Yesterday I whipped up some impressions based off of a dozen hours of time spent in New Marais, the coastal town at the center of inFamous 2 which released yesterday. For those of you who aren't familiar with the inFamous series, it's a third person, open world action game with a karma system created by Sucker Punch. You are Cole McGrath, a seemingly ordinary human who discovers supernatural powers based on electricity after a catastrophic event that occurs in Empire City, the setting of the first game.
inFamous 2, in proper sequel fashion, picks up immediately where inFamous ends. I'll do my best not to drop too many spoilers for those that might not have played through inFamous yet. It's worth noting that inFamous 2 will grant you certain bonuses for having an inFamous savegame file with various milestones. These bonuses include 1000 extra XP and additional battery cores amongst a few other things...anyway, without further ado, let's dig into inFamous 2 (inF2)!
The Beast Cometh...
The very end of the original game introduced a massive, highly destructive entity known simply as The Beast. This gigantic force of destruction is intent on killing Cole McGrath. The opening minutes of inF2 pit you against The Beast in a semi-interactive scripted event in which Cole gets whooped and loses most of his powers in the process. In this way, Sucker Punch is able to scale back the all-powerful abilities that Cole earned throughout the first game and allow players to sort of re-earn those abilities (although inF2 includes a variety of new powers I will detail later).
Unable to defeat The Beast, Cole and his buddy from the first game, Zeke, along with a new character from the US government, Agent Kuo, all head to southern Louisiana to seek the help of a certain Dr. Wolfe. This coastal town known as New Marais is where the game takes place. It's segmented into three districts, just like how Empire City was split into three districts.
Meanwhile, The Beast is obliterating a path from Pennsylvania, near where Empire City was, on down to New Marais. Cole needs amp up his abilities if he's going to have any chance to stop The Beast, but time is running out. The game begins with The Beast some 1500 miles away, but as you complete key story missions, a map in the Pause Menu that depicts the eastern coast of the US updates and you see The Beast's black path of destruction as he sweeps from north to south.
Getting Cole ready for the big encounter requires completing dozens of story missions across New Marais. Specifically, Cole needs to find and absorb the power of six Blast Cores (not the smaller Blast Shards of which there are 300 of). He also needs to unlock the mystery of the RaySphere Inhibitor (RFI) which will supposedly strip power away from The Beast according to Dr. Wolfe.
In between discovering these Cores are the numerous missions I mentioned. For anyone that has played inFamous, controls, mission types, and frankly everything about the gameplay, will feel very familiar. There are of course numerous tweaks, changes, and additions to examine.
Preparing For The Beast
One key difference players of the original will note right away is that Cole's basic attack, the Bolt, is no longer unlimited. In other words, using the basic bolt attack does actually drain your stored energy. Combined with the fact that Cole's health can no longer be upgraded to sustain more damage, and the game plays at least marginally different from the original. This is because you don't feel quite as invulnerable as you could in the original after purchasing a few upgrades.
Upgrading abilities has changed significantly with inF2. Previously, abilities or powers were unlocked at certain points in the story, like when you powered up another substation in the sewers. Powers still have to be unlocked in inF2 but it's sort of a two stage unlock. Once you discover a power you need to complete some criteria to then be able to spend XP to buy the power. These criteria seem pretty arbitrary but they aren't too annoying. Criteria include using a shockwave blast to send five or ten bad guys flying off of buildings, getting ten headshots with Precision, and demolishing four cars in four seconds (if you're going the villain route).
The powers available within this new upgrade system have also been changed. Cole has his standard bolt attack, shock grenade, and shockwave, but within these are variations that you can purchase. For example with the bolt, you can purchase a Pincer Bolt that shoots out three bursts at once, albeit it at a slower rate than the standard bolt. There is an artillery style bolt available too, for long, arching shots. Shock grenades can be upgraded to be 'sticky,' and also cluster grenades. A new Rocket power gets unlocked later on that is a blend of the speed and accuracy of the bolt and the destructive power of the
Shock Grenade -- it's quite handy.
It's good to have these additional weapons at your disposal, and better yet, switching between them is easy and quick. To switch between any of your core powers to one of their variants, you simply press and hold Left on the d-pad and then press the corresponding button to the power you want to change. So to go from Bolt to Pincer Bolt, hold Left, press R1 until Pincer shows up on screen; release and you're right back in the heat of the action.
Ionic Powers are also new offensive abilities at Cole's disposal, although there are only four total, two for each karma path (Hero or Villain). You have probably seen the Vortex in trailers by now, but man is it cool. Cole spins around once in a circle and unleashes this huge black tornado that blazes a path for several seconds in front of you.
Ionic powers cannot be upgraded, but you can increase the amount of these that you can hold from two to three with an upgrade purchase.
New standard powers and Ionic powers are good to see, but Cole's melee system has also been changed a lot. In the original game, melee was very basic and just involved Cole punching and kicking as the player mashed Square. In inF2, the melee system centers around the Amp, a two pronged tool that Zeke gives Cole very early in the story. Cole attacks with light and heavy (X and Y) swings of the amp and he can also perform several cool-looking Finisher moves. Anytime you enter melee combat, a small
meter pops up in the lower left of the screen. As you attack with X, the meter builds up and you can press Triangle to perform a finisher. Finishers can be upgraded a couple of times and the higher the meter is, the more devastating the Finisher move will be.
It's a basic combat system, but not as basic as the original game so I see it as a solid improvement. A block button would have been welcomed, and I also think that the vibration feature of the controller is used excessively in melee combat.
Enemies of Cole
With all of these new offensive abilities, Cole is well equipped to battle a variety of enemies that populate New Marais. Enemies include the militia, a large, organized group of humans intent on stomping out Cole and any other "freaks" of his kind (technically speaking, any other human with the Conduit gene). These militia are a lot like the Reapers from Empire City; they tend to travel in groups of three or more, they use assault rifles, and it seems like the militia are packing a more rockets and grenades than the Reapers or even Dustmen ever did from Empire City.
