Will We See Video Games' Best Superhero Again?

Spoilers follow for the ending of Infamous 2. In superhero comics and the entertainments inspired by them, the afterlife has a revolving door. No one who dies ever stays buried for very long and you can pretty much predict when they're coming back.

Cole McGrath is dead. And he's staying that way. The developers who created him say that the high-voltage superhero who starred in the first two Infamous games won't be back in any way, shape or form in the series’ next instalment. Goodbye, Electric Jesus. You were the best superhero ever to zap your way through a video game.

It's going to be different for Cole McGrath. He won’t be rising from the grave. I liked Cole. A whole lot. One of the key gimmicks of the Infamous series is that the powers and plot points doled out by the games change depending on how you play. So, much of that good feeling for Cole was my own doing. Infamous 1 & 2 let me feel like I was in charge of a superhero's evolution, giving me the option to make him a disturbingly vicious anti-hero or a goody-two-shoes saviour. With me, it was always the latter.

Look: when you have superpowers, it's ALWAYS cool to save people. That random life hanging in the balance, staring down at a speeding train or buried under rubble? There's no better feeling than when you can save it. It's a rush that the two PS3 games delivered again and again. Sure, there were always street gangs and giant crawfish to fight. But, man, Sucker Punch's unique recipe for the Infamous series made life-saving feel great, like something way more significant than grinding XP. Maybe it was the gratitude expressed after you healed someone at death's door or the way that passers-by would take your picture after you drove the bad guys off an intersection. Whatever it was, you really felt like a whole city was appreciative of your efforts Just so much AI programming trickery? Maybe. But it was trickery I was eager to be fooled by.

A while back I wrote a piece comparing the lead characters of the first Infamous and Prototype games. They both featured super-powered characters in sprawling open-world cities but only one let you be a Tesla-descended messiah. That made all the difference to me. So, I felt genuine twinge of sadness when I reached the good ending of Infamous 2 and watched Cole sacrifice himself to prevent a plague of more superpowered beings from sprouting all over the world. "But, of course, he'll be back," I told myself. When the upcoming Infamous: Second Son was unveiled for the PS4 in February, it seemed like Cole would be back in the new game somehow. Probably as a godlike supervillain, I thought. That's just the way these things work, right?

Not this time. I reached out to Second Son's developers to make sure any eulogies written for Cole wouldn't eventually have to be revoked. Speaking on the phone with Nate Fox and Brian Fleming, the pair said that there's no chance Cole's coming back.

Earlier this year, I asked Fox about which Infamous ending figures into the timeline leading up to Second Son. He really couldn't answer me then. But, last week he told me that it's the good ending -- with Cole surrendering his life for the greater good -- that’s now official Infamous continuity.

How'd Sucker Punch make that decision? They looked at how people played. “We decided to work on the new game and we were trying decide which ending was canon,” Fox told me. “We looked at trophy data and 78 per cent of our users went good. They made this choice, this heroic sacrifice to end Cole’s life. We thought, ‘Well, this is awesome.’ In a game about choices with consequences, why not have the whole franchise move along with what players think is right?”

The move to PS4 also dovetailed with Sucker Punch’s creative desires. “We were eager to tell a new story with a new hero,” Fox said. Transitioning to that was always part of the dev team’s goals. “The multiple endings of Infamous 2 kind of set the world up to be very filled with Conduits [the game’s term for superpowered humans] and other kinds of intricacies. And that [good] ending was very much written to be kind of an open door for a sequel that would have a lot of embedded tension and action in it.”

“We were good either way, though. The fact that people decided to sacrifice Cole, that’s cool. We just rolled with it. We’ve got a new character with a new origin story, new powers, new city. That’s a great fresh new experience as well.”

