It's in the little things

Though I did manage to post a few updates during my hiatus, I think I can officially declare myself back now. We’ve got Internet in the house (which took a while because I was stood up by the Time Warner Cable service man, twice!), and most of the pictures and decorations are in place. I’ve put together enough furniture to make me an honorary carpenter.

Here’s a picture of my new set up. We got a new TV stand that can house all my systems, and it looks fantastic in our loft living room. The layout of our house has a living room downstairs with the fire place, and the master bedroom, and then the loft upstairs with two connecting bedrooms. It’s an interesting layout, and I really love it.

This past week, while I was waiting on Internet, I finished Infamous 2. I’ve heard a lot of people in the games press say that it’s not a significant improvement over the first one, and that’s partly true. The core mechanics—movement, combat, mission and narrative structure—are largely unchanged. But the game is packed with a plethora of small updates that combine to make it a vastly improved experience. Here are a few that I noticed:

Cutscenes: You’ll notice this one from the start. The in-game cutscenes in the first game were terrible. I’m talking last gen, Playstation 2 puppet mouth terrible. Cutscenes in Infamous 2 are cinematic, well acted, and wonderfully animated.

Empathy: The new cutscenes do a lot to make the characters more likeable. Whether you chose good or bad, the first game’s Cole was a dick. The developers made it hard to like him as a hero or anti-hero. Infamous 2’s Cole, voiced by a new actor with better range and emotional depth, walks the line between reluctant hero and glory-hogging savior with aplomb. His relationship with Zeke is believable and their interactions are often humorous. Infamous 2 gives you a reason to enjoy being Cole, beyond the ridiculously fun super powers.

Good vs. Evil: Another criticism many people have with this series is how black and white the good and evil decisions are. This doesn’t bother me at all. I’m not playing Infamous for a deep Witcher-like RPG experience. I don’t need shades of gray in Infamous 2. I like that you can choose one or the other and follow that path. Unlike the first game, Infamous 2 gives you more incentive to explore both sides. Rather than just make the powers different colors and slightly more explosive (for evil), they branched the story and general flow of combat.

If you play as the good guy, you get different ambient missions—stop muggings, diffuse bombs— more precise electric powers, and sweet ice powers. The good hero seems to be focused on mobility. The excellent ice launch move you get halfway through the game makes zipping around the city twice as fun.

If you play as the bad guy, you also get different ambient missions—kill protesters, silence street performers—more destructive electric powers, and fiery napalm powers. There’s no ice launch equivalent for evil Cole, which is kind of a drag. He does have an air dash move, but it uses up a ton of juice compared to the ice launch, so it’s not a real viable means of transportation. Still, it’s fun to experiment with the evil side* because you can blow away everything in your path, including civilians, cars and parts of buildings.

*I recommend keeping a save right before the mission that leads to you choosing your additional power. When you beat the game, you can just load up this save, choose the opposite power, and go nuts.

The ending is also very different depending on your alignment. In the first game you played the same final mission whether you were good or evil and just got a different comic book cutscene afterwards. I played through the game as a good guy and then Googled the end sequence for evil. The last mission is drastically different and slightly heartbreaking as a bad guy. Plus the follow-up cutscenes for both alignments set up two very different post-Infamous 2 worlds.

Bosses: Infamous 2 has a number of large, screen-filling bosses. They’re fun to fight and it’s exciting when you first see them. Just be warned that if you do a lot of the side missions, you’ll see these same bosses recycled dozens of times as normal grunts, and that can get a little irritating.

Variety: The enemy variety is much greater this time around. You’ve got militia dudes with guns, melee-focused monsters, crazy ice-powered guys, and gigantic bosses. There are a lot more things to zap in Infamous 2.

Melee: The melee in the first game was close to useless. Now, with the addition of the Amp, Cole’s electrically-charged tuning fork weapon, melee is quite a bit of fun. It’s not as deep as something like God of War or anything, but it’s better than it was, and it looks really cool.

Traversal: In addition to being more colorful, New Marias is easier to get around than the first game’s Empire City. Power lines are strewn liberally about the map, and vertical charge bars—think electrified drain pipes—will zip you up buildings in no time. Like the first Crack Down and the Assassin’s Creed series, Infamous 2 is game that makes you actually enjoy the act of getting from point A to point B.

Powers: You can now select and swap out powers on the fly, no more pausing and navigating a menu every time you want something different. Not a groundbreaking change, but it makes experimentation and combat much easier.

If you enjoyed the first game, you’ll like this one as much, if not more. For all the improvements there were a couple of issues left unaddressed. The camera can go bananas sometimes, usually when you really don’t want it to. Enemies still have a tendency to overwhelm you from all angles, and the graying screen that shows up as you near death makes it hard to see. None of those things are deal breakers, but they do stick out when compared to the dozens of other polished updates.

Infamous 2 is certainly a game worth playing. It’s got tons of content (including wacky user-generated missions), and the core mechanics that made the first one so much fun are still here. It’s a great summer game, a perfect beat-the-heat, unwind after a long day of unpacking super powered romp.