Infamous 2 integrates a number of minor improvements to its already polished predecessor, but it's biggest change might also be its most imperceptible. Moreso than in Infamous the First, Cole MacGrath has found the happy medium between strength and vulnerability. He finds his electrical equilibrium from his very first step into the lively playground of New Marais -- and, perhaps more impressively -- maintains that balance for the millions of steps that follow.
Much of that balance is built upon Cole's core set of abilities from Infamous, which are available for your use (or misuse) from Infamous 2's outset. That's not the only thing that's carried over -- upon starting the game, you can import your Trophy data from the first installment, affecting your starting Karma, XP and a few in-game quests. Apparently, those civilians you let starve to death in Empire City? They have family in New Marais, and they're none too pleased.
Furious familial relations aside, New Marais is an extremely appealing stomping grounds, with distinct districts that set themselves apart without leaning on Infamous' system of same-seeming street corners and color-coded enemies. They run the gamut from swampland slums to high-rise condominiums, from flooded wards to seedy, sex-fueled red light districts -- the latter includes a game-themed porno theater, the marquee for which prominently features surefire classics like "Hey, Low Reach!" and "Uncharted Love."
You'll clamber across every square inch of New Marais in search of as many supernatural weapons as you can find to topple The Beast; a ten-story titan who, in the opening moments of Infamous 2, reduces Empire City to rubble. For a majority of the game, The Beast isn't the party responsible for terrorizing Cole and Co. -- that much is achieved well enough by New Marais' xenophobic, well-armed militia -- though an ever-present countdown lets you know how many miles stand between you and certain annihilation.
- Powers are discovered by reaching a certain point in the story or a particular Karmic level.
- Those powers become available to purchase by fulfilling a stunt requirement -- i.e., perform 10 headshots, or by pushing five enemies off of rooftops.
- Finally, each power is then purchased using XP, which is distributed for performing stunts and completing missions.
It might be prohibitively convoluted if each power weren't so darn desirable. They're split into variations on subcategories this time around -- bolts, grenades, melee attacks with the new "Amp" weapon, and so on -- which you can equip on-the-go using a handy, one-button quick swap function. The variations are stark enough to merit compulsive collecting; for example, bolts now come in the split-shot, rapid fire and long-distance flavors. It's not just variety for variety's sake; each situation calls for a different application of these powers to claim victory over your evenly matched foes.
Infamous 2 toes a perfect line between too-strong and too-puny, between human and superhuman, between risk and restraint.
The real stars of the show are the new travel abilities, many of which focus on getting Cole over tall buildings in fewer bounds than were once required in Infamous Prime. Instead of laboriously climbing from perch to perch, Cole can now propel himself off of exploding cars, shoot himself into the air on a pillar of ice, gain an extra few feet from his improved hover ability or -- your soon-to-be favorite innovation -- can drag himself towards any distant point using the new, ingenious Lightning Tether ability.
Even this is well-balanced -- if Cole could up and fly to his every destination, all of his other travel powers would become forfeit. When used in tandem, however, these new mechanics give Infamous 2 some of the most enjoyable locomotion ever introduced to the open-world action genre.
There's also roughly infinity user-generated missions, which can be created and encountered seamlessly while you play through the campaign. These feel a little chintzy when compared to their pre-made counterparts, but the tools upon which they're built seem to have endless creative applications. One Sucker Punch-developed UGC mission you'll discover allows you to use your powers to play Skee-Ball, which, it should be noted, is more difficult than actual Skee-Ball.
Unfortunately, some of Infamous 2's new features don't meet their bulletpoint expectations. For one thing, though unscripted, city-wide boss fights have been a highly publicized feature of this sequel, you'll really only come across one of them during the main campaign. Sure, many of your foes are towering behemoths -- though almost all of your fights against them tightly scripted, and pinned to a singular location.
Absolute power corrupts absolutely -- though that saying's not exactly applicable in the world of inFamous, where maintaining your Karmic positivity is as simple as doing all the green quests. However, other entries in the superhero genre serve as incontestable evidence that absolute power actually corrupts itself. When a hero's suite of supernatural abilities reach levels of god-like potency, it strips those abilities of their context when compared to the plight of mere mortals. If you'll forgive the circuitousness: It strips those powers of their power.
Infamous 2 toes a perfect line between too-strong and too-puny, between human and superhuman, between risk and restraint. It halfheartedly delivers on a few of its promises, but its shortcomings are far outweighed by this one stellar achievement: It knows how to make you feel powerful.