No one could blame developer Sucker Punch if they opted to take the safe route with inFamous 2. Their 2009 breakthrough hit, inFamous, topped the 1 million plateau in sales so why wouldn't they just make some minor tweaks and refinements to the gameplay and call it a day? Because a development team with this much passion for the open-world, Sony-exclusive project wouldn't be satisfied. And it's this drive that has inFamous 2 poised to be one of the best games in 2011.
The most noticeable change is to the main character, Cole MacGrath. Gone is the dark, devious look and growly voice from the original title. Sucker Punch now has Cole looking and sounding more wholesome and clean cut - but the developers on hand said that Cole's look at E3 might not be what he'll look like in the final retail version. Whatever they decide on his appearance, don't think this is a kinder, gentler character.
The bike messenger who received spectacular electrical abilities from an enormous explosion in the first game will be packing a serious punch in the sequel. Cole, who lacked any physical weapon in the first game, now is outfitted with an electrical-harnessing device that he can wield like a sword in close-quarters combat situations. In the closed-door demo that was shown, Cole used this gadget to great effect, walloping nearby foes with ease as electrical bursts were emitted upon contact.
"Part of people's superhero fantasy was to be physically powerful," Sucker Punch development director Chris Zimmerman said. "We wanted to address that. We wanted to embrace that. We didn't want to fight against it. We wanted to go in and say that's what people want, we're going to deliver that.
"He can use the weapon as a focus of his electricity. So when he's battling all of these enemies, you get this visceral, powerful experience."
One of the key elements to the original was the game's morality system. The player could choose if Cole would act as the hero or villain - and his appearance, the way the world would react to him and even the strength of his powers would change according to the choices. This system will be returning, but the developers wouldn't go into detail as to how it will be implemented.
"One of the things that was really cool about the first game that we're sticking with is having morality exist in the [game]," Game director Nate Fox said. "You get to choose how you use your powers, and I think that's ultimately expressed in having a very distinct ending depending on the choices you make."
Another change is the location. The franchise's second installment has Cole running around the fictional city of New Marais - inspired by New Orleans. The repetitive nature of the first game's locale - Empire City - was one of the criticisms the developers were eager to address.
"[New Marais] is roughly the same size as [Empire City] but there's a lot more variety in the environment," Zimmerman said. "The last game, there was a certain sameness as you went through the city and one of the neat things about moving to New Marais is there's more variety. Theres a swamp area, there's French Quarter's-inspired stuff. You feel like you're moving into a different part of town as you're moving around."
The way you move around the city has also received an upgrade. The freedom of using Cole's electrical abilities to maneuver quickly around town in the first game was refreshing - but also limiting. If power lines were not near, traveling around town became a chore. Another point of frustration was sticking to walls as you made your way up buildings. The climbing was great when you went where you wanted to go, but in the heat of battle that sometimes didn't happen. In the brief demo, Cole was able to glide quickly on the side of buildings and even propel himself up a pole in seconds.
"You want to make sure that the experience of moving through the environment is a joy," Zimmerman said. "That you have the ability to go anywhere you want, but you can also do it quickly. We took some of the things we did with the grind wires from the last game and we brought them into more of [the sequel]."
There seems to be more of everything in the sequel, including explosive set pieces. One of the highlights of the demo was Cole trying to escape an enemy chopper as it rained down artillery. This sequence had a very cinematic feel to it. The developers said after seeing last year's critically acclaimed Uncharted 2, it inspired them - along with other Sony first-party developers - to further merge the visual impact of movies with the interactive experience of video games.
If Sucker Punch can up the ante of the first game and pull off all of the changes they have planned, inFamous 2 might add its name to the ever-growing number of standout Sony-exclusive hits. We'll have to wait until 2011 to find out.