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It’s been a while since we’ve looked at a video game on the older side. Not that I mind since A) nothing is coming out this week, 2) everyone is still probably playing Final Fantasy XVI and finally, it’s my writing and I get to do what I want. But in all honesty, the main reason I wanted to talk about this is that I weirdly never actually played inFAMOUS 2 when it first came out. I played the first game after it was offered up as an apology for when the PSN was hacked and I played Second Son when my brother borrowed it from a friend and we barely had any games for our PS4 then. So when I saw that it was a part of the PlayStation Plus Streaming thing a few weeks ago, I decided “Why not? The week is slow” With that out of the way, let's get to it.
Taking place a few months after the events of the first game, Conduit and Empire City’s local Superhero Cole MacGrath gets in touch with NSA Agent Lucy Kuo. Cole learns of a doctor working for the First Sons named Sebastian Wolfe who can help him get enough power to prepare for the Beast, a Conduit of immense power he was warned of by Kessler, the leader of the First Sons because of time travel shenanigans. Before they can make their way to Wolfe’s lab; the Beast shows up way earlier than expected, whoops Cole, drains him of most of his powers and destroys Empire City in the process. Once recovered, Cole, his friend Zeke (who looks like something out of a reboot of Redneck Rampage) and Agent Kuo make their way to New Marais. But before they can settle, they have to deal with the persistent threat of the local Militia headed up by their leader and local businessman, Joseph Bertrand III. And that's before getting into the Swamp monsters frequently attacking the city, a stronger variant of the plague that hit Empire City and the South African mercenary outfit Vermaak 88 that’s making a power play. Or even the conduit Nix who has a grudge against Bertrand for being involved with the death of her mother, or how you need to absorb enough blast core Macguffins to power another Macguffin all while the Beast is making his way across the Eastern Seaboard to New Marais.
If there’s a lot to keep track of plot-wise, you’d be right in thinking so. But inFAMOUS 2 actually carries most of it well across its forty main missions, giving each of those plot threads a chance to breathe, although the majority of it is spent dealing with the Militia and their nonsense. Which wouldn't be as good as it was if Bertrand wasn't such a good villain. He’s a man who has contradictory beliefs of both believing in God’s Plan while also holding an intense belief in his own Destiny. He’s a violent Christofascist who uses said beliefs as a cudgel to “keep humanity pure from the deviants” and eventually spark a Conduit Arms Race and Genocide despite being a conduit himself because that’s “all part of God’s Plan”. He’s a mashup of every single militant, far-right, Christian fundamentalist we’ve seen in American politics in the last 30 to 40 years, which is fucking scary considering that this inFAMOUS 2 came out in 20 fucking 11 and that shit wasn't anywhere near as bad as it was then as it is now! He gives me big Willaim Stryker vibes to the point where I would not be surprised if Sucker Punch’s writing team used the X-Men Story “God Loves, Man Kills” as one of the main inspirations for Bertrand. All of this is tied together nicely with Graham MacTavish (yes, Dwalin from The Hobbit and GODDAMN DRACULA) doing a light Cajun accent and made all the more terrifying by Bertrand actually believing everything he espouses and you’ve got one of those bad guys you just love to hate.
But it’s not just Bertrand that’s great in the voice department too. The entire cast is game to play their assigned roles to the best of their abilities and it comes out pretty great. The standouts are Eric Ladlin being the new voice for Cole, imbuing a sense of playful snark and this was before I remembered that Ladlin was also Ellis in Left 4 Dead 2 (now I’m re-watching compilations of the Keith stories on YouTube again) and Phil Lamar’s character that I cannot spoil here because it’s a late game twist, But he’s good and no, that’s not me being a lifelong mark for his work. Nix is weird not because the performance is poor, but because she’s voiced by Nika Futterman and all I end up hearing is Asajj Ventress from Star Wars, but that's a “me” thing. But to loop back to the narrative real quick, the race against the clock of getting all the blast cores before the Beast arrives was actually done decently and there’s enough comic book ridiculousness to keep the whole thing from getting overly serious, which for a superhero game that came out in the early days of the MCU, feels nice.
