inFamous had one of the best opening moments of this generation: you pressed the start button and Empire City exploded, a catastrophic accident which also gave protagonist Cole MacGrath his electrifying superpowers. Two years later and the sequel doesn't open with anywhere near that level of panache, instead delivering a weary animated cutscene to explain the hefty wedge of plot contrivances built up by the original.
Still, it's worth gritting your teeth and sitting through it because everything gets better once the exposition is done. inFamous' enduring qualities are not derived from plot or character; Cole has been completely redesigned, but somehow manages to be as equally forgettable as his original incarnation. Traversal, energy, and freedom are the strong suits here, and it's in these moments of bounding kinetic energy that the game hits its stride.
Sucker Punch seems to be aware of this too, unlocking a greater cache of swanky powers with far more immediacy than last time around. But Cole starts the game stripped of most of his arsenal after a calamitous opening encounter with arch-villain The Beast, forcing him to flee to New Marais, inFamous' take on New Orleans. Thanks to a bit of odd time-jiggery, The Beast is the very reason for Cole's existence to begin with - didn't I say not to worry about the story?
Bounding across rooftops and grinding across New Marais' four distinct districts on tram lines and power cables is still a massively pleasant experience. Sucker Punch has years of experience in making Sly Cooper an entertainingly lithe and acrobatic hero, and the studio's talents are still being put to excellent use. Navigation strikes a superb balance between empowering assistance and manual control, with Cole the perfect mix of tactile input and on-screen results. He's easily the best of all the open-world super-badasses.
As you progress through the game your powers twist and warp based on your karmic alignment, and Cole discovers a range of basic electrical bolt attacks, various tweaks of standard grenades, and more exotic elemental powers from one of his two new sidekicks. Over time he regains control of his rockets and powerful ionic attacks, allowing him to spew and fling massive whirlpools of electricity that consume entire blocks in whirling, fatal energy. Then there's the fantastic Lightning Tether, introduced way too late in the game, which allows Cole to fling himself across the map. The rest, well, those veer slightly into the realm of spoilers, but there are definitely some unexpected delights nestled within the package.
Somewhere in the middle you have the Amp, a bespoke melee weapon (it's a motorcycle fork) built to do something like harness Cole's latent electrical abilities - I can't remember exactly how the game attempts to describe it. It's designed almost entirely to add some swanky melee finishers that make the camera do some nice dramatic whooshes, but also to provide Cole with a more effective combat solution at short range. It's simple, but it works.
All would be exceptional if inFamous 2 were simply powers and parkour, but unfortunately the action game sandwiched in between does not fare nearly as well. Combat is a fairly dry affair, having you splash regular cannon fodder in streams of electric bolts as you retain your conservative energy supplies for bigger, badder enemies. On occasions the game takes off the training wheels and lets Cole cut loose through his foes with unlimited energy. Here, for a moment, the action feels unrestrained and free. But this is the exception rather than the norm.
Bosses also hit a particularly sour note. It takes all of 20 seconds to realise that you can stomp every major enemy in the game by simply throwing grenades at their face over and over again - hardly the kind of thrilling, apocalyptic battles the game primed us for. One mutant nasty, menacingly titled The Devourer, can basically be knocked dead in less time than it takes the game to render the multi-storey behemoth.
Much of the plot plays into the tales of Nix and Kuo, literal manifestations of Good and Evil in a battle for Cole's soul/Trophies. The game still encourages you down one particular karmic route at the start of the game, and while it often presents the illusion of choice - whether you opt to listen to Nix's bad advice, or Kuo's good intentions - it still makes absolutely no sense to deviate from your alignment after committing to a particular path.
Regardless of whether you choose to do things like saving civilians (for good experience points) or killing civilians (for evil experience points), Cole's mission is to unearth eight magic trinkets hidden around New Marais, which both imbue our hero with new powers and charge up the RFI, a metallic MacGuffin that will conveniently handle the narrative predicaments posed by The Beast. It is as entirely perfunctory as it sounds, and the terrible characterisation (especially that of Nix, who acts like a demented psychopath) manages to undo any of the potentially interesting developments before they have a chance to blossom.
All you really need to know, then, is that inFamous 2 is built on an excellent bedrock of navigation and superpowers but is mired in unsatisfying combat and weary exposition. If you're the kind of person who considers a successful open world game to be one where you spend most of your time ignoring the narrative, inFamous 2 should be right up your street. I happily plodded around the city for hours, seeking out each of the 305 blast shards before resigning myself to the sad reality that I needed to progress through the unsatisfying late-game missions to reach the conclusion.
Sucker Punch, however, is seeking out the assistance of the community with its User Generated Content (UGC) features. Despite an excellent toolkit and a surprising amount of freedom and versatility in the editor itself, most featured UGC levels, even a week after release, are still authored by Sucker Punch. I imagine the intention is to slowly filter these away with community-helmed creations, though it's a real shame that some of the more noteworthy results from the UGC beta couldn't have been folded into the retail launch.
Undeterred in my efforts to see what the community was creating, however, I flicked the filter to 'newest' and got swamped with a forest of green blobs on the mini-map. My first venture into the foggy world of genuine UGC was a level where Cole had to track down and murder the manager of a local Subway (yes, the popular chain of sandwich vendors - I imagine the brand was used without permission) because he had hooked up with one of Zeke's ex-girlfriends. The mission consisted of me running down the street and blasting some dude in the face. Next!
There's no ability to get voice work into UGC levels, so on-screen text has to suffice. Another UGC creation flooded an area with a hundred grenade-wielding foes and said that only Cole could stop New Marais from being invaded by a race of Call of Duty noob tubers, and one level wanted you to destroy a bespoke construction it labelled the 'Minecraft tank' by moving a ball from one location to another.
While Sucker Punch should be applauded for its efforts (and successes) in adding user-generated content to an open world game, there's a real sense that the developer should have sorted out the foundations of its own house before inviting others to come over and redecorate. UGC is certainly not the killer feature this series needed to emerge from its slightly ropey footing, and while inFamous 2 is a mostly entertaining game that manages to succeed over its predecessor, Sucker Punch is still yet to make an experience that's genuinely electrifying.