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inFAMOUS 2 (PlayStation 3) artwork

inFAMOUS 2 (PlayStation 3) review


"Have you ever had to take a road trip with people you can't stand? Early on, a couple of characters introduce the story and the gameplay progression by giving each other glowing doo-dads. Literally. Here's a glowing doo-dad for you. And here's one for you. That's an indication of the level of coherence and dramatic tension that will drive Infamous 2. And it just goes downhill, with sidekick Zeke as pointless as ever, a toughened Cole now gravelly voice like a Martin Sheen who won't take any guff, and the heavy-handed morality choices based on whether you prefer Nixx, the fiery-tempered black voodoo chick, or Kuo, the mopey Asian CIA agent turned ice mage."



As an open world game, Infamous 2 gets a lot right. It has a unique sense of place with plenty of activities to keep you busy until the end of the story (and beyond). However, as an overall experience, it's weighted down by some serious problems. The insipid storytelling sucks up too much air, the too-serious characters are just too overbearing, and the mostly repetitive battles are too forgettable to keep you coming back. It's a disappointing open world game that feels like something you might consider renting on a slow weekend.

The setting is New Orleans. Well, "New Orleans". Here it's called New Marais, despite being displayed on an obvious map of the US that identifies Washington D.C. by name. The city looks and plays great, with a vibrant French Quarter, a colorfully seedy red light district, a brooding above-ground cemetery, moss-draped swampland, and grand European edifices such as a cathedral and a fortress. Developer Sucker Punch uses the cultural melange of New Orleans as an excuse for the same creative whimsy and charm that drove their Sly Cooper games, but without the cartoon vibe. When the action moves to Floodtown, an obvious nod to post-Katrina New Orleans, there's a certain somberness to the flooded streets, sagging houses, leaning telephone poles, and slackened power lines. Well done, Sucker Punch!

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But for some reason, Infamous 2 winds up in an uninteresting industrial area. At least Sucker Punch knows enough to shift their finale out of this boring location and back into the French Quarter. The game also deserves special mention for disappointing audio design. There's plenty of booming and banging and crackling during battle. But between battles, this is a weirdly quiet city. Even the menus are quiet. And how could the soundtrack miss the opportunity for a little jazz? Who goes to New Orleans without grooving on the local music?

As a gun-free and driving-free combat sandbox, Infamous 2 accomplishes pretty much exactly what Infamous 1 accomplished: lots of clambering around interspersed with elemental superheroic shenanigans against hapless enemies. The level traversal -- that's the fancy word for getting to your next waypoint -- is a mix of gliding, power-line grinding, grapple hooking, and awkward climbing that consists of repeatedly mashing a button while whatever animation feels like happening just happens. Assassin's Creed this ain't. But it gets you where you're going and it gives you plenty of opportunity to admire the artwork and the draw distance.

And then there are the battles. Yeah, sure, they look nice and they're plenty busy. You can zap, crackle, pop, explode, and burn or freeze bad guys with impunity, at least until one of the tedious sub-bosses shows up, at which point you might want to look into using the dodge button. A couple of set pieces featuring four-story-tall bad guys turn into disappointing exercises in shooting the glowing weak point. But Infamous 2 does as good a job as you'd expect with a lightning-themed superhero. Kick up sand in this combat sandbox, killing more guys and doing more quests to get more powers with which you'll kill more guys and do more quests. Lively, sure. But ultimately forgettable. With the exception of a few cool abilities used by some of the late-game enemies, Infamous 2 doesn't do much to mix up the action. The later-game fire or ice powers are just minor variations on the usual zapping, and the usual zapping escalates by the numbers. Whereas the design of New Marais has a sense of enthusiasm and craft, the same can't be said for the combat and its rote "here we go again" quality.

