The issue of having your own choices in games tends to be the childlike execution of presenting those choices. The original Infamous irked me because the game seemed to think I didn’t know right from wrong, and proceeded to color-code everything and make sure it was abundantly clear what I had to do to be a complete and utter asshole to anyone and everything to avoid being typecast as a good samaratin and not just a decent human being… with lightning powers. The second game continues this trend to a degree. Blue is good and red is bad, which is just another way of saying that everything is black and white. Where’s the middle ground? Oh, go watch TV you raging intellectual.
While the game presents heavy decisions aplenty to give you a boost in one karmic direction or another, it’s the smaller decisions that I feel really define a “hero”. I’m not even talking about choosing between good and bad. To use an in-game example, Infamous 2 allows you to stop random muggings on the street. If you beet up the perpetrators, you get a good boost. Injure the hostage, you get a bad boost. Sure, the heroic thing is simple to see, but I think it should be the fact that you stopped to deal with it at all that marks you as a hero. The way they present Cole in the game if you choose the villain option, I think you should get a bad boost if you either ignore the mugging entirely, or demand compensation after saving the victim. That is a show of not a villain, but a regular human. I don’t think they should take away the ability to be psychopathic villain who causes chaos and destruction for the hell of it, but maybe there should be more than just “good” and “evil”. What about “doen’t give a damn” and “doing things for one’s own benefit?” What if instead of just destroying the villain, you could take over his operation afterward? If you’re going to give the player decisions, mix it up! I’m not saying you need a gameplay tweak for it either, just a narrative difference in how the game plays out, or perhaps a difference in how people react to you.
Another issue about this is how it affects your powers in the game. Despite events that provide a clear reason for your powers to deviate in one way or another, Sucker Punch decided that it would be better if your powers changed depending on your karmic decisions. Honestly, this ended up making no narrative sense and just confused me. Were I Cole, I would want the ability to rapid-fire my lightning bolts regardless of whether or not I healed dying people on the street, not to mention chaining lightning seems like it would be universally useful even to a burning paragon of justice. Ultimately what I’m getting at is that I don’t see any reason for my karmic identity to be linked to my super-powers. These things should be separate, for a number of reasons beyond simple convenience.
Infamous certainly isn’t alone in these karmic issues (even the famed Mass Effect series is naively simple in regards to morality, and Force Unleashed didn’t even try to make things interesting), but the game that prides itself on acting out the super-hero fantasy should go a little farther to show the weight of these choices. Even if it’s mostly just an action-romp, it’s the little things that really flesh out a universe like this. I just think trying to make everything color-coded is a mistake. Shades of grey are what make lifelike characters more interesting than comic-book cutouts after all. This is the reason why the movie reboots of the various comic book superheroes are so popular beyond simple nostalgia (and special effects)… in some cases.
The final decision of Infamous 2 switches things up not only narratively but also provides a decision where you’re screwed either way, which I loved. Heck, it’s this kind of storytelling that makes up Mass Effect’s bread and butter, and it’s nice to see that Sucker Punch actually put something like that in here. There’s actually a sense of “weight” or importance to it, even though it kinda comes out of left field near the end. That said, I’d find it interesting if a series continued based on the evil ending for once. The fact that the game points out in the end that no one actually thinks of themselves as evil is probably the best piece of the narrative, it’s just too bad that the rest of the game didn’t really highlight that fact.
Infamous 2 was developed by Sucker Punch studios, whom are hopefully not done with this series just yet, though I would appreciate the fact that it didn’t become a trilogy I suppose…