What kind of world do we live in when the best superhero franchise in video games is not based on a comic book?
InFAMOUS 2 continues the series' tradition of being a better video game than any game starring DC or Marvel's heavy hitters. And it does so by putting you in the shoes of a character without 60-plus years of heritage behind him.
You play as Cole McGrath, a rather contemporary hero in the vein of the everyday folks featured on television's Heroes.
McGrath is a simple bike messenger and college dropout who finds himself thrust into the world of heroes and villains when he's granted power over electricity, courtesy of a mysterious explosion that destroys much of his hometown — the fictional Empire City.
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After saving the city in the first inFAMOUS, the sequel begins with Empire City's destruction by an enormous monster known as the Beast. After fighting the Beast and losing, McGrath and his cohorts flee by boat to a fictionalized version of New Orleans — a city called New Marais. The Beast gives chase, walking across the country and destroying all it its wake.
The impending showdown with the Beast provides a sense of tension to the game; you have to become strong enough to fight him before he gets to the city. You get stronger by finding and absorbing "blast cores" — shards of energy that give you new powers. Local street gangs — some imbued with their own elemental powers — also vie for the cores, providing for some fantastic battles.
The game takes place entirely in Cajun country. From the second I stepped off the boat, I knew New Marais would be a better setting than the drab and repetitive Empire City, and I wasn't disappointed.
New Marais has players shoot lightning bolts at thugs and monsters in vibrant red-light districts, swamps and industrial complexes. You also spend a good portion of the game fighting in a flood-devastated region — a particularly hazardous area since McGrath's electrical powers kill him if he's submerged in water too long.
The setting was the first of many improvements. In fact, "many improvements" might be underselling it; inFAMOUS 2 is as good as or better than its predecessor in every way.
Since the game launched last month, I have read a dozen reviews giving inFAMOUS 2 a lower score than its predecessor. I'm confused; rarely in gaming history has a developer made so many welcome improvements. It's as if the developers, Sucker Punch, listened to fan complaints and addressed each one for the sequel.
The graphics are better. The characters, including McGrath, are more relatable and interesting. The powers are bigger, better and more theatrical. The enemies — who range from lowly thugs with machine guns to giant mutants encased in ice — are bigger and badder, making the battles much more satisfying.
And then there's the karma system. Throughout the game, you can chose to make good decisions or evil ones, affecting how the story plays out. The karma system in inFAMOUS 2 is much less intrusive, and the differences between being good and evil are more noticeable.
You also can customize almost any power. For example, your standard attack in the original inFAMOUS was a lightning bolt fired from your hand. It's the same in the sequel, but now you have options. You want a slow and heavy bolt that deals a ton of damage? Go for it. Or you can choose a weaker bolt that can be fired more quickly.
The only thing that isn't noticeably better is the story, which remains convoluted and campy. But it's no worse than its predecessor's, which was equally confusing.
For someone like me, who grew up flipping through Batman comics before I could read, the story is not a hindrance to the overall package. No one reads comic books for the stories, anyway; they read them for the characters, the action and the drama, which inFAMOUS 2 has in spades.
For this nerd's money, inFAMOUS 2 is the best single-player game I've played on any modern console. Period.