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In terms of progressing across the world, Infamous 2 streamlines the first game's cool concept of powering up unpowered neighborhoods. You don't have to play through mini-dungeons anymore, but neither do you get a sense for breathing life back into the city one chunk at a time. Instead, each of the four regions has a transitional mission involving guided missiles interspersed with horde defense sequences. Between missions, the city is populated with dynamic mini-activities and side quests that shut down enemy activity in an area. UGC missions -- that stands for "User Generated Content", which is about as uninspired a name as you could give a feature -- are great idea in theory. Players make missions, and you download them into your world as you play. But in practice, they're only as good as the core combat and traversal gameplay, which is what you're doing anyway. The UGC mission editor is easy to use, and it's even easier to find the kinds of missions you want to play. Feel like a big battle? How about a race? Some sort of puzzle? Just use the filter and pluck something player-made from the internet. An Infamous 2 play-through is relatively short, but this is a game that will never leave you wanting for activities.

But will you want to do these things? Infamous 2 gives you a great place to go, but it spoils the trip by sending you there with loathsome company. Have you ever had to take a road trip with people you can't stand? Early on, a couple of characters introduce the story and the gameplay progression by giving each other glowing doo-dads. Literally. Here's a glowing doo-dad for you. And here's one for you. That's an indication of the level of coherence and dramatic tension that will drive Infamous 2. And it just goes downhill, with sidekick Zeke as pointless as ever, a toughened Cole now gravelly voice like a Martin Sheen who won't take any guff, and the heavy-handed morality choices based on whether you prefer Nixx, the fiery-tempered black voodoo chick, or Kuo, the mopey Asian CIA agent turned ice mage. What more could a protagonist want than two stereotypically badly written female characters literally fighting over him? Infamous 2's cloying attempts to make you care about the action backfire massively.

Contrast this to Just Cause 2, another open-world game with its own borderline inept storytelling. There's something endearing about the clumsy presentation of characters like rebel leader Bolo Santosi, ugly American agent Sheldon, and ridiculous dictator Baby Panay. Of course, Just Cause doesn't take itself seriously. It wallows in a sense of gleeful absurdity, in both storyline and gameplay. But there is no glee in Infamous 2. There is only earnest gravity, all too heavily invested and comic book inspired and drawn out over tedious cutscenes and utterly oblivious to its own bad writing.

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At one point, the two main characters in Infamous 2 sit down to silently watch TV and have a couple of beers. In a game where the main characters aren't so grating, this scene would be great. In fact, imagine Rico and Bolo Santosi chilling out and watching TV! But in Infamous 2, the scene is like fingernails on a chalk board. I can't think of two people I'd less rather watch watching TV. In Sucker Punch's excellent Sly Cooper games, you can excuse the embarrassingly bad characters and cutscenes by telling yourself that part is for kids. But the narrative black hole of watching Cole and Zeke gaze silently has no such loophole. Here is Sucker Punch, quietly and insistently forcing you into a Moment. For their next game, I hope the writers at Sucker Punch take the Hippocratic Oath: "first, do no harm". Because going to New Marais to bliss out shooting lightning from my fingertips sounds like a grand time, until I realize I have to do it with these people rubbing my face in this aggressively bad story. I hear Panau is lovely this time of year.

Rating: 5/10

tomchick's avatar
Freelance review by Tom Chick (June 13, 2011)

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fleinn posted June 14, 2011:

lol? I agree the story-telling is much less interesting in I2 than I1 (even if it does try well to make the karmic choices a bit less black and white, and more dependent on situation. The Karma-moments are gone, though). And it has several serious problems with plot that goes nowhere for.. hours.. unless you pick up on the future karma-choice the scene is supposed to create tension for.

There are a lot of small weaknesses with the traversal system as well, even if the ice-launch, firebird strike and the improved thrusters, and so on just makes rushing around extremely fun - specially in flood-town, and later in the refinery.

