The first offering on the PS3 from the Sly Cooper developers, inFAMOUS arrives with a bang. Humble and gravelly-voiced bike messenger Cole McGrath makes an explosive delivery killing thousands and transforming the city into an apocalyptic wasteland. A plague follows, people are running out of food and hope, and most law enforcement has given the city over to gangs with some of their own powers and plenty of guns. Cole emerges from a coma unscathed and electrified on day fourteen of a government mandated quarantine and you determine how he tackles the search for the source of his mysterious powers.
There is good thought given to the life of an electrified man. In addition to developing his abilities like basic lightning shots, healing powers and force blasts he also learns his limitations – no guns or cars and areas of town without electricity leave him blurry eyed and aching. On the upside, he can fall from any height, which I don’t question too much. For one, it is just plain fun, and two, seems just as plausible as, say, leaping off a cliff into a haystack and walking away without a scratch. Puddles, unlike pavement, are to be avoided, and I can only assume that Cole is one ripe, un-showered, bike messenger.
Cole’s memory is damaged from the effects of the explosion, and in a pleasant learning curve he discovers one of his sixteen powers in a vision each time he powers up a sector of the city by restoring the connection between transformers. Offensive powers generally mimic those of traditional firearms, with rapid fire lightning strikes as your basic attack and later shock grenades and a sniper power. There are, of course, powerful force blasts and the ability to call down a lighting strike from the heavens – suffice it to say, the more powers you gain the more awesome the game gets.
InFAMOUS has masterful pacing, and just as you start to wonder if you might get tired of your life as a devoted pedestrian you learn to grind down power cables and railways. Primary moves like using the electricity to navigate the city or fire off basic lightning shots do not use your battery. Special moves drain the cells, however, and additional power can be pulled from nearby sources like lamp posts and car batteries. Sapping power restores your slowly regenerating health, as well, and it is neat that instead of seeking out dead foes and munitions to ammo up in combat you are keeping your eyes peeled for resources like generators and abandoned vehicles. Upgrades for your powers are purchased with experience points, earned from things like successful missions, healing or restraining people, and kills with more points given for kills that use stunts. There are twenty-one different stunts you can use, from blowing up a car to kill a nearby foe in an Enviro Kill to some fun force blasting people from rooftops.
In addition to requiring XP for purchase, certain powers can only be upgraded as you reach each of the three respective levels of the good and evil karma scale. The ethical quandaries that determine your karmic status usually boil down to selfless martyrdom or letting some innocents take the fatal fall. All of the big decisions are detailed in voiceover and then in text on the screen. There is never any grey area, just a choice between being a hero or kicking puppy. For example, would you rather suffer some battery core stunting, hallucinogenic turmoil or let the nearest civilian have a go at it, probably killing him in the process? Take the food that will last you and Zeke for weeks or leave it for everyone? There is moderate justification given, if only that having you alive and in tip-top shape could be a greater service to the city.
The small stuff like healing vs. bioleeching also makes a difference, and the game tracks your behavior within a mission. For example, just because the citizens of Empire City like to get in your way doesn’t mean you can off them, and killing restrained people counts as a negative act. Some smaller choices are more sinister than others, after all bioleeching off a reaper is one thing, but when you are holding down an innocent to suck the very life force out of them as they struggle to get free, well that’s just ice cold.
It is clear that these ethical moves are never meant to baffle, rather they are simply character, even gameplay, defining. Heroic Cole develops focused powers, while Infamous Cole’s are haphazard and broad, indifferent to who he kills. Your choice may simply boil down to your fight style and how you want to tackle the combat. Karma does have some physical effects on your character, changing your electricity to either blue or red, and earning Infamous Cole a blanched complexion.
