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Snap Judgment – inFAMOUS 2 (PS3)

The follow-up to Sucker Punch’s 2009 title, inFAMOUS, is better in just about every conceivable way.  inFAMOUS 2 offers higher stakes, better voice acting, improved graphics, sweeter music, and far more interesting karmic choices compared to its forebear.

I don’t want to spoil anything about either inFAMOUS game, so I’ll just say that the sequel takes lead character Cole McGrath from Empire City (i.e. New York) from the original title, to New Marais (i.e. New Orleans) in this 2011 game.  In many ways, this is a vast improvement because Empire City itself felt highly repetitive, architecturally, whereas New Marais offers greater variances between its five districts.  The stark contrast between, say, Ville Cochon (an upscale area) and Flood Town (a disaster zone that was destroyed by a hurricane before the start of the game) is perfect.  There are also a number of great landmarks, like St. Ignatius Cathedral, St. Charles Cemetery, and dilapidated Plantation homes for you to explore.  Each is highly detailed.

The characters themselves are quite a bit more complex and sympathetic, even the ones who are cast in the roles of antagonists. A couple of new friends Cole makes early in the game end up providing the different karmic paths for you to follow; one will almost always suggest a heroic route while the other a villainous one; and boy do they not get along.  Also, a returning fan-favorite character from the first game provides much of the game’s comedic moments and endows inFAMOUS 2 with its heart.

One of the biggest improvements is something that initially sent fans of the original title into an uproar: Sucker Punch replaced the voice actor for Cole.  (Any other returning characters retained their original actors.)  While Jason Cottle provided good work for inFAMOUS, one which many fans grew attached to, Cole came off as one-note and gruff-voiced, exhibiting little emotional range.  In inFAMOUS 2, Eric Laden created a Cole with a lot more depth and variety, portraying a playfulness in some lines that really bolstered the cutscenes.  Even without the gruffness, his Cole still displayed a wonderful dose of menace.  The chemistry between this Cole and the other characters is far better realized than was achieved in the first title.

Mechanically, inFAMOUS 2 features a higher polish.  Traversing New Marais felt a lot more comfortable than Empire City, and the new powers unveiled in this sequel complemented this well.  Just about every frustration I had with inFAMOUS was addressed in the second game.

That’s not to say that the sequel is perfect; it certainly has its rough edges.  Its attempts to rope you into playing user-generated content missions (a neat idea in itself but a largely forgettable one) are a bit of a nuisance, though you can disable them.  One of the antagonists could have featured a bit more development — Sucker Punch teases you with a tantalizing realization about one this bad guy, that for all the terrible things he does, he takes those ill-gotten gains and uses them to improve the lives of the citizens of New Marais.  Sadly, the studio never pulls that thread all the way out to really flesh out the character.  Instead, Cole ends up brushing all of this aside.

In any case, inFAMOUS 2 is a brilliant follow-up to what was already a pretty great achievement.  It does something rare in video games (or really any other medium): it delivers on the promises and foreshadowing that the first game teased, and then wraps a big bow on it all in a way completely satisfying way.  The vision of both of these titles culminates in an incredible conclusion to Cole McGrath’s story.  A

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Written by Michael

5 September 2015 at 12:43 am

Posted in Games, Reviews

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Snap Judgment – inFAMOUS (PS3)

Sony was victimized one of the worst data breaches in history in 2011, impacting some 77 million users. Recognizing the seriousness of the situation, Sony shut down the PSN for a staggering 23 days while it rebuilt its security architecture to ensure nothing like this happened again. To apologize, Sony offered a Welcome Back promotion that included a number of gifts.  Among these was inFAMOUS.

I had heard good things about the game but hadn’t paid enough attention to actually buy it myself. In fact, it sat unplayed on my hard drive until 2013 when I started getting hyped for the PS4 and realized there were a number of cornerstone PlayStation franchises I hadn’t yet experienced.  I’m really glad that I finally did because Sucker Punch’s inFAMOUS is an incredible title that succeeds in making you feel like an actual demigod, like an unstoppable force of nature, in a way that few other games achieve.

inFAMOUS follows Cole McGrath, a bike messenger in Empire City (a quasi-New York), who’s been given a package to deliver at the story’s outset. Little does Cole know, that package is actually a weapon of mass destruction that detonates once he reaches his destination.  The ensuing blast doesn’t kill him, as it did millions of others, but rather activates a latent “Conduit gene” that causes him to evolve into something far greater.  As the game progresses, Cole makes multiple “karmic choices” that will not only influence the game’s plot and how other characters react to him, but also direct how his powers continue to evolve. They’re all based on electricity but vary between precision and large-scale carnage. These choices will either lead Cole to become a hero or villain.