..doesn't seem like you played those parts of the game, though :D I mean.. the entire game is about 1. Parkour, 2. Karma-choices. Both of which are different from I1, but.. you know.. still the only things the game is about. I.e, following a convoy down the train-tracks and then blasting it to bits with the increasingly one-hit, auto-guided area-effect powers..
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zippdementia posted June 14, 2011:

I like that our reviews for this game are very different. so much more interesting than agreements!
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Suskie posted June 14, 2011:

Karma choices were the one thing the first Infamous got completely wrong, and I'm hearing everywhere that the sequel handles them even more poorly. This is a shame. I still want to play Infamous 2 if it's anywhere near as good as the first one, but if there's a third one, I hope Sucker Punch sticks to their strengths and leaves this miserable (and completely unnecessary) moral choice crap out.
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zippdementia posted June 15, 2011:

I don't know that I've ever seen moral choice done well (except I enjoyed it in Heavy Rain, but then that was kind've the entire point of Heavy Rain) in a game (and we've recently discussed where adventure games don't fit in with the other "game" designations).

Actually, I just thought of Alpha Protocol. That game did some good things with morals.

The problem with trying to do moral choice is... well there's lots of problems. The biggest one for me though is that few people really seem to get morals right.

Morals are not about good vs. evil. This is a misnomer. Morals are about what you believe in and having those beliefs challenged by difficult situations.

Games that do morals tend to give options like "You hear a woman screaming for help in an alleyway. OMG she's being robbed! Do you:

a) Run to her rescue!

or

b) Help the robber steal her money!

if you're Bioware, you also add in

c) do nothing

In those kind of situations it's a choice between doing something extreme and doing something extreme. And the one extreme, being heroic, is something that most of us naturally lean towards. Most of us can sympathize with it. We can sympathize with the desire to help our fellow man (or woman) and to want to be helped if we need it. We can't, most of us, sympathize with hurting another human being. While that's not a problem when you're chucking grenades under the feet of NPCs in Grand Theft Auto or shooting down enemy soldiers in Call of Duty (when's the last time Call of Duty left you with post traumatic stress syndrome?), it is a problem when the decision is influencing the plot of a game. Big decisions like that, which will decide how the world of the game looks at us, are often ruined by black-and-white approximations of morals.

Here's a more interesting situation. This is lifted more or less from Alpha Protocol.

You have a mission to complete. Some maniac has taken over a historic building and is about to blow it to smithereens, which will cause a national panic and start a war. That same maniac has stolen your girlfriend and has her hostage outside of the building. You have time to rescue her or to disarm the bombs, not both. Which do you choose?

Now THAT'S a moral dilema! That situation is challenging your core beliefs: do you believe more in finishing the mission and saving the lives of thousands that you don't care about, or do you save the life of someone who loves you? That's the kind of situation you have to think about because it's not black-and-white. Either choice, I'm going to feel regret and satisfaction. Playing the game again, I will be eager to try out the other path.

It's not "do I help this woman across the street and send her on her way with a hearty handshake" or "do I drag her into a dark alley and rape her."
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Suskie posted June 15, 2011:

See, the problem is that KOTOR is the game that made moral choices popular, and the Star Wars universe is one of the few where stark good-and-evil actually makes sense. I frankly like it more when a game drops the morality slider altogether and allows us to make choices in the moment, rather than having to commit to one direction or the other for the entirety of the game.

The other big challenge -- and this is one where Infamous also fails -- is in presenting choices that are all consistent with the main character's personality. I hate it when I'm forced to choose between being sickeningly sweet or ragingly evil when neither choices fit the character. This was another thing Alpha Protocol did extremely well.
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fleinn posted June 15, 2011:

..the thing is that the choices you make in inFamous are supposed to test you towards the cartoon superhero role Kessler (the antagonist) is shaping for you. So you're not really asked to make morally grey choices. What you're asked to do is ultimately to make a choice between sacrificing yourself, or being egotistical. The two endings in I2 play perfectly into that.

For example, the best moment in I1 is when Kessler has hung six doctors up on one building, and your girlfriend on the other. And he's telling you that you only have time to save one or the other. Obviously Kessler has plans for you and your family already. But what he's asking you to do is choose between your impulse to save those you care about, or do something for the greater good of the city.

Like I talked about in my review, it's pretty abstract at that point, though. But most of the choices in the game go to that same thing - do I sacrifice random people I don't care about, or do I sacrifice myself because I have powers..

