InFamous was a decent open world superhero game with just one problem: the superhero himself. Cole McGrath is a fine enough name if you're a guy who mows other peoples' lawns for a living, but it lacks a little spark when you transport it the world-saving business - and the face behind it wasn't much better either.
Sure, the important parts of InFamous were in place - Cole had some fizzy electrical powers to enjoy and a large, if slightly grim, tumbledown playground to ravage or rescue depending on your whims - but his lingering blandness held the game back from greatness. It was a bit like biting into a burger to find that the ketchup has been replaced with wallpaper paste: nobody thinks the ketchup is the most important part of a burger, sure, but you certainly miss it when it isn't there.
Sucker Punch is aware that its leading man was a bit of a charisma black hole, by the looks of it, because he's largely unrecognisable in the new game. He's grown out his hair, switched to a T-shirt, and swapped voice actors. He's probably started pretending he never liked Rush albums and gone exclusively non-dairy, too.
It's quite the transformation. He's not there yet, though, and Sucker Punch knows that too - the current model still seems like he's a stand-in covering the real superhero's lunchbreak, and that hair he's grown looks as though he's slapped a load of brown Post-Its on his scalp - but it's a step in the right direction, and a year out from release there's plenty of time left to find the soul of Cole.
He's not the only thing that's been tweaked. InFamous 2 picks up a couple of months after the last game ends, with Cole leaving Empire City after a giant monster gives him a righteous shoeing - possibly because brown Post-Its was going to be his look for 2011. With his buddy Zeke tagging along, Cole heads south - Deep South - and winds up in New Marais, a pre-floods New Orleans-alike where it turns out that the local citizenry really doesn't like mutants. I sense a racial tolerance fable on the way. With a bit of parkour thrown in.
Besides being a lot more destructible - cars fly down the streets when Cole's electrical charms erupt, balconies collapse taking shopfronts with them, and it doesn't take Cole more than a few seconds to reduce most neighbourhoods to rubble - New Marais brings something inFamous was sorely in need of: colour.
The E3 demo - kicking off, rather delightfully, at an anti-mutant hate rally - is set in the French Quarter, where warm light spills from windows, the cobbled roofs of the houses are painted pretty reds and blues, and, at the centre of the district, a huge silver-stoned church is criss-crossed with the roving disks of a half-dozen search lights.
You can expect real variety this time around, too, as we're promised swamps, cemeteries and slums as you move beyond the faded splendour of the inner city and out to the fringes. (Only in a videogame - or perhaps in the world of back door medical research - would easy access to swamps, cemeteries and slums be seen as a good thing, incidentally.)
InFamous 2's a prettier experience all around, in fact. Sucker Punch claims that superhero movies, rather than games, are the things pushing its team forward, and with that in mind the developer has made a handful of very basic presentational improvements to make the game more exciting to look at. The original's excellent comic book transitions will be returning, but the in-engine cut-scenes have had a bit more care and attention lavished on them, with snappier editing, lots of crash zooms and slow-mo, and a nippy, spooky, violin-heavy score.
Sony's own motion capture people have brought a touch of genuine life to the locals too, and there are dozens of smaller tweaks, like the way the camera tilts and pulls in during a particularly nasty melee move, to dovetail with big changes such as a much better draw distance and textures which aren't so fuzzy and matted.
Those were the things that probably needed fixing, but the game's more solid aspects - the combat and the traversal - have been significantly improved too. Racing through the world is better than ever: Cole can now zip automatically along power cables that run across the walls of buildings, as well as grinding down the lines running from one telegraph pole to the next, meaning you can flow through narrower urban areas quicker, while riding the rails has been given a speed boost, and gliding - unlocked too late in the first game, but now waiting for you at the start - has received a notable kick in terms of power.
Melee combat, meanwhile, has been entirely rebuilt around Cole's new weapon, the Amp. It's a kind of electrical prong that gives you a lot more reach in fights, and there's a new range of finishers with some fairly bone-crunching animations to go with it. When it comes to electricity, the shooter side of things benefits from a shift in camera, putting Cole over towards the left of the screen and giving you more room for your reticule to rove, while the latest of the series' big-name powers is an absolute winner.
Ionic Vortex is a keeper. It sees Cole spinning a discus of electricity down the street, where it quickly forms a sparking tornado that arcs lightning off any nearby walls, sucking cars, people, and anything else unlucky enough to be nearby up into the sky, before lofting it into the distance. I am unlikely to tire of doing this kind of thing any time soon.
With a year left in terms of development, plenty of the game's finer details have yet to be pinned down. There's currently upwards of 100 new powers Sucker Punch is playing with and sifting for the most promising, and the developer is cryptic about whether players will be able to import decisions they made in the first game into the second.
There are two things which are certain, however: you'll start this one with plenty of your upgrades from the original inFamous ready to go, and the series' moral choices will really make the narrative branch this time around with two very different endings.
New setting, new powers, and plenty of refinements: there's plenty to look forward to in inFamous 2, and Sucker Punch has already proven it's capable of building interesting playgrounds and filling them with side quests and collectables. It's all down to Cole, then, and to the people behind the scenes bringing him to life. If a theme of the first instalment was that every city needs to have its heroes, its most important lesson was that every videogame needs them even more.
inFamous 2 is due out next year on PS3.