What exemplifies super-heroes?
It's more than super-powers, which the first Infamous video game on the PlayStation 3 had, in the form of a man named Cole whose electrically-charged body was as deadly as a toaster in a tub.
There is a gaudiness to super-heroes, a garishness that the dark, slick first Infamous lacked. There's people with unreal skin colors, ladies wearing awkward costumes, maybe a racial connotation or two that seem off, and a torrent of grand powers organized with a wonderful fantasy logic that would allow one person to get another person's powers, if only the two people hooked themselves into the same mad machine.
That's the gaudiness of a lot of comic book super-heroics, and that's what shows up more in June's Infamous 2.
I watched a play-through of a new level of Infamous 2 yesterday that exhibited all these qualities that helped make Infamous 2 feel a little more like a 70s issue of the Justice League than I was expecting. It was a level of big action set near a sea fort located on the first island of the fictional, New Orleans-inspired town of New Marais.
The game's hero Cole, plainly dressed in tight-fighting shirt and pants, was with his pale, "good" ally Kuo and the wilder Nix. Kuo has ice powers; Nix wields fire. One exemplifies order, a representative for Infamous 2 told me; the other, chaos. One appears to be of Asian descent; the other is black. You can line that up.
The player only controls Cole in this game and starts this mission storming the fort with Kuo. Cole's electricity and charged melee rod make him a formidable fighter on his own. He tosses electricity; he gusts electricity; he can collect single-use charges of ion storms and rain lightning charges. Kuo can — and did — freeze and batter enemies like any good ice-powered sidekick.
In this mission, Cole stormed the fort, running up stairs, past cannons, across the tops of walls and gliding from power line to power line. He was going up against a militia who, initially, kept his electrical powers in check by de-powering their base. But mid-way through the mission, Cole was able to toss a Tesla coil and remotely fly it from power station to power station, setting them up for activation and eventually giving the whole place the juice Cole needs to draw from.
Later in the mission, with Kuo on the sidelines, Nix jumped in, using her fire powers to retrain members of the enemy militia, a sort of buddy-power move that sets them up for a finisher from Cole. Those set-up opportunities appear to emerge naturally, as the computer-controlled Nix finds opportunities during the combat; a rep for the game declined to explain how Nix or Kuo might become better support fighters throughout the game.
Late in the level, Cole found a crystal and mechanical device that he referred to as a "blast core." It's the thing shown in the top picture here. The device would allow Cole to "transfer" powers with one of his two allies. Kuo argued that doing such a thing was dangerous. Nix was all for it. The player has to make the decision, and I asked that we take Kuo's side. The result: Kuo and Cole get into the machine together, Nix makes some crack about Kuo and then Cole and Kuo do this transfer thing (the opposite of what you see in the screenshot up top). The demo cut out there, though I was then shown a brief example of the power Cole gets from this. He still retains his electricity powers, but he can also cause spikes of ice to spike out from the ground in front of him.
Infamous 2 appears to play as smoothly as the first game did. The action is fast and as grand as it can be when focused on the adventures of just a small array of heroes. When Cole's new support characters were first shown, I was surprised at how they looked. They looked less natural than I expected, more like trashy super-hero archetypes than like believable people. I was further thrown when they were revealed to be the manifestation of the game's branching morality system. The arrangement seemed stilted and the opposite of the elegance of believable realism games often strive for these days. But the level I saw yesterday changed my mind.
It seems, perhaps, that Infamous 2 will represent a step toward the gaudy style of silly super-hero serials. I will continue to raise my eyebrows that the black lady is chaos and the Asian lady is order. But I can go with the rest. This is a game that subscribes to the same kind of logic that created, in comics, infinite earths, false futures and heroes powered by spider bites. I'd buy that.