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June 15, 2011

Post-Katrina Fiction In New Orleans



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(click for larger version)
One day during my college years, my future ex-wife and I were walking through the French Quarter when she just started yelling at a mime. "Mimes are evil," she reasoned. Unfortunately, the mime got fired up by her tirade and silently harangued us for a block.

In "Infamous 2," the mimes of New Orleans truly are vile. They congregate as a gang of 30 or so, hurling rocks at you, until you electrocute them to death with superpowers. Somewhere in America, a validated ex-wife may be very happy about this.

So, yes, you have superpowers in "Infamous 2," portraying a superhero who journeys for 12 hours or so through a New Orleans-inspired city called New Marais.

You portray Cole, a New Yorker in a dystopian New Orleans — I mean New Marais — to uncover even more electric powers so you may kill a big bad guy planning to bring full destruction to the city.

New Marais, in an era following a Hurricane Katrina-size disaster, has devolved into battle zones run by The Militia, gangs, thugs, radiated-swamp monsters (50 times larger than New Orleans' nutria rodents) and ice creatures (yes, ice creatures in Louisiana humidity).

"How could they let a bunch of hick fascists take over their city?" a game character wonders.

Yet, the carefree people of New Marais continue to walk scary streets, refusing to be bullied, saying things like "screw y'all, screw A.A." You save these stoic residents from the clutches of the depraved.

Actually, this is a karma game. You can use your powers for good or evil. If you play as a saintly Cole, you electrocute and freeze bad guys (using ice shards, a different power) while reviving injured residents and defusing bombs.

If you play as evil Cole, you electrocute and blow up bad guys, but you also up beat up street musicians playing harmonica, sax and drums.

New Orleans is a perfect setting for an electricity hero. You jump atop streetcars' overhead lines, allowing your electric feet to power-speed you across the city. In the water-filled suburb of Flood Town, you use superhuman jumps to bounce from roof to roof, avoiding falling into floodwaters.

"Infamous 2" has an interesting story, dialogue, voice acting, fine pacing, well-designed missions and plenty of side missions. Game play is reminiscent of the "Spider-Man" sandbox/open world games.

There are hitches. The game doesn't always respond to my button pushing. The penultimate scene was very buggy on my PlayStation 3. And sandbox/open-world games are a well-tread genre.

But this is probably the best New Orleans game ever made. Battles go down at dilapidated mansions, above-ground cemeteries and historic squares. The hero is sympathetic to residents' plight. Although, another character refers to the city as "the ass end of the South."

Actors, of course, get the drawls wrong. Characters speak movie Southern rather than New Orleans' "yat" and other local tongues. And men call each other "brother" instead of "bro'," which is entirely unforgivable.

("Infamous 2" by Sony retails for $60 for PS 3 — Plays fun. Looks very good. Pretty challenging. Rated "T" for blood, drug reference, language, sexual themes, use of alcohol and violence. Four out of four stars.)

Doug Elfman is an award-winning entertainment columnist who lives in Las Vegas. He blogs at http://www.lvrj.com/columnists/Doug_Elfman.html.

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