Simply Electrifying: Hands On with Infamous 2

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I loved the first Infamous, because the PS3-exclusive, post-modern superhero game developed by Sucker Punch delivered a unique symbiosis of hero and city. After Cole McGrath was granted electromagnetic powers by an accident that leveled much of Empire City, he–at the player’s command–could use his powers to help heal its citizens or leech their energy for more selfish, evil purposes. Cole’s connection to the city made every choice to be good or bad more resonant because you could see the effects ripple out in both his powers and the reactions of the people of Empire City.

The sequel finds Cole in an all-new city with all-new powers and, this time around, you get the sense that the locale’s trying to expel Cole like he’s a foreign substance. The new burg of New Marais is modeled after New Orleans and Cole’s there on journey to find a way to deal with the Beast, the malevolent uber-powerful being prophesied at the end of the first game. Cole faces up against the Beast early in Infamous 2 and it doesn’t go well, leaving with him a facial scar and being blamed for the destruction of Empire City. The Beast’s path of destruction is moving towards New Marais and Cole goes there to try to find a scientist who may have the key to defeating the big bad.

As much as it’s been anticipated, InF2 hasn’t been without some controversy. Sucker Punch debuted a slightly different model for Cole with a full head of hair–seen in the gameplay vid below– and fans revolted so hard that they’ve changed him back to the buzzcut of the first game.

But, forget all the set-up. What you really need to know is that Inf2 looks and plays amazingly. The game’s improved in nearly every single aspect. Graphically, the visuals of the world, the non-playable characters and the enemies pop with exquisite detail. Cole looks like more of an everyman and his haunted expression always reminds you of his tragic past. Cole also moves a lot smoother, thanks to the full motion capture used to generate his animations. And, in terms of Cole’s powers, you’ll still have everything you earned at the end of Infamous 1 but the new abilities will simply blow you away.

The hand-to-hand combat was arguably the weakest part of the first game and when you ran out of bio-electric juice, it felt terrible. Now, Cole boasts a new set of increasingly acrobatic moves and a tuning fork-like weapon called the Amp. Bad-guy beatdowns happen with a fast, lethal series of electrically-powered strikes and flips. It’s all very smooth and brutal. The traversal in the first game –parkour-based climbing with neat tricks like grinding on power lines and electrical gliding–stood out as a highlight and gets awesome upgrades in the sequel. You’ll be able to grind the exteriors of buildings, either vertically or horizontally, and Cole will be have a new “car jump” power that lets him vault into the sky. Super-powered combat in Infamous 2 unleashes all sorts of fury. The Kinetic Pulse lets Cole levitate and fling cars at will, really letting you feel like Cole’s gotten more powerful. And, the Ionic Vortex–the most impressive ability unveiled so far–is nothing less than a lightning storm/tornado combo that rips down the street destroying everything in its path.

Speaking of New Marais’ streets, they’ll be filled with enemies who represent opposite ideological poles. Weird things are happening in New Marais and people are mutating. On one side is the Militia–a purist paramilitary faction run by a man named Betrand–and they want to destroy any mutated lifeform. Those mutates are called The Corrupted and they range from creepy to gigantic. One of the Corrupted baddies is the Ravager, a giant crawfish-looking creature that burrowed underground during the mini-boss fight. And the morality alignment mechanic will return in Infamous 2, but Sucker Punch wouldn’t elaborate about how it’ll come back and what it will do with the moral choices you made in Infamous 1.

The game’s got no firm release date but Sony’s promising it in 2011. After my hands-on time with it, Infamous 2 has shot up to the top of my ‘most anticipated game’ list, second only to BioShock Infinite.