Infamous 2: Festival of Blood review: Vamps and amps

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Infamous 2: Festival of Blood review: Vamps and amps
The world of Infamous is all about character. The settings, from urban-gothic Empire City to moss-drenched, sweltering New Marais, ooze character. The protagonists, particularly Nascar-ready Cole McGrath and his bro-friend Zeke, are studies in character, seemingly ripped from a television show you've known and loved for years. And then there's you, the player. Do you have character? What sort? Will you be a good witch or a bad witch? Your character will determine how the games play out, and how the game world responds to you.

For the standalone PSN downloadable Festival of Blood, Sucker Punch has turned a hat trick whipping up a tasty little Halloween treat that, in spite of its brevity, follows in the tradition of its larger franchise and provides some of the most intriguing game experiences of any game available now, downloadable or not. Without a doubt, it has the most character of any three-hour game I have ever played.

Festival of Blood takes place in Infamous 2's New Orleans stand-in, New Marais. You will once again step into the split-toed sneakers of former messenger Cole McGrath, but this time after having been bitten by a vampire queen. You will have roughly eight hours to find and stake your vampire master in order to free yourself from the pyrrhic curse before the sun rises and you are doomed to walk the earth for the remainder of your endless days as a bloodsucking fiend. Go.

To help Cole in his quest, he is now blessed/cursed with handy vampire powers, in addition to his starter-kit array of Infamous-standard "electro-man" superpowers. The coolest vampire power (in this game or any game) is "Swarm Travel," which allows Cole to transform into a flock of bats and zoom through the air. You can still float through the air on twin electro stabilizers, hurl lightning bolts (and bombs and rockets) from your fingertips and recharge your health energy by plugging in to local power sources, but the vast, branching trees of expanded powers are limited this time out. Which, honestly, is for the best -- Vampire Cole doesn't need them.

The familiar Infamous moral dichotomy returns for Festival of Blood, although it is far less meaningful this time around. The game presents you with a narrative choice: When cursed to walk the night as a blood-sucking fiend, will you play that part, or rebel against your new nature? If you choose to walk the path of Nosferatu, you can nab innocents from the sidewalk as the spirit moves you. Each neck-suck recharges your blood power meter, allowing you to bat-travel farther. But you can also recharge this meter by slaying other vampires and dominating their sections of the city. Whether you use your powers for good or evil is entirely up to you.

In the end, however, the choice is utterly meaningless. No matter how many unsuspecting blood bags you drain (or not), the game plays out entirely the same and, apart from the minor annoyances of having to dodge vampire attacks or having a small mob of humans flee at your approach, the game doesn't seem to care if you're Gloomy, Cursed Vampire Cole or Full-On Bloodsucker McGrath. Ultimately you will have to fight the vampires anyway in order to cleave your way to their queen and free yourself from her curse, so it's not exactly like joining their ranks is even an option. It's more of a curiosity really, how you choose to play your character and, when given that choice with no negative consequences, who isn't going to prowl the streets indiscriminately sucking the blood of nubile, young babes?

The vampires you must slay come in a handful of shapes and sizes, including the gigantic, bat-like Firstborn who can masquerade as normal humans. Using your new Vampire Vision, you can ferret them out and drive a stake through them. Vampire Vision is also useful in spotting clues and collecting collectibles, like bottles of blood left lying around "where children can find them," according to a worried Cole.

Combat is what you would expect, devolving easily into button mashing and frantic attempts to corral the game's slippery camera, but ultimately satisfying. There's just something about slaying vampires that awakens a visceral thrill, and each one will lie miserably on the ground after being beaten, waiting for you to come around and drive a lance of death into their hearts. Some even pitifully cry "Kill me" as you approach to end their suffering. Delicious.

It's hard to identify exactly what it is that sets Festival of Blood (and the game upon which it is based) apart from the crowd of open-world action games, but that's exactly the point. The strength of this series is in its design, pure and simple. The writing is excellent and fun, striking the perfect balance between taking the situation seriously and not asking you to care overmuch about how the game feels. The levels, while occasionally repetitive, get you in and out and on your way before you've had time to wonder why you're not doing something else. And the powers all feel right. If you were a low-income schlub who happened to have this supernatural awesomeness thrust upon you, this is what it would feel like. All of which allows you to dive right in and milk the experience for all it is worth with very few obstacles between you and the fun.

Festival of Blood is campy, vampy fun and an absolute steal for $10. Best part: you don't even need Infamous or Infamous 2 to play it. Happy Halloween.

This review is based on final code of Infamous 2: Festival of Blood provided by Sony.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

Russ Pitts is the former Editor-in-Chief of The Escapist and the former Producer of TechTV's The Screen Savers. He is currently writing freelance and blogging at False Gravity. Follow him on Twitter
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