Preview: inFamous 2

It's amazing what a giant, electrified tuning fork and a little Cajun flair can add to a franchise.

Sucker Punch Productions recently invited us to check out a private demo of inFamous 2 -- and no, it hasn't changed the bizarre intercapping since the series' last installment. I think I can overlook that small grammatical anomaly, though, as the other, more tangible changes that are being incorporated into the sequel look pretty amazing.
The original inFamous was, appropriately enough, an origin story. Even newcomers to the comic book scene likely know that a story encompassing a hero's first few baby steps using their newly acquired powers usually has a completely different thematic tone than the rest of their adventures. The same applies here -- if inFamous was a story about coming to terms with your electrifying supernatural abilities in order to save (or destroy) your city, inFamous 2 is a story about mastering those abilities in order to survive.

Empire City, setting for the first game and stomping grounds of protagonist Cole MacGrath, has been wrecked by a new big bad known as The Beast. Realizing he doesn't have the arsenal required to take The Beast down, Cole beats feet to the New Orleans-inspired city of New Marais, where he hopes to learn more about the Ray Sphere which gave him his powers, and learn the new tricks he'll need to take down the ever-approaching Beast.

In the pursuit of these new abilities, Cole won't lose all of his old ones in a tragic but narratively timely accident. Any powers you could use in the original game, you'll have access to from the get-go in the sequel. Any new abilities and tools you acquire will be added to your pre-existing suite of powers.

One such tool which Sucker Punch has put a lot of time and effort into is the Amp, a cattle prod-shaped pipe which Cole can charge with electricity, and then bludgeon enemies with. Melee has been completely revamped in the sequel, with the square and triangle buttons mapped to light and strong melee attacks respectively. Players can also execute combos with stylish finishing moves. Mixing up melee attacks and long-ranged electric attacks is a pretty fluid process, and lends itself to far more visceral combat than that of the first game.

Even though I only traversed a small portion of the new city, it was easy to see how different its architecture and design differs from the bleak, hopeless streets of Empire City. Sides of most buildings are spotted with verandas and balconies, which can easily be brought down on top of an unwary enemy. Or, you know, on top of a dude walking down the street. Towering skyscrapers are few and far between, replaced by rustic clock towers and colorful fountain plazas. And, of course, grindable wires are still woven throughout the city's infrastructure.

The demo I played had me chasing down one of the game's main antagonists, Bertrand, New Marais' charismatic political leader. He leads a private militia known as ... well, The Militia, a group solely dedicated to the eradication of mutants and other supernatural entities. Entities like Cole. (He can shoot lightning out of his hands, remember?)

Bertrand's anti-mutant hate rally was interrupted by a wave of (what else?) mutants which had emerged from the nearby swamplands. We got a chance to try out some of the new, satisfying melee combat mechanics against these gruesome adversaries, then took flight after Bertrand's stretch limo. Locomotion hasn't changed much since the first game. Players will need to keep an eye out for strings of powerlines to glide between, though they'll now have the ability to zip along pipes fastened to the sides of buildings as well.

After catching up with Bertrand's ride, a pesky attack helicopter began to lay into Cole. Our initial attempts to blast it out of the sky using our standard lightning bolts were unsuccessful. Once we were enlightened to the existence of the Ionic Vortex, an ability which allows Cole to generate a swirling tornado which is also made of lightning, our job became significantly easier.

After toppling our propeller-equipped foe, we were teased with a brawl against an even larger adversary. From behind a large cloud of dust and debris, a single, massive tentacle shoots into the street and scoops up an unfortunate civilian. The shadow of a giant ... something is seen in the distance, and as we prepared for a presumably epic boss fight, the demo came to an abrupt end. Of course.

Game director Nate Fox explained that boss fights will no longer be limited to arenas -- rather, Cole will have to take down building-sized monsters that roam the open streets of New Marais. He wouldn't go into much more detail, but that certainly sounds like it has the propensity to be awfully radical.

Both the game and its protagonist have undergone significant makeovers since inFamous. One power which Cole apparently acquired in the three months between the first and second installments in the series is the ability to grow a soft, voluminous head of hair. He's also been put on a regimen of Ricolas and piping-hot peppermint tea, curing his perpetually gruff voice from the first game. As you can see in the trailer posted above, he's clearly taken a few lessons from the Nathan Drake Institute of Grooming, Speaking and Generally Being an Edgy Dude.

The game's makeover comes in the form of the liberal application of mo-cap animation, adding just a bit more life to the game's cast of characters and interspersed cutscenes.

Though the demo we were shown was still very clearly representative of a game still in its developmental infancy, the creative vision which made inFamous so great is obviously still there. The Sucker Punch team clearly has big plans for inFamous 2, and if they realize those plans as expertly as they did last time, then PS3 owners are going to be in for a treat.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.