inFAMOUS Review

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inFAMOUS is a lot of things, but before I get into that, I’d like to tell you what inFAMOUS is not. InFAMOUS is not Prototype, Crackdown, Grand Theft Auto, Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, or Spider-Man: Web of Shadows. The only thing this game has in common with those is that they are all set in “open world, sandbox” environments. At the end of my 30+ hour gaming session, I’ve come to the conclusion that inFAMOUS is unlike any open world sandbox superhero game I’ve ever played, and as of this writing, it is the best open world sandbox superhero game I’ve ever played.

It wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that since you are reading a review of inFAMOUS, you are familiar with the story, but to briefly sum it up, the game follows the story of lowly bike courier Cole McGrath, and how his life is changed irrevocably one day when a package he delivers explodes, destroying a large portion of Empire City.

In the aftermath, a plague sweeps through the city, resulting in the government quarantining the place until the crisis can be contained. Hell breaks loose, as three major gangs, stretched across the three islands of Empire City (The Neon District, The Warren, and the Historical District, respectively), and are making the lives of the surviving populace a living hell.

There is seemingly no hope, no escape, and no release from this torment. Until Cole awakens a week after the blast only to find that he has been granted incredible control over electricity, becoming a conduit or channel for it’s power. Only then does he realize that he may be the only hope for the citizens of Empire City, or their damnation.

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This story is told through incredibly stylish and beautifully drawn comic book style cutscenes. The most key elements of the story are told in this fashion, while the rest of the narrative is told either through brief in game cutscenes, or through dialogue between characters as you traverse the city. More backstory is presented to the player via “Dead Drops” whom a mysterious character named John has encoded on 32 satellite dishes scattered throughout the city. These Dead Drops can reveal quite a bit about the story, so it may be good to only collect the first 20 or so as you play the game first time through, and save the last 12 until you’ve reached the end of the game.

Overall, the story is intriguing, compelling, and satisfying. My only real complaint is that Cole’s two main supporting characters, his ex-girlfriend Trish (who lost her sister in the blast, and blames Cole), and his best friend Zeke (who becomes increasingly jealous of Cole’s abilities and his rise to fame – or infamy), are only mildly likable. Trish is a bitch to Cole for the majority of the game, and Zeke is, well, Zeke, who’s role as the comic relief of the story isn’t really fulfilled, and instead he comes off as a sad frat boy who hasn’t realized that he graduated from college years ago and needs to drop the act. The rest of the cast, ie, the mysterious John, an FBI agent named Moya who gives Cole his “missions,” and a trio of rather kickass villains are much more interesting and well developed. Even so, the story is compelling enough to keep you pressing forward to it’s satisfying conclusion.

As for the gameplay itself, inFAMOUS is pure fun, and does a fantastic job of making you feel like a complete and utter badass when roaming the streets of Empire City, saving or terrorizing it’s citizens, completing story and side missions, or collecting Blast Shards (pieces of shining “crystal” that got scattered across the city when the package Cole was carrying exploded), to name only a few of the many things that Cole can do once he is gifted with the power of electricity.

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Gameplay is, in a sense, broken up into three categories: Traversal, Combat, and Morality. Cole was an urban explorer before being granted his electrical powers, and as such, he is able to climb, shimmy, and clamber on practically any surface in Empire City. From street signs, to trees, to buildings and train tracks, if it looks like Cole can climb it, he can. The game employs a rather smart “auto-cling” system, so you don’t have to press or hold down a bunch of buttons to get Cole to climbing. Simply approach the surface that you plan on scaling, and jump towards it.

He will automatically attach himself to it and climb. This is also true for jumping off of things, and landing on other items. Want to leap from that tall building onto a power line 30 feet below? You can, and without nary a concern about precision, as long as you are on target to land, you will.

This system isn’t without it’s flaws, as it is quite easy to jump onto the wrong object when there are many scalable things clustered together (such as a street pole, pipe, or building within proximity), and getting down from things can be problematic, as pressing the Circle button will allow Cole to drop down only one level, this can be frustrating, because Cole will grab the ledge below him while falling, meaning you’ll have to press Circle again to fall from that ledge, and repeat until you hit the ground.

