Anywho, just wanted to discuss the strange yet interesting development of Cole's character throughout inFAMOUS and inFAMOUS 2, focusing more on the former.
Cole is, for all intents and purposes, a normal guy who one day got superpowers. He isn't an alien from a far off planet. He isn't "The Chosen One" (before you bring up Kessler, I'd like to point out that, as revealed through Dead Drops, Kessler had prepared other subjects to test on should Cole die in the Ray Sphere's activation. Hell, he's partly only here because of luck). His parents weren't secret agents who fought bad guys. He's just your average joe.
In some cases, he could almost be considered a "loser." College dropout, working as a bike courier, which would've become a job dominated by machines, therefore leaving him jobless, his only appearent friend is a clumsy, yet lovable, Elvis impersonator, family life is a mess, always ran from his problems. Not what you would consider a model citizen.
What I like the most about Cole was his realistic response to the events in the first game. He was freaking pissed. Think about, his home city had been blown up. Someone he knew died, which caused his girlfriend to become depressed. He was framed for said explosion, which caused his entire city and everyone he knew to turn on him. His girlfriend left him. Yeah, this guy's got a bad case of Parker Luck.
From this point on, Cole's main focus isn't "Oh man, my city's in ruins and it's partially my fault. I gotta make this right." No, instead it's "Screw this place and screw these people. I gotta get me and my loved ones outta here." For a majority of the game, this was his sole purpose. For the most of the game Cole only did heroic things because Moya said it would help him out in his search for the Ray Sphere, which would allow him to go to Moya and get out of the city and clear his name.
For the majority of the first game, Cole MacGrath was a reluctant superhero. He wasn't doing any of these things because it was his "duty," he was doing it so that Moya would get him out of the city. Numerous times throughout the game Cole states that he wasn't doing any of these heroic acts so that people would like him, he was doing them because Moya told him to. This is made even more apparent during that one mission where Cole had to stop the Dustmen from launching their boats to get out of the Quarantine. When Miya tells him to destroy the ships and release the hostages on board, Cole, regardless of karmic status, says "I don't want any of these people's blood on my hands either Moya, but I don't see what any of this has to do with our deal." Cole MacGrath, Champion of Empire City, just said that he would've let these people die of it meant he could complete his mission faster.
Now, some of you may be thinking that I'm trying to paint Cole as a bad guy. Let me stop you right there. This is a look at Cole's character PROGRESSION. We're looking at how he came to be the hero we all know today. Also, remember that Cole is just a NORMAL GUY. Sure, he shoot lightning out of his hands, summon lightning bolts from the sky, survive massive explosions and fight giant monsters, but underneath all that lightning is a human being. 2 weeks ago he was just a guy delivering packages, and now he's being framed for one of the biggest tragedies in the world and now has to fight his way out of city filled with crazy people with superpowers that want to kill him. If you were one day just tossed into a world of psychos and superpowers, would you be so gung ho about throwing yourself into harms way?
Another driving factor for Cole's heroic actions is Trish. Several missions throughout the game occur because Trish asks Vole to do something for her. Cole, feeling guilty for accidentally killing her sister and also wanting to get back together with her. Cole's love for Trish is what pushes him to be heroic. He wants to impress her, and show her that he's not the bad guy. He even goes so far as to fight off hordes of Reapers and Dustmen just to protect her and her medical supplies. You could almost say this is a pretty selfish thing to do.
So I bet you're wondering where I'm going with this, because so far all I've done is make Cole look like a selfish prick. Well, in my mind, there are 4 events that push Cole into being a full on hero.
The first event Alden breaking out of prison. At this point, Cole realizes that things are getting serious, and that he can't afford to screw around with Zeke anymore. It is also one of the fuse times in game where he shows concern for his city, stating that he won't be able to save everyone when things start heating up, and he is obviously displeased by this.
The second is Trish's death. As cliche and predictable as it is, a death of a loved one is what pushed Cole to become a true superhero. But the reason isn't what you think. Cole didn't set out to "make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else," he went out to kill Kessler out of revenge. In his eyes, Kessler and the First Sons are the ones responsible for all the crap he's been through the past month, so he launches and all out war against them. While taking down a terriers organization that was holding the city hostage, he also manages to help the people of his city even more by restoring the power.
