This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Infamous 2
You know, it's easy to let obnoxious socialites like Duke Nukem Forever prance about grabbing headlines, but do we stop to appreciate all the non-squeaky wheels who just work efficiently without needing development cycles longer than the average natural lifespan of a St. Bernard? Everyone longs to catch the eye of that ditzy straight line block in Tetris, but no one stops to thank the workaday T-shaped block for its diligent and efficient service. And as a developer, Sucker Punch really deserve more credit. They've been floating around unnoticed by all the boys, but when they take off their glasses and frumpy sweater it becomes clear that they've got a bod you could bounce marbles off. When Infamous 1 came out, it was slightly overshadowed by the fact that another supervillain sandbox came out the same week, which probably wasn't as hilarious a coincidence as it seemed like at the time. But it and InFamous 2 are really solidly designed games, and I'm not just saying that to get good karma points, lol.
InFamous 2 is the sequel for which the ending of InFamous 1 was spread wide open like a Saigon whore. After all that effort Cole McGravelyvoice spent either saving or nostril-fucking Empire City in the first game, the rather revelatory beast that he is prophesied to destroy shows up, smashes the whole city to bits, and forces Cole to pull a Samus Aran, losing most of his powers. Not exactly brimming with confidence after round 1, Cole is forced to take to his little electric heels and flee to New Marais, a city in the Deep South that totally isn't New Orleans that has been recently stricken by severe floods - did I mention that it isn't New Orleans? - in order to build his power level back up to nine thousaaaand, and perhaps while he's there save the city from an evil occupying militia called "The Militia." Nice to see that the naming committee from Crackdown 2 is still finding work. As you proceed through the plot, the loading screens inform you in foreboding white-on-black text how many miles the beast has to hike before it hits town, keeping the tension high like a sword of Damocles with its knob out.
A bad sandbox is one where you speed disinterestedly from plot mission to plot mission like the London Underground, but a good sandbox makes you go "well, there's the next story mission, but ooh! Collectibles! Ooh! Random encounters! Ooh! An intact thing!" A good sandbox is one where you can mess around for hours after making the hollow promise to yourself you'll stop any minute now, and InFamous 2 certainly has that. Such things go hand in hand with the a good upgrade system, so you're motivated to mess around and gain experience to buy new spectacular attacks and movement skills, and eerily enough InFamous 2 has one of those as well. Actually found the story quite engaging, too, with interesting, flawed characters who actually have arcs, especially Cole's fat comedy sidekick, who was mostly just an arse passin' in the first game but gains enough depth and character moments to almost become the emotional heart of the story. Which I guess makes him the love interest, but let's not make this weird. I'm not to proud to admit that I was welling up at InFamous 2 's good ending, a little bit. Well, not much at all really. It most more like stoically nodding my head while doing squat-thrusts and grunting.
I'm actually a little hard-pressed to come up with criticisms, besides the big one that we'll get to later. I've got some nitpicky ones. I guess there hasn't been much added to gameplay since the first game except a system where you can combine your powers with those of other superpower characters, but they feel like two high schoolers nagging you to help them with their homework. The bigger enemies have hit points like gamer girls have daddy issues and kind of get boring to fight after a while, especially when they're wheeled out in greater and greater numbers to fill out the side missions. And there's a real problem with voice actors mumbling their lines, to the point of needing subtitles, especially Cole himself, who still talks like he snorts rock salt for breakfast. But these nits are hardly worth breaking out the steel comb for, and, as I said, the ending almost came close to nearly making me consider tearing up a bit. However, the impact was undermined a little by knowing that elsewhere on the disc lurked an equally canonical ending in which Cole was a complete dick blister.
And now we're gettin' to it. I know InFamous is kind of stuck with the whole moral choice thing, since the game's pretty much named after it, but no fairy godmothers have showed up since the first game to wave her wand and have it start making sense. Look. If you have two equally viable, equally difficult solutions to a problem - say, humanely suffocating your costly, vegetative wife with a pillow or digging through to her femoral arteries with a cheese grater - then the evil option - which, if you're having trouble keeping up, is the second one - is just irrational. And you can't relate to a character whose actions don't make any fucking sense. Surely the evil option is supposed to be the more convenient but riskier one that would appeal to someone weak-willed. You could spend a lot of time and effort sprucing yourself up and trawling the bars to find someone to romance and settle down with or you could just fuck a cow and risk angry farmers with paparazzi connections. That's a moral choice.
The trouble with having this artificial dual-character bullshit is that, ironically, Cole ends up having no character at all, since a lot of the scenes and dialogue have to allow for the character being Cole McLovely or Cole McBellend. And when he's surrounded by NPCs with actual depth and personality, he looks like an unwashed sock in a fruit basket. And, as always, the best rewards are reserved for only the biggest saints or the biggest cocks, so altering your attitude is pointless, and they might as well ask you at the start of the game if you're going for a saint or cock run and stop nagging us with the same choice every five minutes like a pushy waiter asking us with we're really, really sure we don't want naan bread.
And for the record, the evil exclusives aren't even very good. Cole McGallant gets a launch power that's really handy for gettin' around, while Cole McGoofus gets a retarded little swan dive thing that loses all velocity at the end in a way that almost certainly wouldn't impress the Romanian judge.
Now, I can see the thinking that went into all this. Very few players of sandbox games observe the rules of the road or the rights of the seven or eight clone-stamped civilians that wander about, but part of the appeal of creaming an NPC against a bridge support is in knowing that it's consequence free. That effect is lost when you work it into the story, and it just makes the protagonist unlikable. I feel bad when I disappoint support characters that I've grown fond of, which does reflect well on InFamous 2 's writing, because I've never given a shit about disappointing my parents every single day of my life.
Infamy, infamy, they've all got it infamy: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
And really if Evil Cole can't wee electrified urine onto single mothers from the rooftops then what's the bloody point
That's nothing, I can shoot electricity out of my carpet