A simple solution to this is to either jump off of the building, or execute Cole’s “Thunder Drop” ability, which makes him hurtle to the ground, building up electric energy, and upon impact, send out a devastating wave of energy that ripples outward, sending cars, people, and other objects flying. It would have been nice to simply be able to hold the Circle button, forcing him to fall all the way down, but it’s only a minor complaint in the grand scheme of things, as the controls are smooth, spot on, and feel very natural and intuitive.

Once Cole gains his higher level traversal abilities, such as the ability to grind on power lines, train tracks, as well as the ability to use “Static Thrusters” to hover through the air, moving around the various districts of Empire City is just as exhilarating as flying, or web-slinging, especially when combining traversal skills. The first time you leap off of a building, hover to a power line, surf it across to another building, leap from that power line, sail over the building with hover, land on another power line, grind it until it ends, leap hovering to the train tracks, grinding on the train tracks as a train screams by, you’ll wonder why other games in the genre stick to more traditional means of travel (like vehicles).

It is truly a joy to just move through the city, and developers Sucker Punch have designed the city to facilitate all of Cole’s abilities, both natural and supernatural. I suppose the best way to describe the game is like an open world game, where nearly each building and district feel as finely crafted as an individual level in a linear game. Just getting up the top of a building, or around the city is like a puzzle in itself. Kudos to Sucker Punch for this fantastic feat.

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The Combat part of the gameplay package is just as enjoyable as the traversal powers. Because Cole is an electrical conduit, he doesn’t use guns or any type of firearm, but his arsenal of electric gifts more than make up for it, and are a hell of a lot more fun to use. Overall, Cole gains 16 abilities over the course of the game, with the option to upgrade roughly 10 of them, each having 3 levels of upgrades for you to allocate the experience points you earn by doing various tasks throughout the city.

From his standard, and unlimited Lighting Shock attack, Cole can gain electric grenades, a Sniper ability, a Polarity Wall that serves as a static electric shield, and even the ability to call down a lightning storm from the sky. The other abilities consume energy, which is monitored by a meter in the upper left corner of the screen, showing Cole’s remaining energy. This can be restored by simply drawing energy from nearby objects (like cars, street lights, generators, televisions, even people). The game has a fully functional electric grid, so you will hardly ever find yourself without enough energy to use your higher level powers.

I won’t spoil the other abilities, as part of the fun is discovering the abilities for yourself. The best part about these powers is chaining together combos and finding new ways to take out enemies. There are even 21 unique stunts Sucker Punch have chosen to give you a brief sample of the possibilities and variety of uses for your electric arsenal.

While it’s easy to simply fall back on your standard, Lighting Shock attack, it’s simply more fun to do things like throw a sticky grenade to a vehicle, then use the ShockWave (think Force Push from Star Wars) ability to hurl the car into a group of on coming enemies, and when the car explodes, sending them flying up into the air, zooming in with your Sniper ability (which also slows down time, allowing for precision aiming and shots) and picking them off one by one before they hit the ground.

What makes combat even more satisfying, is how it is interwoven with Cole’s traversal skills. You can execute any of your attacks while clinging from a building, or hanging from a street pole, even while grinding on power lines and train tracks. No words can really describe how satisfying it feels to grind a powerline to the top of a building where enemies await, ShockWave pushing them off of the building while still grinding, then, as they fall to the ground below, landing on top of them with a Thunder Drop before they hit the ground. Simpy awesome.

And that’s not even including Cole’s melee abilities, which are rather flashy, although difficult to pull off, as enemies are no slouch in this game, and showcase some challenging AI that will often have you respawning at the nearest checkpoint due to their ferocity. In short, combat is fun, and the various abilities let you play to your particular play style, which brings me to the third pillar of gameplay in inFAMOUS: Morality.

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Sucker Punch wasn’t simply content with letting you become a badass electrical superhero in inFAMOUS, oh no. They went the extra mile by including a morality system in the game that allows you to be truly heroic, or truly, well, infamous.

In the upper left hand corner of the screen, next to your energy reserves, is a meter. The top half of the meter is blue, and represents the three Good Karma ranks: Guardian, Champion, and Hero. When you do good deeds, such as healing wounded civilians, defeating enemies with as little collateral damage as possible, “Arc Restraining” (think electric handcuffs) downed enemies, and completing the 15 Good Karma missions, you will receive experience points in that Karma ranking, and when you’ve reached enough XP, you will go up to the next level. The XP can also be used to upgrade your existing abilities, and some abilities require a Good or Bad Karma to utilize.