But, really, no resurrection for Cole? “Cole is dead and he’s not going to be appearing in Second Son. Period.” That’s Sucker Punch co-founder Brian Fleming stating definitively that players won’t be seeing the former bike messenger in the upcoming Infamous game. “I get that in comic books the only person that’s every really dead is Uncle Ben,” said Fox in response. “People come back all the time. Even though [resurrection is] totally a convention in comic books, we want to make a game that feels like it has its foundation in reality. And that, when you make a choice, there’s a consequence and that consequence will genuinely change things. We don’t really want to play fast and loose with claiming somebody’s gone and then trotting them out in the next game, like we didn’t mean it. It cheapens the choices unless you stick to your guns.”

So, yes: get used to the new guy. Delsin isn’t just a new face and sensibility for the series He represents a new sort of superhero metaphor, too, and operates in a new city. Seattle exists in the real world and using it as a setting is a big shift for Sucker Punch. “Most of us live in Seattle. We thought we could do an absolutely spot on job making this place feel alive and true. Then when you mix super-human abilities into this very true-feeling city, that foundation of reality supports the surreality of the powers so you believe in them. We think that feeling like your superpowers have weight and can really affect the world is what players want. Not to feel like you’re a cartoon hero in a cartoon world.”

They may not have been real, but I’ll miss the places Cole electro-skated, through, too. Influenced by the societal carnage wreaked by Hurricane Katrina, Sucker Punch crafted two different but equally great open-world cities. Empire City was a bustling, reactive homage to New York City, struggling to survive. New Marais was soulful and funky, throwing everything from creepy swamp monsters to Anne Rice-style vampires at you. Electricity is the lifeblood of the modern age, used to kill or cure with the right application. In both burgs, players revived or restored the power grid to establish a benevolent or draconian order. The powers and how you used them created a symbiotic relationship to the character and the cities.

Smoke, on the other hand burns, chokes and obscures. It's a different power set for different times, playing out in a real city where surveillance is nearly omnipresent in its fictional version. In a year that saw the revelation of the NSA's domestic window-peeping into the lives of American citizens, having a power that lets you disappear or blind those who'd watch your every move feels eerily spot-on. “We love the idea of conduits being able to interact with the real world around them,” Fox told me. “What things do you see when you walk outside of your door? How would your powers change your relationship to them? It was an interesting challenge, a way of thinking, “What can you do when you have the ability to turn yourself into smoke?”

Honestly, I don’t know enough yet about Delsin to know if I’ll like him. His powerset doesn’t seem like it’s going to be conducive to letting me get my Jesus on. Fox told me that players will still get to make choices on how they develop abilities by how they play. So, maybe the messiah craving I have will get fulfilled by, I don’t know, improving air quality or something. Nevertheless, Delsin’s journey has yet to start. But I’ll always remember the guy who came before him, a guy who let me bring entire cities back to life. Cole McGrath was the best superhero video games have ever produced. May he rest in peace.


Comments

    "Spoilers follow for the ending of Infamous 2."

    Spoilers don't follow, they are in the headline, picture and article summery viewable from the front page. If this were a game I was worried about spoiling I would be a bit annoyed at that.

    EDIT: Hey they fixed it, thanks Kotaku!

    Last edited 26/07/13 11:23 am

      If you haven't played the game already you probably don't care enough or you gotta get over it. It is like the time Scrubs ruined The Sixth Sense for me, I can't be upset about that, the movie had been out for so long it's my fault if I haven't seen it and the secrecy has moved on.

      If the game was a week/month/year old you might have a point.

        What's the point of a spoiler alert though... seems redundant.

        First of all, no.

        Second, you can't see the stupidity in placing the spoiler in the title/pic and then starting the article off with that sentence?

        I actually hadn't gotten around to playing this series - it was on my list of things to play on the PS3. But I guess I may as well not worry about it now.

          Not sure if I agree with the "may as well not worry about it now", because it would be a poor game anyway if the gameplay still isn't enough to carry it when you know something about the ending.

          Still doesn't excuse the headline.

          no no still play it, the games are fantastic. Specially playing through as the good and then the bad Cole, gives a pretty different feel how you play through.

