Just prior to inFamous 2’s public outing at the Eurogamer Expo this weekend, Sucker Punch’s Darren Bridges talked us through a kickass new demo, showcasing improved, punchier melee fighting and super-destructive new powers.
Excuse me for eschewing the erroneous capitalisation from now on. It’s a hell of a pain to type.
Having established Cole as a likeable superhero in Empire City with Infamous, Sucker Punch is facing a different sort of challenge with the sequel. The player starts Infamous 2 with all of Cole’s original powers – electro-rockets, pulse grenades, electric storms – intact; there’s no mysterious event that conveniently strips him of his abilities, leading you to reassemble them over the course of the game. Instead, the developer has had to find a way of making you feel even more powerful than before.
“Infamous was a story about going from zero to hero, an origin story,” elaborates Darren, ”but in Infamous 2 you start out as a superhero. People might already have heard of you from Empire City. At the beginning of Infamous 2 Cole runs into the Beast, this guy who is way more powerful than him, and he realises that where he’s at is not powerful enough; he has to continue to grow his power set. Infamous 2 is the story of him already as a superhero, in this new area, becoming - I don’t know what’s next - a demigod.”
New abilities play a key role in this. I can’t squeeze anything out of Darren about the ice powers hinted at in the reveal trailer, but I do get to pick up cars and throw them at militia guard towers in one scenario, and throw electrically-charged vortexes that destroy entire streets in another. The enemies in Infamous 2 come from a well-equipped army that wants all mutants – including Cole, the lightning-powered superhuman – cleansed from the city of New Marais, the swampy New Orleans-alike that provides the action's backdrop.
The city isn't just cosmetic, though. New Marais’s quaint and varied architecture, with its verandas and pillar-propped balconies, is much more suited to destruction, which in turn makes you feel like more of a superhero. Cole can – rather inappropriately, now that I think about it – bring down entire streets with electric tornados, and smash enemies through delicate balconies and down to street level.
"Focussing on variety"
Cole now has a new electrical melee weapon, which significantly changes the feel of combat. Up-close fighting is choreographed, mapped just to the Square button; against multiple enemies, you can choose the direction of Cole's next strike. Against stronger foes, though – like the mutant that bursts out of the ground and charges towards me towards the end of the demo – rockets are a more reliable fallback.
“We’re really focussing on variety for the environments now,” says Bridges, asked why the studio changed the setting from skyscrapers to swampland. “There are a lot of things that are interesting about the New Orleans-type city. The culture’s really interesting, the music, there are loads of different styles of architecture – things you don't see in a more generic New York-alike city.”
New Marais is also more natural to traverse. Zipping across electricity wires just above street level is more fun than climbing skyscrapers in Empire City. The architecture is all interactive, forming a giant “jungle gym” to leap around. There’s an old-school Tony Hawk feel to traversing the city, Darren claims – when you combine grinding along power lines with parkour, it adds a sense of speed that open-world games often struggle with.
Amped-up superpowers result in a lot of collateral damage. The original Infamous’s karma system – whereby the inhabitants of Empire City reacted differently to Cole depending on how he used his powers – is purportedly being made more realistic for the sequel, but it’s difficult to see why people would take a liking to a guy who turns up and destroys half their city with an electrical storm.
“If the karma system affected how fun the game was, it wouldn’t be a good addition,” says Bridges. “It’s like action-movie morality; to save one person, if you destroy 20 cars it’s the right thing to do.”
Cole is without his battered jacket in New Marais, which was the original reason for changing his look – it didn’t make sense to have him running around the hot and humid South in layers. The more drastic changes in Cole’s appearance – particularly his hair and new tattoos – provoked such and uproar that Sucker Punch redesigned him again to more closely resemble the hero of the original game.
Given that Infamous was so widely praised for its script, perhaps it shouldn’t have been such a surprise to Sucker Punch when people reacted so violently against Cole’s redesign. But Darren says the team didn’t realise that players had formed such a connection with him.
‘We miss the old Cole, what happened?’
“When we presented it at E3 and people were saying ‘We miss the old Cole, what happened?’ – we didn’t expect that at all. Our perspective was that the strength [of Infamous] was in the gameplay,” he explains.
“We didn’t realise that changing the character’s appearance would make people feel like they’d lost the original character altogether. To us, it was like, it's the same guy, he’s just got different clothes on and his hair grew out a little bit, you know?”
Still, if people get angry when you make changes, that means you were almost certainly doing something right the first time.
“On one hand, we were like ‘How are we going to deal with this?’, but on the other hand it was nice to know that people liked Cole,” says Bridges.
His voice actor has changed, though, to accommodate motion-capture and 3D cutscenes. “The presentation aspect of infamous 2 is something we’re really focussing on,” Darren says. “We’re recording the video and the audio in one performance to really try and deliver a good story, in a way that captures the subtleties of the actors.
"The [comic-style] 2D cutscenes are one of the staples of Infamous, and we’re not losing that. It’s about telling the story in a way that makes the characters more relatable.”
You can never tell much about a game from just a few minutes in its company, but it’s clear how Infamous has changed. With an engine and a suite of powers from the first game already in place, Sucker Punch has been able to be more creative with the setting and what you can do in it. Much of the past year and a half has clearly been spent on building a city that’s altogether more fun to be in. There’s much still to discover, though – those tantalising ice powers among them.