A criminally underrated sequel that manages to improve on the original in a few key ways.
Thankfully, the core game structure hasn't changed. You still play as Cole McGrath, fresh off of your victory in Infamous 1, awaiting the terrible foe prophesied at the end of the game. After a short linear beginning that re-acquaints you with the controls, you get dropped into a large city with tons of freedom. Thanks to the obligatory plot device that takes away all of your powers, you begin the game with little more than your basic default low level attacks. You gradually accumulate more powers by gaining experience, which you get by completing missions and finding goodies stashed around the city. You get extra experience by eliminating bad guys in theatrical ways (i.e. performing "stunts"). With games being progressively more dumbed down as role playing elements are stripped out of them, it's a relief that this game kept those elements, and even expanded them a little bit.
This game's biggest improvement over the original is something that you will notice right away – the graphics. Unlike the first game, this game looks fantastic. I have never seen a sequel come out on the same generation as its predecessor and improve the graphics this much. When it comes to visuals, Infamous 2 is better than Infamous both technically and artistically. Technically, everything looks much more on par with the rest of the Playstation 3's library. Objects and faces, especially, are a lot clearer. There are other little details that have improved, like smoke trails behind rockets. You can still tell that there are some tradeoffs being made to facilitate the game's huge open areas though. The biggest improvement in this department is in the look of the city and its surroundings. New Marais, the setting for Infamous 2, is interesting and colorful. Gone is the ever-present gray that dominated Infamous. In its place is something that looks like a real city, full of neon lights and a variety of environments. There are even bayous on the outskirts of the city. Grass is actually green for a change. Water is blue. When I look at the scenery in Infamous 2, I don't feel like I'm looking through a monochrome filter. It is for this reason that Infamous 2 doesn't just sport better graphics than its predecessor, but most other games on the market as well.
The city in this game feels more like an actual city than the city in the first game. Whereas Empire City was a bunch of generic structures endlessly copied and pasted, New Marais feels like a somewhat faithful attempt to imitate New Orleans and its surrounding area. There is a red light-ish district with theaters showing a bunch of smut films (these films all have names that are amusing plays on popular
game names like "Uncharted Love" and "Hay Low Reach".) There is a store called "Red Ring Electronics" with a sign in the window saying "System repairs in only 12 weeks!" This funny little poke at the Xbox 360 is one of many examples of the level of detail in the city. Certain sections of the city have architecture that is clearly inspired by the French Quarter – especially all of the balconies above restaurants and shops. There are old style street cars and cemeteries with above ground tombs and all kinds of swampy areas on the outskirts. There is also a heavy industrial section modeled after the numerous chemical plants and refineries around New Orleans. This city character is something that is lacking in lots of open ended action games. It isn't quite Grand Theft Auto quality, but it isn't far off.
The city look and layout aren't the only areas where Infamous 2 shines. Combat was the best part about Infamous, and it is spectacular once again. Nothing beats a huge battle in the streets with a group of bad guys in this series. You can zap guys to death. You can jump off of a rooftop and land in the middle of a pack of enemies with a huge explosion. You can blow guys backwards with a big force push. If you blow them off of a rooftop, they fly for a couple whole city blocks. You can smash guys trying to take cover behind cars. To restore your energy, you drain electricity from the grid with a really cool arcing effect. Stuff explodes. Bodies fly. Great sound effects give it all an extra punch. It just about never gets old.
The big boss battle that you have to fight halfway through the game is unforgettable. A massive, building-sized monster rampages through the street, destroying everything in sight and summoning minions. Meanwhile, you defend yourself and throw everything you've got at it. There are no boundaries on the battle, so it goes street-to-street until someone dies. When I fought this one, it ended up on the opposite side of the city from where it started. Infamous 2 has lots of those "yeah, that was awesome!" moments. The boss battles, especially, are fantastic. Infamous 2 goes against the modern trend of making bosses heavy in puzzles and quick time events, and just has you fighting towering beasts in huge open areas, sort of like Serious Sam.
The combat is more destructive and visceral in Infamous 2, thanks to an expansion of the physics engine that adds all kinds of destructible and throwable objects. You can destroy balconies and verandas in this game. This ability, as you might imagine, sets up all kinds of fun scenarios where you can kill enemies by collapsing whatever they are standing on or standing under. In addition, you can now pick up objects like cars, TVs, trash cans, and other loose items and launch them at high speed. They impact with devastating force, destroying objects that they hit and blowing any of the game's low level default enemies across the screen.
In addition to an improved physics engine, Infamous 2 also has a more interesting role playing system. You get mostly the same basic functions as the first game, but in this game, you unlock your upgrades by performing stunts (in the first game, stunts got you extra XP and a trophy, but nothing else). In order to unlock an upgrade, you may have to stick grenades on five guys or blow ten guys off of rooftops. It is a clever way to better integrate the stunts into the game. The game also adds a little more robust melee system, which you can also upgrade by spending experience points. This addition is a useful one, because Infamous 2 has some fast moving enemies that attack you at close range. About halfway through the game, you also start to unlock ice and fire powers. These are interesting and they give you
more options, but you might not find yourself using them a whole lot, since they get mapped to the same buttons as your electricity powers. You will need to use every tool you can, because Infamous 2 is a pretty challenging game. It is almost cheap sometimes, with the way that enemies surround you and spam you with rockets and grendades.
The action is great, but Infamous 2, unfortunately, inherits arguably the biggest flaw from the first game, and that is its repetitive side missions. There are only so many excuses that you can find to kill things, and Infamous 2 pretty much exhausts them all well before the game is done. Kill the ten enemies in area X. Rescue three hostages from area Y. Escort this vehicle from area A to area B. Follow enemy Z along the rooftops to his hideout. Each of these mission types repeats itself a little too often.
The one aspect of this game that flat out doesn't work is the story. The first game had a minimalist brilliance to it. There weren't a lot of characters, but you cared about what happened to them. Despite the simple plot, there was some suspense and mystery to it. Cole's journey was interesting, the limited dialog was good, and the ending was one of the best game endings in recent memory. One of the big problems with the story in Infamous 2 is that there is a new voice actor for Cole. The new voice actor attempts to recreate Cole's tough, gravelly voice from the first game, but doesn't succeed. He has lots of chummy dialog with Zeke (who returns for this game) and the two other big characters that eventually join you. Zeke has a greatly expanded role in the story and much more dialog, but Cole feels generic. The two new characters, Kuo and Nix, are the "good" and "evil" members of your outfit that argue with each other and give you the "good" and "evil" options for completing major story quests. They are disappointingly predictable and one-dimensional. Kuo's methods always involve being nice and helping people and Nix's options always involve indiscriminate killing. This probably doesn't sound very impressive or interesting, and it isn't. Contrived moral choices were present in Infamous, and they had already worn out their welcome back then.
Even though it gets repetitive and the story is average, Infamous 2 is a terrific open world action game. Between its cool abilities, interesting city, and spectacular combat, it has a lot to offer the genre that lots of other games don't have. The basic mechanics work so well that it is worth engaging in combat for just about any reason against any enemy. The city is fun to explore, and the role playing system gives you good incentive to earn experience and perform missions. Although it isn't perfect, Infamous 2 is a great sequel. If you are a newcomer to this series, I can't recommend it strongly enough. Along with Uncharted and Ratchet and Clank, the Infamous series is a "must have" Playstation 3 exclusive.