfound power, and we're eager to play more and continue the story. Keep an eye out for more as the title approaches its June 7 North American release date on the PlayStation 3.