The third event is his final confrontation with Kessler. Just before he goes to fight Kessler once and for all and right after he destroyed the Ray Sphere, Cole has a moment of clarity, an epiphany almost. He comes to realize that the world didn't revolve around him. It may have felt like it did, but in reality this whole situation was bigger than him. He realized that it wasn't about what he wanted or needed, it was about keeping the people of Empire City safe. After he kills Kessler and learns the big truth, he understands that while his personal desires don't matter, he DOES play a big role in the fate of the world. He promises that when the Beast comes, he WILL be ready to face it.
The fourth event is his face off with David Warner. During his final battle with the security guard turned purple electricity monster, he has yet another epiphany. He realizes that this IS happening. He can't run away from this problem. Not anymore. He's in too deep. After defeating David once and for all, he starts to make good on his promise on stoppping the Beast...
...Cue Beast kicking his ass and destroying his city. Now this is where things get tricky for our "Hero" Cole MacGrath. inFAMOUS 2 always felt like a moral gray area to me. The reason being is that being Evil in the second game is sort of justifiable. You're not going to New Marais to save the town from the corrupt Militia. You're going there to get more power so that you can defeat the Beast. You're city has been destroyed, and all the people who were counting on you are now dead Beaton weren't strong enough, and the Beast was destroying more and more cities.
So you can sort of say that all of the terrible things you do are justifiable because you're doing them for the greater good. Even the Evil Endong is justifiable to an extent, because the Plague was spreading at an alarming rate and no one knew for sure whether or not the RFI was actually going to work. Sure, you're killing a ton of people, but at the same time you are saving a certain amount of people as well as stopping the Plague. It can't be considered completely evil.
Even Good Cole's inFAMOUS 2 ending can't be considered truly good, because even bough you've saved millions of people from the Beast and from the Plague, you've also basically committed genocide. All Conduits, activated or not, have been killed. This includes men, women and children. Or, so we thought until Second Son came around. Point is, it's a pretty grim ending.
I'm not saying Cole MacGrath is one of the most interesting and revolutionary characters ever written, but I think it can certainly be agreed that he was a breathe of fresh air after years of seeing the same "hero" template being used. He's not an anti-hero, but he certainly has qualities that put his status as a "true hero" into question. But that's what makes him so interesting. It the realism of his character. He's not the "For Truth and Justice!" tights wearing, one-liner shouting hero. Hey not the "I'm gonna make sure no one else has to relive my dark past" hero. He's just a normal guy trying to survive in a world that's been turned upside down. It's all of his imperfections and reluctance to become a hero that make him so much more relatable and likeable. He really acts like a normal guy who one day got superpowers.
I also want to say that this puts the Karma System into a new perspective. People complained that it was too basic and black and white, but when put into comparison with Cole's actions and dialogue, the lines between good and evil start to blur. Can we really call Cole a hero when, for the majority of the first game, he was only doing the superhero gig out of obligation to Moya and Trish? Can we call Beast Cole evil when his only goal was to cure the Plague?
Very well written. Yeah, the karma system is interesting in these games, especially the second one. In the first game we pretty much see two sides, one where he's a hero (sort of, like you mentioned) and the bad one where he's pretty much just a full on villain. He kills people and causes mayhem just because he can.
That's what makes the karmic system in the second game is that it isn't so dramatic. Bad karma Cole isn't really a villain like we saw in the first inFamous. He's more of an anti-hero still doing what he believes is right, even if he is going about it in a more destructive and dangerous way. As you mentioned, even the bad karma ending is justifiable in inFamous 2. That's what makes the karma systems and Cole as a character intetesting to me
The thing I liked the most about inFAMOUS 1 is the character progression. We get to see Cole grow as either a hero or a villain. We either see his morality grow to the point were he wants to protect the city with all his might or we see his morality degrade to the point were all he wants is to rule over everything with an iron fist. Regardless of karma, we see his character grow, which is necessary for a good story. That's why I hold inFAMOUS 1 as the one with the best story in the series.
Like I said, inFAMOUS 2 was a real gray area for me. Neither Cole seemed to be completely in the wrong or right. One thing I will note is that in inFAMOUS 2, Cole seems to take to his hero role much more easier. He seems to have accepted the fact that he's the only one who can save the world, and that his actions will take an immediate effect on the world around him.
Honestly, its more of a thing I have with imperfect protagonists. The fact that they have flaws and have to work to overcome them or live with them makes them much more interesting.