I2 plays directly into that. And you have much more difficulty saying no to Nix - the entire "do no harm" thing doesn't take you very far in New Marais.. "Don't you wanna see them burn, honey?". I mean, in I2 I ended up picking Nix and crashed down to a permanent guardian rank. Didn't feel bad about it either. But I did change my mind about the super-hero altruism at some point. Which.. surprisingly played into the ending really well. Have a lot of side-quests too that demonstrate conduits getting mad with power, or that illustrate what sort of force the conduits really is, etc.

Point is that inFamous doesn't have complex moral choices, but it tests you towards that final (super-hero) choice you're going to have to make. And if you go with your impulses, odds are the wheel is going to turn around, basically. :D
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Lewis posted June 15, 2011:

Actually, I'd say the first Dragon Age handled moral choices extremely well. Think about all the stuff in Orzammar. Nothing was clear-cut there.
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tharjack posted June 15, 2011:

everyone one is entitled to there opinion of course but it seems to me that 5 for Infamous 2 and L.A. Noire is quite harsh, i think its possible your missing something here such as the nuance and beauty of both games, your certainty in the minority on those scores.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted June 15, 2011:

There's nothing wrong with being in the minority on a score. It doesn't mean he's missing something--it just means it didn't work for him.
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zippdementia posted June 15, 2011:

And actually LA Noire, while talked up by the popular press, has been getting more lukewarm reviews from actual gamers.
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fleinn posted June 16, 2011:

..if anyone cares, I don't really disagree with the score either. It's just that the only redeeming feature in the game is the overarching plot setup and the parkour (which really isn't as fun as in the first game until you get through the story-line, open up the other areas, and get some neat powers). Besides that the fights have their moments, with the limited destruction and physics, and so on. On the other hand they're not as hands on as in the first game - it seems more floaty. Imo, the entire departure from the cartoon moments in I1 is.. a sad story, that happens to Sony sequels all round.. Better graphics, but less fluid animation, etc.

The worst thing is that I don't actually think they reduced the animation complexity in the game at all. They just changed the control-layout so it should be more on/off. I.e., you can grind wires with a seriously complex set of animations -- but the splines play back and forth, and they end up at one of two states. Same with the running. Jog - Run. The angled steps and so on is still there, though. They even have slow walk-animations - it's just limited to when you walk on objects in speed, etc, instead of being included in the animation you have when starting a run.

On top of that the camera locks on a level plane, rather than follow your trajectory (like in I1). And together with the way you lock on to footholds on the same level, it seems they want you to avoid going high and low on objects -- just so you should run less three-dimensionally..

I've no idea why they would do such a thing, when they've obviously spent a lot of time improving all the rough edges and small edge-detection problems from I1..
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fleinn posted June 23, 2011:

"Of course if you like to be a nit picking critical douche when it comes to PS3 exclusives then sure you can find faults with this game(*cough*like the reviewer*cough*)"

lol.. I can find faults with I2 as well, and I'm the ps3 fanboy around here. But yeah, being critical on one hand, and looking for faults to criticise the game for are two different things.

But I think that it's important to remember that every one of us have our own perspective on things, though. Like you do, and hopefully everyone else.

And on this site we tend to, at least, to think of a review as successful if it explains why and how the reviewer came to their point of view. Whether you agree or disagree with the conclusion or the grade isn't important.

So criticising the review could be things such as mentioning how it could be missing a perspective that should be thought of as important in the context of the review as it was written, maybe? Is it consistent, and does it gloss over parts of the game to be so? Those are things you don't want to do, and I'm sure every critic will be thankful if mistakes like that are pointed out (even if we will deny it forever).

Or it could be a different perspective you have, where you see the experience from a completely different angle. For example, lately a lot of people have started to talk warmly about Moonstone again. This is a technically horrible game, actually, and it isn't easy to play. And once you figure it out, you could suddenly start to have a too easy time with the fights, etc. And if you explain how the game goes from a to b, it's incredibly difficult to explain it as a good game.

But a lot of people, and me too, still think it is one of the best games ever made - and that it still is a good game now that graphics and so on are better - because of the unique way it makes your imagination fly off, and in the way it engages you and makes you think.

