Unbound and Mighty
Over the years, superhero games have failed to live up to their potential. Whether it was a failing of technology, poor implementation by the developer, or being too closely tied to a movie’s release, I’ve never played a great superhero game, let alone a near perfect one. Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the privilege of playing two titles in the genre that strive for perfection and largely achieve it.
Of course, I’m referring to the impending releases of Sucker Punch’s inFAMOUS and Radical’s Prototype. While a full review of Prototype will have to wait a couple weeks, I’m happy to announce that inFAMOUS is everything I’d hoped it would be. This game gives players access to a host of amazing powers, a living, breathing open-world, an interesting dual-storyline, and a load of content. Top that all off with solid visuals and a control scheme that’s silky-shmoot and you’re in for a real treat!
Upon starting the game, players are introduced to the protagonist, Cole MacGrath. While his name and look scream NASCAR driver or country singer, he’s really just a lowly courier having a really bad day. How bad? Try waking up in the epicenter of a city-leveling electrical explosion. To make matters worse, the three island metropolis of Empire City has been quarantined by the outside world due to a rampant outbreak of pathogens. This has led various groups within the city (the Reapers, Dust Men, and First Sons) to vie for control of the diverse districts (Neon, Warren, and Historic), leaving the helpless citizens to struggle mightily in the face of disease, wanton destruction, raging gang violence, and a cryptic organization. Luckily for Cole, the electrical blast has imbued him with electricity-based abilities that he’ll soon unlock and harness, allowing him to not only survive the horrors but to rescue the city as its patron and savior or dominate it as its tyrant. In this open-world of high-rises, broad streets, stately homes, fetid shanties, dirty back alleys, and corrupted sewers the choice is yours, making inFAMOUS the ideal playground for a hero or a villain.
Despite his amazing abilities, Cole is not invincible nor is his power unlimited. Consequently, Cole will have to regularly seek out sources of electricity to instantly heal himself and replenish the energy nodes sapped through the use of more potent abilities. Luckily, Cole will find energy sources everywhere. What’s more, collectible Ray Sphere shards (from the object that exploded at the beginning of the game) are strewn across Empire City and will allow Cole to increase the amount of nodes he has at his disposal. Not only do these shards make your character more devastating, they also act as a collection meta-game that extends the life of the title. Likewise, bits and pieces of the story are revealed to Cole and his handler Moya via Dead Drops – telecommunication points where Moya’s husband John has left information.
Combat in inFAMOUS is comprised of over-the-top brawling and electrical sniping and blasting. This electrically-charged man is capable of beating his foes to a pulp or zapping them from distance with his lightning bolts. Players will have to use a variety of skills throughout the game in order to beat the minions and their overlords controlling Empire City. The use of cover and shooter-like mechanics are prevalent throughout the game, while this may not sit well with everyone, I found it to be a ton of fun.
inFAMOUS is also marked by its vertical gameplay. Because Cole is so massively electrically charged, he can’t just hop in a car. Other than going Teen Wolf on the roofs of vehicles, you’ll have to head out on foot throughout the game. While this makes the game drag a bit initially, you’ll quickly get used to scaling buildings and using them as tools of surprise, cover, and transportation. Thankfully, Cole can fall from any height thanks to his newfound abilities, so leaping from rooftop to rooftop and taking the quick way down to street level is not a problem. Sure, you can run around the streets to get where you’re going, but climbing up buildings like a spider, zipping along power cables and light-rail, and free running is far more enjoyable, not to mention a heck of a lot faster. Furthermore, Cole will constantly run into vying factions intent on his demise (while in the street he’s somewhat of a sitting duck). As such, the architecture becomes Cole’s sanctuary. Players will find it very easy to take cover, locate strategic angles of attack, and hustle their way to the next objective by taking to rooftops. Best of all, platforming your way around the city is dreamy. Cole MacGrath almost never stumbles, misses jumps, or falls unexpectedly. The ease with which you will navigate and negotiate the world allows players to take their minds off frustration, transporting them into the game world. I found the vertical gameplay to be both enjoyable and rewarding, adding an element of complexity to the action genre rarely seen.
