"We rolled out a new Cole at E3 and we were absolutely stunned at how much people cared about the old Cole design," says Bruce Oberg, co-founder of Sucker Punch and possessor of a sweet hat. "Today we're unveiling the new old Cole who's a little bit closer to the Cole from inFamous 1."
Yes, apparently there's no accounting for taste: you all liked Cole McGrath, the electrical superhero star of last year's open-world action game, inFamous, and about whom the nicest thing we ever wrote was, "There is more charm to inFamous than Cole's face and voice suggest."
In response Sucker Punch has given him a less dramatic makeover than originally planned. Now he looks less like Nathan Drake and more like the grumpy bike messenger we all know and feel ambivalent about.
At least the game starts off by punching him in the face. "He has a scar right around his eye," says Oberg. "He's going to get defeated by The Beast at the beginning of inFamous 2."
The Beast, of course, is the monster glimpsed in Cole's future at the end of the first game. Beastie arrives in Empire City and smashes it up, handing Cole his backside in the process. Cole heads south to New Marais - loosely based on New Orleans - to recuperate and learn new skills, Dagobah-style, before The Beast catches up with him.
Things aren't much happier in New Marais, which is overrun by various factions including angry militia and "Corrupted" monsters. In our demo we're shown a swampland section covered in vegetation, where Cole is caught up in a big fight with militiamen. As they get up close he pummels them with his new, ever-present melee weapon, the Amp. "Hand to hand combat wasn't as strong as we wanted it to be," admits Oberg about the third-person shooty original.
One of the reasons Sucker Punch originally intended to redesign Cole was that it had found a new actor to portray him - a chap who was also employed to do the actions. "It feels a lot more physical because it's a recording of an actor on a motion capture stage," Oberg explains as Cole uses the Amp to slam an enemy to the ground. The developers still use hand animation for some things - like climbing over uneven surfaces where the movement range needs to be more flexible.
And Cole still fires electricity about like there's no tomorrow - to increasingly explosive effect. As he advances through the swampland he shoots an observation tower and it bursts into flames and tumbles to the ground. "All of New Marais has been built to be collapsible," says Oberg.
So why is Cole in New Marais specifically? "Cole will start off as a very powerful guy," says Oberg. "But he's also going to meet The Beast and he's going to get his ass kicked. inFamous 2 is the journey of becoming more powerful because he knows he's going to have to face The Beast again at the end. He's come to New Marais because this is where the Raysphere was designed. It's going to be about you finding more power."
One example of that new power is the kinetic pulse - a gravity gun, in as many words - which allows players to pick up items and hurl them at enemies. Sometimes the objects burst into flames and explode, which is excellent. "The kinetic pulse is a really powerful move but it's also harder to control. You may not be able to hit them every time, but when you do it's gong to pack a super-powerful punch," says Oberg.
One guy we need to hit is the Ravager, a big gorilla-like monster who fires spore rockets from his back and smashes cars out of the way with abandon. He also dives underground to dodge attacks, and tunnels across the land, leaving dust trails hanging above ground like a shark fin as he goes. Cole eventually sees to him with a mixture of the shockwave attack and kinetic pulse, tossing cars around to impressive effect.
Away from the fighting, expect to see characters like Cole's best friend Zeke return, along with others, and Sucker Punch intends to refine the first game's karma system so that it's more obvious how your good or evil decisions will affect the outcome of the game. Speaking of which, there will be multiple endings.
Oberg also settles an issue that hung over from E3, where fans examining trailers and previews decided Cole was about to receive ice powers to go with his National Grid baiting. "Cole is the electric man," he says. "The ice stuff was in a video and people ran with it. We're definitely going to explore how electricity works with other elements."
More on inFamous 2
Review: inFamous 2
Hands On: inFamous 2
Hands On: inFamous 2
Vampire spin-off out for Halloween.
More importantly, perhaps, there may not be much in the pre-release buzz about the platforming yet, but Sucker Punch is well aware that one of the first game's best facets was Empire City itself - in particular its networks of grind rails and Cole's impressive ability to clamber all over the place in search of goodies.
"New Marais is a huge new environment and we're going to put lots of stuff to collect in it," says Oberg, who says there will be a lot more parkour because the shape of the city is more intricate and detailed.
"There's no blast at the start of inFamous 2, so how that will actually work out is still to be determined," he answers when asked if we'll be collecting shards again. Whatever we are collecting, hopefully there will be a way of finding the last few out of several hundred this time, although Oberg doesn't say for sure.
One of our favourite elements will return - the comic-book-style 2D cut-scenes are back, this time with 3D elements - but another's fate is still to be decided. The linear, sewer sections that recalled the platforming of Sucker Punch's other series, Sly Raccoon, were among the first game's best.
"We don't know yet," says Oberg, when asked if we'll see something similar. "We're going to do what makes sense for New Marais. Sewers were more of a New York thing." On the plus side, presumably if we kick up enough of a fuss they will decide to include them.
inFamous 2 is due out exclusively for PS3 in 2011.