It’s a rule: When you become a superhero, you get a city. Spider-Man swings all over Marvel Comics’ version of the Big Apple, Superman’s got Metropolis and everyone knows Gotham City is Batman’s town. In the best interpretations, the stomping grounds that heroes patrol reflect the core truths about them, and vice versa. So Batman can perch all gargoyle-like on a rooftop and just blend in, and people look heavenward to spy Superman fighting evil. When hero and city combine to form one big metaphor, the resulting entertainment feels richer as a result.
2009′s Infamous managed to work that algorithm really well. The open-world superhero game gave players Cole McGrath, an electrically powered everyman who represents the problem of power. The same explosion that granted McGrath his mojo nearly destroyed his hometown of Empire City, sending him free running and zapping across the burg trying to unravel the conspiracy behind it all. Infamous won you over not with its scripted narrative but with the stuff that happened outside of it.
As Cole reignited the electrical grid of Empire, he got more powerful and players could use that power to make him a savior or a subjugator. You could run around the city healing people with quasi-religious laying of hands or suck the bioelectric juice out of others to keep Cole strong. But, when Infamous 2 opens, it demonstrates that McGrath isn’t powerful enough, as a giant uber-menace called the Beast decimates Empire City. The sequel puts Cole on the hunt for even more power in the newer, even more vibrant city of New Marais.
Infamous 2 makes a nod at the serial storytelling of its comic-book inspirations by letting you import your save from the first game. If you played the previous Infamous, the “Continue Your Infamous 1 Story” option gets you extra XP, extra energy storage and extra Karma. Karma is the continuum of good and evil your actions fall upon, and how you play affects the experience you get.
Anyone who played Infamous will notice the graphical upgrade in the Sucker Punch development studio’s second effort. Characters look sharper and more distinct, with animations that are smooth and full of verve. As Empire City was modeled on New York City, New Marais takes its cues from New Orleans. It’s got a jazzy, polyglot vibe that quickly unveils all manner of weirdness in its layers. Mutated monsters, other superhumans and a xenophobic militia are the enemies Cole must contend with as he gathers power to face the impending threat of the Beast.
You immediately get a bigger sense of scale while playing Infamous 2. New Marais is bigger, more varied and slightly seedier than most other game environs, complete with its own red light district. The overall feel is more pulpy than the first game and Cole is honestly a little jerkier. He’s less of a Peter Parker type now. You get a more reactive world this time around, both in the physics of it and in how people respond to you. Infamous 2 has its own little biorhythm going on and you can tweak it by playing dastardly or do-gooder.