          I'd say play #2 anyway, it's still a great game and the gameplay is super fun. You may know some of the details of the ending now, but it doesn't mean the whole story and everything leading up to it is completely ruined.

          Gamer entitlement.

          *Curb Your Enthusiasm theme plays*

            ... which has nothing to do with this.

            When you want to write an article that mentions plot, it's just common courtesy not to place spoilers for a movie/game/book/whatever where people will likely see them without choosing to, and common sense not to put the spoiler in the title/pic - the two things a reader would see before the first line of the actual article.

              I didn't say it wasn't bad journalism, I was clearly pointing out the outrage shown was completely out of proportion.

                The amount you speak is out of proportion with the worth of your words.

                  what a valued opinion from the anonymous user

        True. But I am YEARS behind on my backlog of games I want to play. So many games I can't wait to crack open than came out half a decade ago. It's not Kotaku's fault, it's mine, I know! But if you're going to care enough about not spoiling a game to say "SPOILERS FOLLOW" then please have them actually follow and not precede.

        I played Infamous at the end of last year, didn't love it, but am still tossing up whether to borrow #2 from a friend. The headline for this article doesn't change my situation, but it is still damn annoying.

        Last edited 26/07/13 11:47 am

          #2 is awesome and builds on the first one in so many ways. I enjoyed it a lot more than #1 so i'd recommend playing it for sure, especially if you can borrow it for free!

      I agree, I planned on playing the Infamous series and know enough about it to recognise the character in the headline... This has spoiled the series for me now. Shrug.

      IN THE BIBLE, JESUS DIES.
      Also, King Kong dies in his movie. What else...

      Seriously though, spoiler avoiding definitely relies on the goodwill and consideration of the community you associate with.

      Because the twist behind the Sixth Sense is such a crucial part of enjoying the movie that I STILL don't use it as an example of something that should have a statute of limitations on spoilers, just in case there's someone who hasn't seen it.

      Still haven't finished Bioshock Infinite, The Walking Dead, or The Last of Us, and thanks to people being really good about it, I still haven't been spoiled on their endings. Though, in this day and ages, when people have said that there is a 'confronting' or 'surprising' ending, to me it's more of a surprise if the player character fucking LIVES. Death of a hero is pretty much a foregone conclusion, it seems.

        Yeah good points. Especially those games you mentioned where it's easy to assume that somebody important dies tragically just because of the nature and setting of the story, to the point where when you hear people saying "don't spoil the ending of such and such" you already assume the worst. If you know there's something to be spoilt, then that alone ruins the experience just a little bit as you try to guess what it is. If I had known the Sixth Sense had a spoiler I probably would have guessed it, but watching it without any prior knowledge... it got me real good. Same with Fight Club and The Usual Suspects - films best watched without any "spoiler hype".

        I haven't played the infamous games yet, they're still sitting there in their shrink wrap (metaphorically that is, I take the shrink wrap off, open the case up, leaf through the manual if there is one, and THEN I place it on my shelf, forever unplayed)... but it's not the type of game I'm overly concerned about the story when I play. In a narrative driven game like The Last of Us though... if somebody had spoiled that for me I would have been livid. People who spoil games like that through carelessness should get major time-out in the naughty corner.

    My only issue is that Cole's sacrifice was specifically to remove all conduits from the world, so they are kind of only accepting half of the ending they chose by saying he is permdead, but there are still conduits.

      It'll be interesting to see how the new game explains that. Maybe something new triggers Delsin into superpowers? I doubt there will be some contrived explanation such as that Delsin was an astronaut when it all happened.

    Just when you thought spoilers from these guys couldn't possibly get any more retarded.

    So....you're saying that **** ***** at the end of Infamous 2 then. Right.
    EDIT: looks like they fixed the heading, still a bit of a knob move though.

    Last edited 26/07/13 2:01 pm

    If Cole was going to stay dead, why have two different endings for Infamous 2 where he's alive in one?... especially since he was alive if you went down the "Infamous" moral path.

      The article clearly states that they made the next game based on how people played. Most people played as 'good' so they went with his death as canon.