There are actually a lot of monsters in New Marais too; they seem out of place, but their origin and purpose is explained throughout the story and so they ultimately 'fit' just fine. In fact, it's thanks to the most basic monster that the melee system really works. Just like with the original game, most enemies are too far away for you to effectively melee them. However, with inF2, a certain lumbering type of monster (whose name escapes me) can only melee attack so expect groups of them to get in your face. Monsters also come in bigger forms such as Ravagers, Hive Lords, and Devourers that are far tougher than anything the local militia will throw at you.
Third, a Conduit-gene infused enemy is created after your arrival in New Marais (as part of a key story event). These enemies can leap very far and can hit you with ranged and melee attacks. In the Flood Town, you'll see these guys fighting the militia a lot, and the monsters for that matter. While interested in fighting each other, they are also interesting in killing Cole, too.
Having three unique types of enemies is a positive for inF2, no doubt about it.
Other Gameplay Changes And Features
I've spent a lot of time talking about the action components of the game thus far, which is understandable given how big a role they play in inF2. But, there's a lot more to examine too, including some other tweaks and changes that I think people from the original game will be interested in. Cole now has the ability to, well, for the lack of remembering what it was actually called in the game, "use the Force" to lift and throw objects in New Marais. Yes, this does have offensive uses as you can lift objects, like cars, and throw them at foes, but at times this ability is also used for platforming and very basic
tasks within a mission. Sure, it's not as exciting as the Ionic Vortex, but it's a logical and welcomed new feature nonetheless.
inF2 also introduces UGC, User Generated Content. At any point while playing, you can enter the pause menu and fire up the UGC tool that allows you to create and edit side missions for Cole. Created missions can be uploaded and rated for others to experience. On your map, a new colored ! marker is enabled that shows the location of UGC. Sucker Punch included several UGC side missions themselves (in addition to the story and side missions they created for the game).
UGC is not only a way to extend your time in the inFamous universe, but from what I've gathered in playing several of these missions, is that they're also a way to introduce mini-games or "goofier" conditions and ideas that would not otherwise fit into the atmosphere and tone of the game. So for example, one UGC mission I played was a skill game where some militia men were standing on floating platforms. The goal was to take the least amount of bolt shots possible to knock them all down. The trick is to shoot at them in such a way that the platform you hit would not only dump the man on it, but also
cause other neighboring ones to fall, too. This scenario is not something that would have been done in the more serious, defined atmosphere and tone of the game.
Creating your own UGC is harder than it looks, or at least I thought so. There are no tutorials included but you do have the option to "Remix" any UGC you have downloaded. The UGC editor seems pretty straight-forward to anyone that has done some level design in the past (personally, I haven't since Blood in 1997, haha) what with palettes for objects and actions, but I didn't find it very intuitive. I think the community will support the UGC nicely, but personally, I don't see myself creating anything due to
the learning curve and time required.
A handful of other notables would include a couple of new platforming skills. Besides an improved Kinetic Pulse (longer duration), certain buildings now have easily identifiable, vertical pipes that Cole can jump onto and launch himself straight up. These make getting up buildings quicker, which is a plus. Cole eventually also has the ability to launch himself straight up off of the tops of cars.
L2 has been tweaked to where it can drain energy and emit a pulse, which was L3's role last game. You can still use L3 to emit a pulse, but being able to do so with L2 now is cool. Additionally, Blast Shards are shown on your mini-map as your pulse sweeps by if they are in the area. There are some 300 Blast Shards to collect and they're easier to find now than ever. I've spent a lot more time tracking these things down than I did in the first game thanks to being able to search for them easier. As with the first game, Shards are collected to increase your Battery Cores, which store energy that allow Cole to use his electrical power. The more Cores you unlock, the more Shards you need to collect to unlock more.
Dead Drops make a return in inF2. Instead of satellites, you are looking for pigeons flying around carrying USB thumbdrives. Of course you never see the thumbdrives, but it's kind of funny nonetheless. Fortunately these birds will appear on your mini-map when they are close, but they can still be hard to spot nonetheless. Instead of hearing recordings from FBI agent John White like you did in inFamous, Dr. Wolfe, the man behind the RFI, fills in some backstory with his anecdotes.
Side missions have changed a lot as well. Certain side mission types you may recall from the first game, like the counter surveillance and satellite uplink races, are gone. Satellite uplink races have been replaced with Overcharge missions in which you must keep grinding as you work your way from one generator to another as quickly as you can. The biggest addition to side missions though, is fighting alongside key NPCs. Sometimes you will fight with Zeke, other times with another Conduit with
powers that compliment yours. I thought the inclusion of these types of missions boosted the value of the NPCs and made the experience more believable.
So what about the presentation? I noticed a major improvement in visual fidelity from the original game, which was not a bad looking game at all. Cole's voice has changed, which was a little surprising but it didn't take any time to get used to. Graphically though, this is a very pretty game. The time of day changes are gorgeous and there are a lot of impressive animations that you will notice in melee combat and in destructible objects. You can even see the skeletons of the militia if you're close enough and you zap them, which is kind of cool and kind of funny. The framerate stays smooth despite loads of visual flair and characters on screen, too. There are some ultimately minor clipping issues of note and sometimes you will see objects that are stuck floating in the air, which happens especially after some destructive changes in the area. Cutscenes are nicely done, including both in-game type and the "comic book cutscenes" seen in the original game. Finally, the audio package is very good; I liked that more music was included this go around. It doesn't play even most of the time, but it seems to kick in at well-timed moments and I thought that added to the experience.
To the summary...