Now onto the actual video game part of this video game. inFAMOUS 2 is an open-world, platforming, third-person shooter and it’s a mashup that works, much like how I remember the first game working. Much like how Empire City was basically New York City post-9/11, New Marais is basically just New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina. The city is still largely in the process of rebuilding, but this is mostly through the Floodtown area, which is half-sunken and destroyed neighbourhoods, large concentrations of downed industrial buildings and abandoned trainyards. This stands in stark contrast to Ville Cochon, with its port and red light district, the oldest part of the city Ascension Parish with its old cathedrals and plantations, the Swamps where the Corrupted monsters and Militia call home and the Gas Works, the city’s industrial center currently controlled by Vermaak 88 as seen by them literally freezing the main gas refinery solid. There’s already a vastly superior amount of locations compared to Empire City and it all makes for fantastic platforming because even though they made this series and would later make Ghost of Tsushima (which I really should get around to at some point), there’s still a large among of Sly Cooper in inFamous’s DNA. This combined with some new traversal powers makes getting around New Marais the high point of the gameplay experience. To the point where I would just go around and explore the city when I wasn’t doing any missions. And considering that this is an open-world parkour game released at the height of Assassin’s Creed’s popularity (it was released in between Assassin’s Creeds Brotherhood and Revelations), that’s goddamn saying something.
And Speaking of Powers, inFAMOUS 2 gives you a literal shedload to play around with. While you start off the game mostly de-powered because of the Beast, You at the very least start off with all of Cole’s movement abilities and shock grenades from the first game, so you at least feel like you aren’t working your way back up completely from zero. You eventually get most of the old powers back over the course of the game through the collection of the blast cores in the story. The blast, rocket, and precision bolt all return and are accompanied by new powers. Induction lets you jump up specific poles in the city and cars to get some needed air and give the game some much-needed vertical ascension abilities, Kinetic Pulse lets you lift up metal objects and yeet them through the air (always a favourite of mine), and finally, the late game (as in you get it 2 or 3 missions from the end) Lightning Tether that allows you to zip across the city by attaching lightning to object like you were Spider-Man.
You also get serval variations of lightning bolts and all offensive abilities through your Karma ratings. Yes, the Karma system is back, but more refined this time. I stuck with the good path mainly because the ending is used as the basis for inFAMOUS Second Son and I wanted to see how it panned out. The Good Karma path focused mainly on ensuring that you cause as little collateral damage as possible and as much crowd control as possible. Which is how I like to do things in a superhero game. For Bolts, you get the Magnum Bolt and Bolt Stream, which serve as a literal magnum of lightning and SMG of lightning bolts and they served as my main offensive powers for the majority of my playtime. I tried some of the evil Karma powers and none of them compared to the Bolt Magnum, I’m sorry.
But this also extends to the biggest issue I have with inFAMOUS 2: the Good Karma powers are so good that they end up invalidating the Evil powers. This is best shown when you get your hands on a device that lets you copy either Nix or Kuo’s conduit powers, accompanied by the suitable alignment shift. The former gives you Napalm and the latter gives you Ice. While I went with Kuo because Ice Powers are my jam and I was doing a good run, the Ice Powers were so goddamn effective and useful that it made no sense to go down the path of villainy. Because copying Kuo’s power nets you freezing variants of your grenades, rockets, blast and Ionic Powers and they don’t hurt civilians AND you still get the Magnum bolt on top of that and do you see where I’m going with this? Plus, Nightmare Strike sucks compared to Ice Launch because Ice Launch ties into the platforming and parkour much better. I actually forgot about it until I sat down to write this because I remembered throughout my time playing where I was just freezing and head shotting dudes. It was rad, but I wish they weren’t as strong a bit. But considering the Millitia, the various monsters of the Corrupted and the Vermaak 88 Soldiers with their own ice powers, I felt like I was justified going down this path.
Even with all of these problems, inFAMOUS 2 is some of the most fun I’ve had with a third-person shooter-style game in a while. Between the wild powers, pretty good comic-inspired story and ice powers so good I had to stop myself from making Ice Puns the entire time I was playing it. If anything it’s made me want to play both Second Son and the PS4 Spider-MAn game again, so it did something right. I recommend it if you haven’t gotten to it like I did.