    I just started playing infamous 2 a few days ago (getting through my backlog) in preparation of second son, thanks for spoiling it for me in the headlines!

    Last edited 26/07/13 11:31 am

      Im with you on this
      I just picked up Infamous 2 a month or so ago
      Being a PS3 and PC gamer, I have a lot of games to work my way through, I guess this one can be refiled to the bottom of the pile

    Good work on the 'Spoiler alert'.

    Bad work on having a spoiler in the headline and the picture as well.

    That's a phenomenal fucking job there Evan. Keep up the hard work.

      In before everyone complaining 'oh but you should have finished this a long time ago' and downvoting me.

      Not all of us have countless hours to spend playing every single game for the sole purpose of not having to worry about people posting spoilers.

      I've finished heaps of games and don't spoil the ending for others. It's just common courtesy.

    http://www.gameinformer.com/b/features/archive/2013/05/10/bridging-the-gap-from-infamous-2-to-second-son.aspx
    “When we got done with Infamous 2, we had given players this choice of whether or not they wanted to heroically sacrifice Cole or keep him alive at the expense of the human population,” says game director Nate Fox. “The game shipped and we started seeing trophy data, and 78 percent of players decided to sacrifice Cole and have him die. We wanted to honor their choice so moving forward we said ‘Let’s make a new hero

    So the ending that is cannonical is actually kinda dictated by the fans by which trophy they unlocked first.

      I don't think it's that simple. If you wanted to see the bad ending you would have also unlocked the inFamous ending for the game. If you preferred the inFamous ending then there's a much higher chance that you got the Trophy for that one first.

    I'm quite proud at how Sucker Punch is sticking to their guns on the death of a character. In comic books, death feels rather cheap because characters constantly come back from the dead in escelatingly implausible fashions. This has even started leaking into comic book movies with Coulson's ressurection by the power of fandom.

    So to see that Sucket Punch is aware of this issue and flatly says "Nope" it hugely encouraging for me and their storytelling ability.

    "Video games best superhero"
    That isn't Viewtiful Joe!

    Not even Uncle Ben is ever permanently dead now.

    I'm proud too of them. Coles legacy is a character unto itself now, more important than Cole being alive. It would cheapen the series to bring him back. I think it leaves his life as bittersweet yet noble and leaves you in a state of 'mourning' yet hopefulness if you're an infamous fan like myself. I adore this series so much :D

    The lightning bolt hitting his funeral boat always made me think that there was a small chance he could come back.

    I have to say, I would dearly love to see him as an NPC in another game.

    I have come to accept Cole's death and I am looking forward to second son. Though I am hoping they at least make reference to him rather than doing what most games with spin offs do and ignore other relevant characters in the same universe.
    That way, fans of the original get a nice little something, almost like a guest appearance, yet it doesn't make it essential for new comers to play 1 and 2 to get the story.

      Apparently there are plenty of references, both positively (from metahumans) and negatively (from non-metas) in the game. The REAL question, is does Zeke show up?

      Last edited 26/07/13 1:25 pm

        Please no. Zeke was a well-intentioned idiot.

          Get out, Zeke was great! Started off as a goofy moron but by the end of inFamous 2, he was a fully rounded character. To be fair, Cole was a pretty big douche at the beginning of inFamous as well, but by the end, was pretty spectacular.

    Credit where credit is due....
    No one can ever claim that Kotaku doesn't listen to, and respect their audience!
    Kudos for fixing the headline and leading story pic!

    He'll be back.

    The only thing more certain than "they didn't find the body" is "he's definitely dead and will never ever be back".

      But... but... he HAS to come back! What was that lightning strike that hit the boat when Zeke was burying him at sea? That gave me HOPE, you cruel bastards!

    I don't hold out hopes that their replacement character will be quite as endearing. First of all, he looks nothing like me. Second of all, his voice is WAY out of synch with him being a troubled teen/young-20s whatever. It sounds like the same guy who does all voices everywhere.

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