Superheroes have always been the ideal subject matter for videogames, but despite this, decent superhero games are actually quite rare. In general, these games lack some integral part of the overall superhero experience – and until I played inFAMOUS and its recently-released sequel, inFAMOUS 2, I didn’t know what it was.

Making the player feel different, like they’re simultaneously a hero and an outcast – that’s what a lot of superhero games are missing, but it’s something inFAMOUS manages to pull off very well. You have an entire populace who will react to your choices, running in terror when you start unleashing your powers, and cheering you on if you decide to help them out. You also have allies fighting alongside you, but their efforts pale in comparison to your powers.

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inFAMOUS 2 picks up shortly after the first game. Cole, his buddy Zeke and his new CIA friend, Agent Kuo, decide to head to New Marais, a fictionalized version of New Orleans, to track down a scientist who can help Cole increase his powers in preparation for a battle with a city destroying monster called “The Beast”, which was hinted at in the last game. When they arrive in New Marais, they find the place overrun by a local militia governed by a pseudo-religious madman who has sworn to keep the place free of these demonic, superhuman freaks that have started popping up everywhere. The idea is not all that different to X-Men, when you think about it. It turns out the local militia is very heavy-handed and abusing their power – giving Cole ample excuse to smack the buggers around and get the people on his side.

Anyway, apart from the new story, the new city and the hugely improved graphics, when you actually sit down and start playing inFAMOUS 2, it doesn’t seem all that different to its predecessor. The game is still played in a very open-world, sandbox style, and the expansive city map is littered with icons indicating missions Cole can complete. White icons represent the main story missions, the yellow icons represent side missions and the white-bordered, green and red icons represent Good and Evil side missions that have a huge impact on Cole’s karma level. There are also new green icons that represent player-created missions, but more on that later. There’s also the option to continue from a completed Good or Evil karma inFAMOUS save game – but unfortunately, my save was on my old PS3, which blew up, so I don’t know what happens, but there are obviously some cool legacy bonuses to be had.

Initially, Cole has access to the same powers he had before. He gains experience from completing missions which he can spend to upgrade these powers, like new kinds of lightning bolts, new types of grenades, faster energy charging and so on. In a bizarre twist, Cole has to perform special stunts to unlock the first few abilities before he can buy them. And of course, on the odd occasion, Cole has to make a moral decision that will determine how the people react to him, what abilities he can buy, and his appearance. Aside from that, there’s the mandatory busy-work of collecting all the blast shards to increase Cole’s available energy, and collecting “dead drops” from carrier pigeons flying around the city – which aren’t essential, but give players more insight into the back story.

Sounds pretty much like the first game all over again, doesn’t it? Well, yes, it is – and that’s probably what they wanted us to think, but there are new features waiting to be discovered. The first ones you’re likely to notice are subtle, but make a world of difference. For instance, when coming off a rail grind, Cole no longer feels the need to go into a diving roll – which sounds like a small thing, but anyone who played the first game will know how annoying it was when you were just trying to get somewhere quickly. The small, random favours people will ask you, like saving someone from muggers or healing people, have now been more tightly integrated into the gameplay, with icons indicating where they are and more discernable conditions for completing them. These little distractions also include some evil options, like beating up drum-banging hippies and mugging people.
While those tweaks are welcome, it’s the new features that are the highlight. The first thing that has been added is the new melee combat system. Instead of the awkward punches and kicks of before, Cole now carries a tuning fork-like weapon called the “Amp”, which he can use to bludgeon enemies in all kinds of impressive ways. It’s solid and powerful and makes melee combat a proper offensive option this time. At a later point, Cole will be able to swap powers with some of the other friendly “Conduits” in the game, and finally gain access to abilities other than electricity. I chose to go with Kuo’s ice powers, which granted me shields and the ability to launch Cole into the sky on a pillar of ice among others. Next time I’ll see what happens when I choose Nix’s Nightcrawler-like powers.

If your PS3 is connected to PSN, the game will automatically update your map with player-created missions which you can complete to earn extra experience points. They range from the mundane, like simply killing waves of enemies, to quite creative, involving weird physics puzzles or sports. Once you’ve completed one, you can rate it and move on. If you’re so inclined, you can use the mission creator to make your own missions and upload them for other players to play.

If you enjoyed the first game, inFAMOUS 2 is a must, with its more solid melee combat, new powers, improved graphics and gripping story. If you haven’t played the first, but fancy playing a game that really gives you the feeling of what it might be like to wield incredible powers, you should also give it a look.

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