Consider Cole MacGrath, the returning hero of Infamous, proof of what lies at the eye of a storm: nothing. He might look like actor Sam Worthington and sound like Batman, but to see him is almost to see through him. His eyes are permanently narrow, fixed on his next opponent or waypoint. His mouth is just a slit, source of little more than cynically devised canon. His head is shaved, his arms inked with high-street tattoos. His only magnetism is electrical.
There’s no real excuse for this, but the argument will be that he speaks with his powers, and in that respect he’s a poet. No sooner has the game begun than he’s siphoning electricity from anything plugged in and firing it out as bullets, shields, bombs, rockets, restraints, tractor beams, defibrillating shocks, kinetic blasts and, ultimately, lightning. It’s the loadout from a dozen popular action games given a makeover.
Infamous 2 is interactive fan fiction, a clumsy popculture magpie. Its best weapon: the sticky bomb, which is identical to Halo’s plasma grenade in almost every respect. Its biggest villain: The Beast, a giant glowing man who, it’s revealed, has everything in common with Watchmen’s Dr Manhattan. Its story: Watchmen again, via Blade II and X-Men. Its environment: somewhere between Left 4 Dead 2, Crackdown, Mercenaries and The Saboteur, and often distractingly similar to one or the other. And LittleBigPlanet? We’ll get to that.
What little of the story matters involves the destruction of Empire City (New York) by the aforementioned Beast, whose trek across America is watched avidly by in-game TV broadcasts. MacGrath flees to New Marais (New Orleans) in the deep south, a place of conflict and superstition – a perfect dojo for his powers. But what’s this? The levees have broken and feral mutant freaks have started rising from the floods. For nefarious private army the Militia, it’s the perfect staging ground for a war against the Conduits, the world’s emerging population of supermen and women.
Together with sidekick gadget man Zeke, MacGrath quickly teams up with bickering supergirls Nix (an atrociously characterised voodoo tribeswoman) and Kuo (a special agent on the wrong side of a Militia experiment). To say this dovetails with returning plot threads from Infamous would be generous: for newcomers to the series, much of the dialogue will sound like impenetrable fanboy gobbledygook.
From a gameplay perspective, what’s really important is that MacGrath needs enough power to activate the RFI, a shiny round MacGuffin full of dormant special effects, and the last, best hope against The Beast. This he achieves by consuming ‘Blast Cores’ found in key story missions.
To be fair, Infamous 2 is a game of two halves, only one of which is horrible. The first, which sees the game methodically set its agenda, is actually pretty good. The murky and misty New Marais is a much better place for the series’ murky and misty in-game palette, not to mention a melting pot of bustling pedestrians. You’re reminded of the how well the game reacts physically to MacGrath’s actions, cars dying as their batteries are sucked dry, buildings shredded by combat. And with a broader range of entry-level powers than last time, moving up and around the buildings is a painless and more attractive process.