I love cities. There’s something so intriguing to me about how they evolve to handle the people within it, and the people within it shape and are shaped by it. When I tend to go on holiday it is typically a city break.
Some of my favourite pieces of fictional work create cities that feel real. Whether these are entirely fictional cities or existing ones set in the future. One thing I love about Akira and Ghost in the Shell, particularly the mangas, is that the cities real realized. There are areas, boroughs and a sense of people living (or in some cases, avoiding) these areas. Unlike sometimes where cities are nothing more than landmarks and spaces between them.
When I played Infamous 2 I was really inspired by New Marais. I never got round to playing the first and Second Son was based in Seattle, so it ‘cheats’ a bit. New Marais may have been based on New Orleans, but I felt Sucker Punch had done more than just try and recreate New Orleans. It seems I’m not alone, when Googline ‘Infamous 2 New Marais’ it suggested “Is New Marais a real city?”
The game does a good job of moving you around these areas and providing a sense of physical location at each, rather than just mission backdrops. From the central cathedral of St. Ignatius to the middle-class Ville Cochon and the ghettos of Ascension Parish and of course the swamp (after which the city is named – literally New Swamp). They feel like areas that have grown organically over time rather than just thrown together. The fact a cathedral lies at the heart of the city which spreads out into other areas is a small touch, but so real to life. Ascension Parish sits besides the river, which would have once been an important trade and transport route but as technology has moved on people have moved further away and the area has been neglected and become a problem area that people avoid.
These kind of experiences can be seen in cities around the world, although I’m sure if we went back to New Marais now Ascension Parish would have been gentrified and another area on the outskirts of the city will be the new area to be avoided.
Cole’s movements allow the player to navigate around the city and see it from all sorts of angles. Sucker Punch has spoken about how they had to ensure the buildings could be climbed and the challenges this presented, but they also mixed it up to provide different areas. The main city is built up and you can climb up them and get a good vantage point, but the swamp is smaller and lower and you are literally closer to the ground as you navigate.
A history of the city was built into the story. Cole learnt parkour here and the city’s crime problem meant the police didn’t pay him much attention. It also flooded, which further caused a divide between the poor (who were most affected because of where they live and the financial impact) and the rich. It’s little details like this that really help breath life into the city.
Of course no city is complete without its residents. The game’s residents are video game NPCs so they tend to say a few stock phrases and sometimes act stupidly, but of course it was never meant to be a realistic city life sim. They move around, they drive, they react. They provide enough to allow you to suspend your disbelief. And depending on if you choose to be good or evil, they either feel like poor souls caught up in the crossfire or target practice. Either way they exist within the city, and the city exists within them.
Infamous 2 was one of the first times in a long time that I just enjoyed moving around in a city to explore it, even ignoring the main mission at time. The last game I really enjoyed in the same regards was Spider-Man 2 and its fluid feeling of movement and location. Of course games existed between these two that offered similar, but Spider-Man 2 and Infamous 2 both struck me for their use and representation of cities.