- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Superhero and cartoon characters are integral parts of the electronic entertainment industry. With this in mind, I salute the meld of pop-culture character and video game with a look at  inFamous 2 (from Sony Computer Entertainment and Sucker Punch Productions, reviewed for PlayStation 3, rated Teen, $59.99).

The electrifying life of Cole MacGrath continues in this third-person adventure game exclusive to the PS3 and loaded with free-roaming action.

Just as in the first inFamous, the solo player becomes part of the ultimate superhero or super villain experience, as good and bad choices he makes determine Cole’s look, personality and powers.

Get ready for boss battles against monsters, fights against waves of mercenaries and the control of advanced superpowers as our powerhouse explores a city in need of salvation but mired in destruction.

What’s the Story? Paraphrased from the game literature: Blamed for the destruction of Empire City and haunted by the ghosts of his past, reluctant hero Cole MacGrath makes a dramatic journey to the historic Southern city of New Marais in an effort to discover his full superpowered potential — and face a civilization-ending confrontation with a dark and terrifying enemy called the Beast. Gifted with extraordinary, godlike abilities, Cole alone has the power to save humanity, but the question is — will he choose to do so?

Play the role: In control of the bike-messenger-turned-superpowered-being (with the agility and climbing abilities of Spider-Man and powers of a Sith Lord, no less), the player takes on missions and side missions within six districts of the Cajun-infused city (to be confused with New Orleans). He can enhance and unlock his powers in preparation for a final showdown with a massive molten man.

As in the original, the player makes choices that will bring out either the good or bad in Cole.

It is a pure schizophrenic Jedi vs. Sith event as a karma meter allows the player to monitor Cole’s status. He might completely wipe out a camp to kill militia and civilians (evil), stop a mugging (good), kill pesky street musicians (evil) or eliminate a group of protesters (pure evil).

Players should explore slowly and appreciate the developer’s intricate designs for the devastated historic city, including the detailed architecture in the cathedral at St. Ignatius, the foreboding tombs of St. Charles Cemetery and a waterlogged district known as Flood Town that’s filled with creatures and ice soldiers.

Missions might include collecting blast shards to increase his energy storage, protecting Dr. Wolf while perched in the back of a pickup truck, disrupting TV dish signals so his buddy Zeke can broadcast propaganda, taking reconnaissance photos, or simply guarding a trash-talking militia member (of course, I electrocuted him).

By the way, I chose to hone the evil side of Cole by killing the innocent and causing destruction on a massive scale. It was quite creepy to watch Cole’s face became paler, veins standing out on his temples, and nasty tattoos popping up on his arms the more inFamous he became.

Get to the action: Just like in the last game, Cole is a one-man army as he harnesses the powers of electricity (blue or red bolts) and uses it to attack militia and mutants through some mind-blowing super powers.

Those wild powers are upgraded by collecting experience points, and include an ionic vortex that can wipe out a city block and a lightning tether that can pulls Cole toward targeted objects. Zeke also has built him an electrified club called the Amp that delivers crushing attacks with Cole’s combination moves.

When he runs out of energy, he can go to any item or being with an electrical pulse and suck their energy. That includes street lamps, trolley cars, stoplights, vehicles and even a giant neon sign of a stripper hanging over the Yes We Can Can Cabaret.

He can also align with one of two female characters who will bring out the best or worst in Cole.

There’s NSA agent Lucy Kuo, who will help him develop freezing powers such as summoning a frozen column of ice, and then there’s the infinitely more fun local resident Nix, who will help develop the fiery helpers in his arsenal, such as napalm grenades and hellfire rockets.

Each character offers unique missions that cancel one another out, depending on the player’s karma path. For example, at one point in the story, Cole can either guide a trolley car packed with explosives and ram it into a plantation mansion (as Nix cheers him on) or listen to Kuo and free a group of police to help take back parts of the city.

Memorable moments (in no particular order): Taking down a hostile helicopter with the three-pronged Pincer bolt; dunking a beat-up truck in a swamp, pulling it out of the water while standing on top (a real Magneto moment) and tossing it back to land using electricity; defeating a militia squad by throwing cars to sink its large tugboat; performing a high-speed grind along electrical cables; taking a boat ride through the swamps; manipulating a Tesla energy missile to strike and power up generators in Ascension Park (with a spectacular pyrotechnic display); and beating up a behemoth called the Devourer.

Violent encounters: Cole controls the fate of any enemy or citizen he does not kill outright. At his mercy, creatures and humans can be shackled through his electrical powers, or healed or leeched of all of their energy, with flashes of their skeletal remains appearing during the process.

As a villain, Cole relishes wiping out a mob of angry protesters, killing street musicians and collapsing parts of buildings.

Read all about it: DC Comics offered a six-issue miniseries called inFamous ($2.99 each) that concluded in May. The books offer a refresher course, and expand upon the events from the first game. The series is written by William Harms, who happened to develop the story for inFamous.

Pixel-popping scale: 8.5 out of 10. This is a gorgeous-looking game with motion-captured cut scenes that meld into the main action with slightly animated and stylish sequential art moments that reinforce the story.

Multiplayer: Although playing with friends locally or online is always fun, Sucker Punch came up with a very slick way to extend the action.

The vault of UGC  user-generated content  allows players to build their own missions and share them with everyone who is part of the inFamous and PlayStation Network universe.

Create a mission with help from a template or by starting from scratch to build details that incorporate time of day, text dialogue, characters, squads of enemies, animations and object assortments. I can’t possibly describe this process well enough to do it justice. The options and potential are just staggering.

Once created, those missions can appear on everyone’s story maps and players receive experience points for completing them.

Examples that popped up as I played included Fight Night (watch a cage match until waves of monsters show up), Grumpy Cole (throw propane tanks at militia hovering on blocks in midair), Disco Fever (destroy a massive energy ball before it kills all of the dancing citizens) and Ravager Capture (use a sedative emitter to contain three charging creatures by luring them to the devices).

The growing UGC collection offers literally unlimited replay value in the game as long as innovative architects keep coming up with clever missions.

What’s it worth: InFamous 2 makes Starkiller from Star Wars: The Force Unleashed look like an Ewok playing Pong. The karma system combined with easy-to-conquer combat mechanics and power assortments deliver a stellar gaming experience. Add the open-ended user-generated content and Sucker Punch delivers a knockout for lovers of superpower-themed video games.

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