The game is mechanically imperfect (some of the platforming aspects are awkward), and it features several one-dimensional characters, but it is clever overall. It especially excels presentation-wise with its comic-style cutscenes, which are accompanied by dramatic music and voiceovers and combined with slick camera pans and cuts to convey this tale.  While there is fair bit of formula followed in this plot, there are a couple of well-done twists and turns to keep everything interesting.

The biggest complaint I have about inFAMOUS (and its sequels, and frankly a lot of other games) is that the ongoing karmic choices are a bit meaningless. There’s no incentive to mix up your decisions between good and evil, and there are no neutral ones to make either. You’re either meant to be all the way good, or all the way bad. It would work better to have you pick a destiny right away and then etch out your own custom version of what it means to be a hero or villain. Better still, dispense with black-and-white choices altogether.

Even so, inFAMOUS is fantastic.  I hope Sony re-releases this game on PS4 someday, but even if it doesn’t, it’s available for streaming on PlayStation Now.  Go play it.  B+

Written by Michael

24 August 2015 at 10:50 pm

Posted in Games, Reviews

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Platinum Review – Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune (PS3)

Uncharted was one of the top reasons I purchased a PS3 back in 2008, and boy was that a good decision.  Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune launched one of the best series of the last generation, featuring stout gameplay and cutting edge graphics to complement excellent voice acting, adventurous musical scoring, and fun storytelling.  Drake’s Fortune is also a pretty tough Platinum, more-so than its successors.  A remaster is due out in October, titled Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, which will include the original PS3 trilogy to whet the appetites of everyone eagerly anticipating Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.  I’m very excited to replay Drake’s Fortune and earn the PS4 version of this Platinum, but I’m also dreading it because of the Worst Trophy below:

Best Trophy: Charted! – Hard (Gold) — normally I would try to find a single objective to spotlight, but the game in its totality is so good that just playing through it is plenty reward in itself.  I selected the Hard version for my favorite because I think that the difficulty on this mode is spot-on: challenging but not beat-your-head-against-the-wall difficult.

Worst Trophy: Charted! – Crushing (Gold) — beat-your-head-against-the-wall difficult.  Seriously, there were set-piece battles that were so insane that they took me as many as thirty tries to finish.  (Looking at you, Blue Room from Chapter 5.)  In any case, I persevered and didn’t use any exploits, like the one mentioned at that link.  I might have used that had I known about it, though.

Special Mention Trophy: Grenade Hangman (Bronze) — of all the individual goal-based Trophies (including ones with getting a certain number of kills with a certain weapon, or finding all of the hidden treasures), this was by far the strangest.  To earn it, you need to hang from a ledge lob grenades at your enemies and kill ten of them.  As straightforward as that may sound, Drake’s Fortune had an unfortunate six-axis-only throwing mechanic, meaning that they were a huge nuisance to use sometimes, especially when hanging from a ledge that partially obscures your view and also makes the angle more severe.

Written by Michael

3 August 2015 at 12:24 pm

Snap Judgment – Limbo (PS3)

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Limbo (PS3)

Limbo might be the most sadistic and unforgiving game I’ve played in years, maybe ever.  And it’s wonderful.

You play a silhouetted boy who awakens in a grimly dark forest, alone and without any backstory.  (Throughout the game, you get the sense that you’re trapped in limbo, as the title suggests, and you’re trying to escape it and return to what many theorize is your sister.)

Part puzzler, part platformer, Limbo challenges you with some truly dastardly traps.  It’ll feel like half your mistakes result in your cartoonishly horrifying death.  (Again, you’re just a silhouette, so there’s no gore.  But man, watching yourself get impaled on spikes or crushed by a giant boulder or chopped asunder by saws is still mortifying.)  Oh, and you’ll die often.  Probably two to three dozen times at least, which is saying something since the game is only two to three hours long.  And you’ll be disturbed by how entertaining this can sometimes be.

Thankfully, it’s largely forgiving with your deaths, respawning you close to where you died so you don’t have to repeat large sections of platforming or puzzling, though this isn’t always perfect.  (You’ll say, “Really?” more than once.)

Even though I’ve made this sound more like an ordeal than a fun play through, Limbo is rewarding in itself, as you master these areas.  And despite how unfair some of the traps may feel, you can get good at them — my brother was able to get a Trophy for beating the game with fewer than five deaths.  Even though this took multiple attempts, this still astounds me.

In any case, I highly recommend this artful, stylish title, filled with its magnificent sound design and atmosphere.  Prepare to be chased by a giant spider, electrocuted, crushed, sawed in half, and have your mind bent by physics puzzles that use gravity, magnetism, and your shear platforming skill.  A

Written by Michael

4 November 2013 at 10:09 am

Posted in Games

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