Of course, jumping around like a suped-up cat will only get you so far in this game. That’s where Cole’s bodacious powers come into play. At the beginning of the game, Cole is already pretty awesome – the guy can jump off buildings and shoot lightning bolts from his hands. But, as Cole begins to harness his abilities, he’ll be able to tap into their true might. In order to do so, players will have to accrue experience by completing missions and taking out baddies in style (employing techniques to kills such as head shots and stunts will garner you more XP). These points can then be used to unlock new abilities such as Shock Grenades (sticky, electric, exploding orbs), the Polarity Wall (a shielding force field), Arc Lightning (sustained chain-lightning that leaps from one target to the next), among several others. In addition to unlocking these powers, you’ll also be able to increase their potency several fold. However, in order to do so you’ll have to increase the positive or negative level of your Karma Meter.
The Karma Meter in inFAMOUS is a gauge of your good or evil tendencies. Throughout the game, multiple Karmic Moments will present themselves, which will put you on a path toward good or evil depending upon the decisions you make in key circumstances. In all there are three tiers of good and evil; you can become a Guardian, Champion, Hero, Thug, Outlaw, or Infamous, respectively. Upon achieving each successive tier, you will become more powerful, as the choicest abilities will become available for purchase.
The path of good will lead to a heroic character marked by blue powers and cheering crowds of citizens. Becoming evil will make you grotesque in appearance, causing the citizenry to despise you, even going so far as to hurl rocks and insults at you. Whichever path you take, the story will begin to mold itself around your decisions. This dual-storyline presentation makes inFAMOUS a game you’re going to want to play at least twice.
As interesting and enjoyable power-leveling and the Karma system may seem, I was a little put off by its implementation. For example, in order to gain access to the truly bitchin’ powers, you’ll have to get to either the Hero or Infamous Karma rating. That means there is absolutely no room for a middle of the road playthrough. This forces you to handle tough situations in a rather standard way – you’ll either have to take care of your foes with hamstrung tactics, or you’ll have to be a soulless bastard. What’s more, most abilities are unlocked quite quickly. While this means you’ll become powerful early on, it also means there isn’t a lot of reward for improving your character. I suppose it is nice to see your abilities become more powerful and take on increased effects, but more often than not the differences seem more mathematical than substantive.
Also, I feel the game suffers a bit from a lack of identity. This mostly concerns combat. Though this title is billed as an action title, it strays precariously close to that of a shooter. While I love the shooter genre, I’m sure not everyone who’ll buy this game does. Players should know that while Cole will never pick up a conventional weapon, much of his combat prowess is accentuated by powers that act strikingly similar to guns and grenades. On the upside, mixing in Thunder Drops (electrified ground-pounds) and Shockwaves (a force push of pure energy) keeps things fresh and action-packed.
The visuals in inFAMOUS are awesome. The three districts presented are entirely distinct and full of life. I really enjoyed all the hilarious signs in the Neon District: “Mid-Life Cycles – Light up the Darkness,” and “That Smell Is our Deli.” The level of detail put into the environments is staggering considering just how grand the scale is. Additionally, Cole’s powers animate beautifully – the particle effects are particularly sweet. Likewise, storyboard, comic book cutscenes are interspersed throughout the game, providing a nice contrast to the flowing in-engine visuals. Missing the mark, however, are the conversation animations; the lip-syncing is poor and the hand gestures look painfully artificial. The same goes for the voice acting. Cole’s voice is a clichéd amalgam of every low-budget, gruff hero you’ve ever heard, and many of the supporting NPCs such as Zeke, Moya, and Trish don’t seem to fit. Graciously, the varied and content-specific background music helps immerse the player.
Regardless of the few nitpicky critiques I’ve made, inFAMOUS is a great effort. The five people I played this game with, including myself, all had a wonderful time. We spent hours passing the controller back and forth, giggling, and asserting our virtual dominance. And that’s what this game is all about: having a ton of fun. The extremely user-friendly controls, deep open-world, loads of missions, and outrageous powers combine to make this one of the best titles to hit the PS3 to date.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.3 Graphics
The environments are nice and sharp, and the three districts are not only grand but nicely detailed. A shout out definitely needs to be made to the comic book-style cutscenes, it’s just too bad character conversations were so poorly animated. 4.7 Control
An absolute joy to pick up and play. Hopping around the city is utter quality. However, the heavy shooter component may turn off action purists. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The background themes change constantly and evoke the appropriate emotions. On the downside, the voices didn’t seem to fit their avatars. 4.5 Play Value
This game is extremely fun in every aspect. It also has loads of content and challenging enemies to blow through. While the dual-storyline somewhat confines in-game choices, it allows you to play this great game twice! 4.4 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.