inFamous 2: Pseudo-review + quickie drawing

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I finished up inFamous 2 this past week, and figured I would post some thoughts, a review-esque retrospective.  Think of it as a supplement to more detail-oriented “traditional” reviews.

Simply put, I really love this series, which I think puts me in something of the minority.  Developer Sucker Punch’s two forays into this world have both been met with complimentary, perfunctory 8/10 review scores and the polite golf clapping of the gaming establishment, but people don’t really seem excited about these games.  And I think that’s a shame, because what’s being done with this series, though written off as solely iterative, is ambitious and progressive in it’s own unique, understated, unsexy way.

Though their first big splash was with 2002′s Sly Cooper on the PS2, I’m firmly of the belief that Sucker Punch are a band of early 90s 16-bit developers who, during a freak accident stemming from a massive “Blast Processing” explosion, were frozen in time for close to a decade, only to awaken in the late 90s to a brave new world of polygons and disc-based media.  Though their new games parade around in a shell modernity (sometimes awkwardly and unconvincingly), their hearts beat with the chiptune thump of antiquity.

As a result, I don’t think there’s any other big-budget “Triple A” developer working today, East or West, PC or console, “casual” or “hardcore” more madly, passionately in love with the thrill of movement in a digital world.  The original inFamous suffered in the eyes of many because of it’s perhaps too-narrow focus on mechanics, the joys of dashing through a world with a freedom and fluidity of motion unequaled by anything else out there, and the simple, seamless jump between platforming and 3rd person shooting, doing both with substance and remarkable grace.  Granted, the enemies lacked variety, the morality system felt largely inconsequential, the framerate was oftentimes terrible, and the open world didn’t even begin to approach the depth of possibility found in other modern sandbox games, but my god, it FELT amazing.

inFamous was that rarest of modern games for me, in that it managed to tap into what I used to love about gaming as a medium without feeling like a “throwback” or a cynical stab at “retro gaming”.  It just felt right.  Protagonist Cole McGrath had that perfect balance between feeling weighty, like he took up genuine physical space within the game world and had real heft, and feeling light enough to quickly scamper up the sides of buildings, or go leaping off of a roof and hovering 10 stories down to land with balletic grace onto a narrow streetlight, only to unleash a hellstorm of lightning bolts on the thugs skulking about on the street below.  It’s what I’ve always loved about action-platformers, that mix of delicate traversal followed by big, bellowing waves of offense.

That mix gets pushed to even more delirious extremes in inFamous 2, but it takes time.  Roughly the first half of the game feels painfully similar to the original, and while it’s still enjoyable for what it is, the game’s adoption of a prettier, more technologically stable yet more predictable art style, the increased focus on narrative and the misguided attempts at God of War-style “cinematic action”, by way of Cole’s new hand-to-hand Amp weapon, make it feel like a unique franchise sanded down to awkwardly fit the role of homogenous blockbuster.

But right around the halfway point, you get to make a choice between two new paths of fire or ice-based elemental powers, both of which offer some radically new movement options.  A new group of enemies is also unleashed upon the world, who are blessed with acrobatic mobility at least equivalent to your own, and a new stretch of the city is opened up that’s drastically different from the vertical, concrete grid-based cityscapes you’ve become accustomed to traversing.  At this point, at least for me, the game magically transformed from being dry and overly familiar to some of the most mechanically engrossing stuff I’ve ever experienced in a video game.  Movement becomes bigger, faster and more dynamic, and combat explodes into near-anarchy, as you wind up in massive rumbles between the three distinct enemy factions, with your amplified powers capable of unleashing near-biblical levels of decimation upon the battlefield.  I can’t remember the last game that made giggle like a schoolgirl more or more frequently than this.

I can’t say that everybody would enjoy this game to the degree that I did, but this isn’t a buyer’s guide, just some personal thoughts.  I oftentimes feel estranged from modern gaming, not out of any sense of elitist disgust, but simply because it seems as though the sorts of games I did and still do love have fallen out of fashion.  I don’t blame a new generation for having their own unique wants and needs from the medium, but when even people my age or older are losing their shit over games like Bioshock or Red Dead Redemption, stuff that I appreciate in principle but feel no great emotion towards, I wonder where I fell off the wagon of critical consensus.  I’ve always desired for games to advance as an artform, but as I age, I become less patient with games that so desperately want to be “meaningful” or “adult” or “cinematic” and find less intellectually lofty, more mechanically daring stuff like inFamous 2 to be a far more compelling vision of the future.

Also, in regards to the drawing, I’ve always considered inFamous to be the greatest Spider-Man game ever created, so it only seemed appropriate.

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