So you might say, well your review wasn't exactly completely self-explanatory either, and that's the problem, right? Maybe the way I grew up on Tolkien, Beowulf, Old Norse sagas and faery tales has something to do with how easily I slip into something like this. Maybe it's not as complicated as that - that it's something.. er.. distinctly "continental" about the wizards, stonehenge, and the knights - that makes me relate to the setting in that game very easily. You could say the same for Demon's Souls, for example.

But I'm having a very hard time saying that this is a game you should like because you think Dragons are awesome, or something like that. It becomes extremely difficult to end up there.

In the same way, maybe there are things about other games that I can't relate to at all that fascinates others.

So in the end, like everyone else, I'm just trying to explain my perspective. Not trying to tell everyone else what to think.. I think. And then perhaps spark someone's interest if they relate to those thoughts. I mean, we're not IGN either.

There is something to say about how reviewing tends to become irrelevant, once it completely becomes only opinion, though. In the sense that when you read the review, you know that the review is pretty much positive or negative depending on the reviewer's mood, instead of how the game actually plays..

Then we're in trouble.
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realgamer17 posted June 23, 2011:

Infamous 2 def has much smoother animations then the firstborn one.

Infamous 2 does have good animations but yeah its not anything jaw dropping or ground breaking/industry leading like Uncharted
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honestgamer posted June 23, 2011:

I'm deleting your post because you were unable to offer your dissent without calling the review's author names. That's not likely to give your thoughts much credibility anywhere on the Internet, especially here. As for your suggestion that the site was started by a bunch of Microsoft fanboys, it made me chuckle. I started the site before Xbox was even around and out of the current batch of consoles, the Xbox 360 is the one that has done the least to interest me. I don't have Tom Chick review games for the site because I suspect him of being an Xbox loyalist or anything like that. I have him write reviews because he's a great writer and a long-time gamer who a lot of readers rightly trust to provide quality opinions on the latest games. Thanks for your feedback. If you leave any in the future, I hope it's not too much to ask that you be respectful.
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Suskie posted June 23, 2011:

I love it when people come to this site specifically to flame and pick funny usernames. He's a real gamer, you see! UNLIKE THE GUY WHO WROTE THIS REVIEW! HEY NOW!
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overdrive posted June 24, 2011:

He's a real gamer, you see! UNLIKE THE GUY WHO WROTE THIS REVIEW!

We all love it when "real gamers" tell us just how wrong our thought process is. After all, if it's a new game and there are commercials on TV for it, it obviously is either a 9 or 10. And if you say it's a 9, you better have a damn good reason for why it's not a 10.
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WhisperingMadness posted June 24, 2011:

We all love it when "real gamers" tell us just how wrong our thought process is. After all, if it's a new game and there are commercials on TV for it, it obviously is either a 9 or 10. And if you say it's a 9, you better have a damn good reason for why it's not a 10.

It's a complicated system, really. If they have or are linked to advertising revenue on the site or in the magazine the game automatically earns an 8. It gets another .5 if they provide a promotional copy with the understanding it's not technically free and at any time if they feel your score didn't warrant what the game truly is or what they would like it to be perceived as they can refuse you copies of future titles. .5 is also given if they quote the review directly in their commercials. The remaining 1 is determined by mechanics, graphics, game play, fun factor etc. You know, the unimportant stuff no "Real Gamers" care about.
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fleinn posted June 25, 2011:

:D possible explanations for grades on PCGamerUK after the apocralypse, for example:
5. Derek Smart made this game.
6-8.8. May or may not be an incredibly good game, with unique game-mechanics and writing that engages the player in the world. Or it could be a really bad game with a beautiful cutscene the hardcore fans loved for the nostalgia. No telling which is which, since that would set people up for having wandering standards later.
8.9-9.5. Editor's pick. This is a polished, but ultimately completely and utterly boring game.
9.6-10. This is a game by a well-known studio with hundreds and millions of buyers - who also have PR and marketing people who deliver fantastic promo-material, talk in engaging voices about "visual science" and the "deceptively deep immersion of just a single button-press". (note: these grades are never given).

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