While being Good, the bad, deadly abilities are locked out, and vice versa. When Cole is being heroic, his abilities are more precise, tailored to taking down enemies with precision, and avoiding too many civilian casualties. For example, Cole’s Hero Rank Shock Grenades will not only send enemies hurling, but incapacitate them by doing an automatic Arc Restraint on anyone caught in the blast (even civilians, but since they are still alive, it doesn’t count as negative Karma). On the flip side, when Cole is being infamous, his Shock Grenades will splinter out into tiny cluster bombs, exploding in a fantastic display of destruction and particle effects, taking out enemy and civilian alike. The Good Karma path has an ability that is only usable when on the Good path, and the Bad Karma path has an ability locked to it’s rank also.

Now, onto the lower half of the Karma meter is a red bar, representing the three Bad Karma ranks; Thug, Outlaw, and Infamous. I don’t think I need to tell you how to gain Bad Karma points. This particular review is covering only the Good Karma path, but the game does have two different endings depending on the path you choose, as well as 15 Bad karma missions that range from killing protesters, to assassinating targets for the three gangs of the city.

There are also “Karma Moments” that you will come across throughout the game, where  a scenario will present itself as the screen fades to a goldish hue, and Cole will contemplate a positive action, or a negative action he could perform. For example, I came across a scenario where a mob of people had hoisted up another civilian, claiming that he stole their food and they planned on lynching him. I could just walk away, and let the mob have their way, or, I could cut the guy down and let him be. My choice will give me either a significant boost in my Good or Bad Karma, the choice is up to me.

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What makes the three pillars of inFAMOUS’ gameplay so enjoyable is how expertly intertwined they all are. One doesn’t exist without the other, and they all support each other in a natural, progressive way. In the end, the result is that it facilitates fun gameplay no matter which way you approach playing the game. Traversal is fantastic, combat is fantastic, and the moral system really helps dictate how you evaluate and plan for the various situations.

As a note of interest, there are roughly 40 Story missions, 30 Karma missions (15 Good, 15 Bad), and roughly 70 to 100 side missions (which are also karma neutral, so you can approach them as good or bad as you want to be) to complete, not to mention 84 districts that can be liberated from the rule of the gangs. As stated before, I’ve sunk about 30+ hours into the title, and, looking at my save file, I’m only 75% complete with the game, 48 power upgrades (Good side only, not counting the Bad karma upgrades), 63 out of 84 Disctricts saved, 32 out of 32 Dead Drops collected, 17 out of 21 stunts performed, and 276 of 350 Blast Shards discovered. Needless to say, I still have a lot to do in inFAMOUS, and I’m still itching to play through on the Bad Karma side of the fence, and see how the story unravels.

I think it also has to be noted that all of this excellent gameplay is wrapped up in a rather beautifully realized package graphically. It is not a perfect presentation (there is some pop-in here and there, in particular when you are rail grinding and moving at really fast speeds; vehicles, and sometimes buildings will pop into existence), but textures are sharp, Cole’s animations are wonderful, and overall detail of the city is fantastic The framerate holds up fantastically, although I noticed it dip a handful of times when things got incredibly intense and hectic (but the framerate never seemed to drop below 24fps, if that low).

Each of the three districts has a distinct look (with my favorite being the Historical District, especially during the night time sections, where it looks moody and gothic, almost like Gotham City), and the lighting and particle effects are excellent. Sucker Punch has delivered a fantastic superhero sandbox game, the best superhero game I’ve ever played, and I can see myself playing this over and over again for a long time to come, or at least until the inevitable sequel. Hell, I may even try for the Platinum Trophy (and I’m not that into things like Trophies).

VERDICT: BUY: If you are any type of fan of superheroes, comics, and sandbox games, buy this game now. It’s been a long time since a game has simply nailed it’s mechanics, and interwined them in a way that they don’t feel like disparate elements slapped together just to add to the bullet points on the back of the box. InFAMOUS is the equivalent of a summer blockbuster superhero movie, even if it isn’t 100% perfect. At least it’s 100% fun.

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2 Responses to “inFAMOUS Review”

  1. I think it’s a good game. The only thing I didn’t like about it were the secondary characters and a fair chunk of storyline. I would have loved for Cole to be customizable.

    I just don’t get why game developers don’t get that a lot of people want to make their own characters.

  2. Shawn Shokraie Says:

    I bought it! Great Review!

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