First, before I start talking about Infamous, I want to talk about 3D platformers. I want to talk about what makes 3D platformers special and why their diminished representation this generation is an incredibly sad thing.
3D platformers, at their best, are a genre that let you explore a 3D space. You might be thinking most 3D games let you explore a 3D space. That is not strictly true. Most 3D games let you explore a 2D plane, with inclines and height maps. This isn’t a bad thing! In fact, most humans live life in this same way, we are restricted to a 2D plane for most of our lives, despite living in a complete 3D space.
But 3D platformers, the Mario 64s and Banjo-Kazooies, they follow a mantra: if you see a platform, you should be able to get to it. No matter which axis it’s on. For a 3D platformer to succeed however, it needs two critical components. The first is a good movement system, one that allows the player to escape the 2D plane yet still limits the player enough to provide a challenge. Here is a great article from Kirk that describes this balance.
The second is level design that complements that movement system and simultaneously makes you want to explore the world you have been put in. This might seem obvious, but it’s a critical component that I don’t think enough games think about. It’s the reason why, in my opinion, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time is a much better game than its sequels and why AC3’s movement system feels much worse compared to its predecessors. It’s also the reason why I think Banjo-Kazooie is probably the best platformer of all time.
However, this isn’t last-to-last-to-last generation heroes, and I can (and probably will) write a whole series of articles about why BK was the best. So let’s start talking about Infamous.
While pure 3D platformers aren’t as popular as they once were, their spirit has lived on in other genres, most notably in the open world genre. And it makes sense, when you have a large space to explore, you have two options: make getting from point A to B enjoyable, or implement quick travel like options. Infamous is a game that took the former idea and just ran with it.
So what makes movement in Infamous 2 so great? I’ve always believed that the most important gameplay to nail down in a super hero game is the movement system. In Arkham Asylum, Batman moves slowly but is quick and precise when he is on the attack. The game was great at making you feel like Batman, because you moved liked him. Spiderman 2 is widely regarded as the best Spiderman game, even though its movement system was pretty much the only thing going for it.
Cole probably has one of the best combinations of movement abilities in a video game. The improved glide in conjunction with the ice launch and Cole’s breakneck running speed were the things that made you really feel like a super hero. Cole runs like a madman and his flow is rarely ever stopped. The ice launch could be used to quickly leap over small obstacles or get to high ledges and the improved glide made sure you could get from building to building easily and quickly. Yet, it still feels balanced. You aren’t actually flying, and there is still skill involved in getting from one place to another.
This balance mostly comes from smart level design. There are the movement enablers like the vertical power lines and the horizontal trolley lines. The trolley lines are arranged along the edges of the city to enable fast transport when getting to a distant area. When going deeper into a city block, you have to make use of interconnected power lines to get around.
The game has a perfect difficulty curve with regards to the level design as well. The game is split into three areas: the first area is very interconnected and easy to travel around, the second area is flooded so you have to rely more on staying in the air and on buildings and the last area is an industrial area that is sparsely populated with buildings and no trolley network. However it also features the longest vertical induction poles (the ones that shoot you into the air) so you can use that to chain to other poles to move from area to area quickly. It’s more difficult, but it’s also at the end of the game where you have most of your abilities unlocked so it maintains a great balance all throughout.
Infamous also did what many action games fail to do completely: it made that improved movement work seamlessly with their combat systems.
DocSeuss recently talked a bit about this in his Uncharted 2 Last-Gen Zero article. While I enjoyed the Uncharted games for the most part, I do have to agree that there was so much untapped potential in mixing Drake’s movement systems with interesting level design for combat. It was only in Uncharted 3 that they finally started experimenting with this aspect of the gameplay. There is this fight I love in Uncharted 3 that takes place in a shipyard where you have to use all of your movement abilities to clear the area. Swimming, climbing, stealth all sort of mixed together perfectly and made you feel like an action movie star. However those moments were few and far between in the series unfortunately.
When you fight in Infamous 2, you will rarely stand or hide behind cover for more than 2 seconds. While the enemy AI is nothing to write home about, the enemy types are varied enough that they force you to move around and use your abilities to their fullest extent. When you get to the larger scale battles that involve the bigger monsters and conduits, the battlefield expands to whole blocks of the city and you have to move around constantly to split up enemy forces to defeat them divide-and-conquer style. You will use that ice launch or car jump to dodge attacks or to get to vantage points quickly in the heat of battle.
It’s exhilarating and fun and always satisfying.
Now I won’t say Infamous 2 is a perfect game because it certainly wasn’t. It was certainly my favorite of the last generation because it’s pretty much exactly what I look for in a video game, but it did have flaws that I hope they work on. The art direction was pretty weak. I get that it was drab and dreary because the city was modeled after a post-Katrina New Orleans, but it at the same time it definitely didn't do much to draw you into the world. The character designs were very… standard. I actually enjoyed the story quite a bit, but there needed to be more character development for Kuo and Nyx on the whole wasn’t a very good character. One of my only gameplay complaints is that the fire jump is nowhere near as good as the ice launch, though people have told me that I’m just using it wrong. Still, I felt that was the biggest punishment for going the evil route.
A lot of people will complain about the binary moral system… to that I say whatever. Yeah it didn’t have shades of grey (though the last choice was pretty difficult!) but that wasn’t exactly necessary in this game.
All in all, Infamous 2 was a great game, one that thought about gameplay first and was all the better for it. Here is hoping that Second Son doesn’t mess things up!
(This is the first article I’ve posted so far on TAY! I hope I didn’t mess up too badly, and if any of the admins notice something off, feel free to fix it)