The city responds to your actions, and if you’re the biggest electrified a-hole in town they will run the other way, deface posters of you, or pelt you with stones. As a hero, however, the people are inspired and work to return their lives to normal. The reactions are great reinforcers, as people come to expect you to help or hurt them. I loved the immersion in the city, things like hearing civilians call out to me to heal a buddy, and the desperation of Empire City is something you come to understand more and more as you help the people just trying to survive. As the story progresses characters like best pal Zeke and now ex-girlfriend Trish may not have a lot of lines, but they still manage to make you really care about them, and you feel the weight of them in Cole’s life. If I had a nit to pick with inFAMOUS, this would be it: it isn’t until you are into the story that you get a sense of which Cole is, his life, and everything he has lost. If there had been even an inkling of this before you hit “Start”, those first game moments would have been so much more powerful.
One thing that makes inFAMOUS so compelling is the great action. Aiming can be a bit of a trick, but it is almost necessary to balance against your awesomeness. Your range is also shorter than that of your enemies and it does not take too long to discover the ideal instance. As most of the fighting is ranged, fighting from rooftops is definitely to your advantage. Should the action be interrupted by your untimely death, rest assured that the only load screen is at the game’s start. Their absence when you screw up is pretty great, after all, a load screen just adds insult to injury. Furthermore, when you die you keep any goodies you collect during the attempt. You just never get the feeling of being pummeled, or unnecessarily frustrated. Sure, some missions are difficult, some battles are bigger than others, and some enemies are a pain to take down – but it is a gratifying sort of challenge, not a nuisance.
The cityscape is dense, and Empire City is broken up into three islands, with numerous areas to restore and clear of baddies if goodness is your thing. You spend most of the game fighting the gangs specific to each of the three islands. While each successive group is a little more challenging in battle, they are all pretty much pawns. Each gang has its own Conduits, nasties that, like Cole, come out of the explosion with supercharged powers, and you will want to single these guys out for destruction before they get to you. Boss battles are limited – three in total – and are more like cage matches than anything else. Rather than tasking you with any sort of puzzle, it was most effective to run around like a mad man electrifying anything you can get a shot at.
Environments are well-designed and carefully orchestrated playgrounds for you to travel through. Cole automatically intuits your objective when leaping, and if you point him at something he will most likely get there. Not only does this make navigating the city enjoyable, it is far more logical than controlling a character that is content to leap to their doom without so much as reaching for a hold. Learning to get around the city quickly will only be to your benefit – from completing speedy side missions to enhancing the feeling of being a superhero as you glide from rooftop to rooftop.
The story missions dot the city, and it is easy to pick up a handful of side missions as you go along. Completing side missions eases the progression of the main story by clearing areas of enemies and garnering experience point payoffs to boost your powers. Certain side missions are limited to your karma type, with fifteen side missions for goodies, fifteen for baddies, and seventy karma-neutral missions. You can play past mission completion to dig up all those side missions and straggling enemies, and Sucker Punch really wants you to experience both sides of the story so multiple saves are an option. It is no wonder, since the gameplay can be so radically different from a conscientious and driven struggle to all out electric blitzkrieg.
In addition to all these missions are Blast Shards and Dead Drops, 350 and 32 respectively. Shards increase your charge capacity, literally your ammunition, while Dead Drops flesh out the story with audio recordings from John, a missing government agent from inside the First Sons. Both Dead Drops and Shards can be detected on your radar by clicking L3, and it is easy to take detours to snag when navigating the cityscape is a game in itself.
The game’s style, infused with graphic novel storytelling narrated by Cole’s dulcet tones, is the perfect framework for the story of a superhero (or super-villain) tale. How much more classic can you get than an unwitting and average Joe type that happens to be an accomplished urban explorer, struggling to either atone or embrace the evil? The story is divided into days, so the passage of time occurs as you progress through the story line. As a result, the weather is geared towards the story being told and reinforces the desired tone as the city alternately hums and cries, cheers or jeers. The sound is great, from the exceptional music to the small differences like the sound of a voice in an alley versus the street. The in-game graphics do suffer from the occasional frame rate problem or texture pop-in.
The powers and experience differences between good and evil karma make gameplay worth the more than one go required to snag all the Trophies. Sucker Punch achieves what should be every developer’s objective: creating an engrossing game experience that is focused on, above all, fun. inFAMOUS delivers explosive action within an extensive sandbox, a veritable playground of electrified mayhem.