2009 was a damn fine year for sandbox games that imbued you with special powers and left you largely to your own devices and the battle was primarily fought between two game: mass murder simulator Prototype, a game that for all its wonderfully ridiculous silliness tended to take itself far too seriously, and PS3 exclusive inFamous which managed to differentiate itself somewhat by placing a larger emphasis on narrative, securing Amon Tobin for a brilliantly atmospheric soundtrack and giving you a version of that most trendy of game mechanics at the moment - a morality system.
Quite frankly, original superpower sandbox games were a bit of a novelty and both games did solidly if only because they were both phenomenally fun and incredibly addictive - even if Prototype sometimes left you feeling oddly queasy at times (dropping from several hundred feet onto a pedestrian and then surfing their stunned corpse down the street will do that). They came, we played them, we had fun.
But sequels can't rely on pure novelty alone, they have to shake things up a bit, tweak the things that went wrong and offer us incentives to come back for another bite of the apple. There's been no word from Radical entertainment regarding a follow-up to Prototype, but you'd better believe Cole McGrath, the electrically-fuelled courier boy of inFamous fame, is coming around for another go and we got to spend a brief bit of time with him at this year's Eurogamer Expo.
It's worth pointing out that it's almost as if no-one wanted the public to really see this game, tucked away as it was, unmarked, on only two stations in a remote corner of the hall. Thankfully, it's complete lack of promotion meant that the wait was marginal and it wasn't long before I was busy frying things with lightning powers that would give Emperor Palpatine nightmares.
First of all, a little backstory. You can forget the makeover (think Nathan Drake meets Commander Shepard) that Sucker Punch threatened fans with at E3, Cole is back to being virtually bald again and resembles his old self a lot more. This is undoubtedly a good thing: I swear soon Nintendo will make the decision to have Mario more closely resemble Nathan Drake too and I'll find myself driving off of a cliff. True, the original Cole had about as much personality as an ironing board, but that kind of allowed you to put yourself far more in his shoes.
Anyway, the game kicks off with The Beast, the monster glimpsed as Cole's destiny at the end of the first game, shredding Empire City to bits and punching Cole in the face. Our sizzling hero escapes, however, and legs it down south to New Marais - a town based loosely on New Orleans. Here he finds himself knee-deep in swamps and having to deal with a number of warring factions that include a trigger-happy Militia and the various supernatural, Corrupted monsters that they're trying to keep at bay. The Militia is run by a man named Bertrand and they're not too fond of Cole either, perceiving him as something of an abomination against nature. If you're not 100% human, they'll try to exterminate you.
The demo, shown at E3 and finally playable here, saw a hate-rally at which Bertrand was spouting violent rhetoric suddenly attacked by mutant creatures. Naturally, Cole has to jump into the fray, showcasing a new addition to his arsenal - The Amp. Melee was not a strong point in the original game, but it's bone crunchingly satisfying here. The Amp serves as Cole's primary melee weapon - think of a giant tuning fork that covered in electrical energy and you're not far off - with single button taps allowing for some pretty satisfying combat that certainly takes a leaf out of Arkham Asylum's handbook...but then why wouldn't you?!
After dispatching the monstrous goons, Cole set off after Bertrand, who'd fled the scene in a limo, grinding his way speedily along electrical wires and leaping across telephone pylons. I fell off though and couldn't work my way back up, so I figured I'd spend a few moments checking out New Marais itself...and then wrecking it.
All of New Marais, you see, has been designed to be destructible. Getting shot at from a balcony? Why not turn the balcony into a pile of logs with a few electrical charges or quite literally bring house down. With the right powers you can start flinging cars around, uprooting trees and generally causing uproarious amounts of havoc. There are crowds, of course, too - it wouldn't be any fun if there weren't.
After eventually catching up with Bertrand, leaping from a pylon and using electrical current to allow me to precisely hover over to the limo's roof, there was a brief cutscene that involved very little and the sudden appearance of an antagonistic chopper, hell-bent on turning Cole into Swiss cheese. Cue a short chase scene and then a prompt to hurl an electrical tornado at the helicopter. After chucking a fizzling whirlwind or two at it, the chopper discovered gravity and came crashing to the ground. At this point, the game read my mind and encouraged me to use my newfound ability to tear up the streets of New Marais and be a severe public nuisance...which I did, chuckling to myself as I did so.
Short and sweet, the demo proved a number of things. inFamous 2 looks like it' going to be great fun, particularly thanks to the impressive level of environmental interaction. You've not just been handed a playground, but a playground and also a wrecking ball. The combination is grin-inducing indeed. The animations are tighter too, largely thanks to Sucker Punch's use of full motion capture this time around, and the results are clearly evident. We've been promised more moral choices, more atmospheric noises and with new weapons, powers and setting - the latter really bringing a new flavour and life to proceedings - we're pretty damn excited!