Sucker Punch Productions’ PS3 exclusive, inFamous, really impressed me. I heard some good things about it but was expecting a more generic third-person action game. What I found, despite some flaws, was an awesomely fun game that’s one of my favorites from this generation.
As I said, I heard good things about inFamous before I played it. My friend Edward praised it without giving specifics, and my friend Antonio kept talking about how he missed it while he was on vacation. I knew it was about a character who had some sort of super powers, climbed buildings, and beat up enemies, but beyond that, I didn’t really know much. inFamous turned out to be fun from the start. The opening screen asks the player to press start, and rather than breaking away to the game, things happen immediately in the scene that’s on the screen. This was a great opening because it was a smooth transition directly into action. Then the player is provided a scene that acts as a tutorial. While it can seem a little slow, especially on a second playthrough, it isn’t more than five or ten minutes.
You play as Cole who has electricity-based powers. At the start of the game you don’t have any powers, but as the game progresses you unlock more. You also earn experience that you can use to upgrade powers or purchase new ones. Most offensive powers replicate conventional weapons such as sniper rifles, grenades, and rockets. Of course, there are others, some of which just help you get around, like the ability to grind on power lines or glide through the air. Some actions also give you either positive or negative karma, which can affect your appearance and powers as well as the plot.
The game opens with a bomb detonating. Empire City is quarantined, and Cole finds that it seems he has power over electricity. Over the course of the story, Cole seeks to help the city and discover the truth as to what’s happening. At first he fights a gang of former drug dealers, but eventually he’s fighting a black tar dripping psycho, a telekinetic old man, a strange guy with unknown motives, and lots of other lesser enemies with mind powers.
Story is told through three means – phone calls, dead drops, and television reports. It’s intriguing and great motivation to play through the game multiple times. Various characters call Cole or talk to him directly, and this is from where most of the plot comes. Strangely, Cole’s phone seems to automatically answer every incoming call and place it on speaker phone, but, sure, I can understand wanting to keep the process streamlined. Scattered throughout the city are things called dead drops. These are satellite dishes that when found can play a recording giving more background information about the story. These are supplemental, but I highly recommend finding all of them. They really add a lot. Finally, televisions in the city will sometimes play either news reports or recordings from a pirate broadcaster known as “the Voice of Survival.” While the actual plot from these two sources is relatively minor, they add a lot of atmosphere to the game. Most of the story they add isn’t really from information in the broadcasts. Rather, it’s information about which the player can speculate based on the validity and tone of the broadcasts. The atmosphere adds a lot to the game. The broadcasts can start whenever Cole is near a television, so be sure to watch if one starts. Like the dead drops, I find these very important, but they can be skipped by a player trying to be fast. I really recommend paying attention to them though. The story is also fascinating because of the difference between what Cole knows and what the player knows, especially after beating the game. The dialog has more depth to it after you already have finished the game and are replaying, knowing what happens throughout the story. Combined with the fact that there are two moral paths, there is ample motivation to play the game at least twice.
Sadly, the important supporting characters lack depth. While the three main antagonists are fleshed out well enough, Cole’s best friend Zeke and girlfriend Trish are not deep characters. Cole clearly likes Trish, and I believe the player is supposed to like her as well, but I didn’t care about her. Zeke is also rather shallow, but he basically provides comic relief, so this isn’t too huge of a problem. I get the feeling that Zeke was probably a loser who thought he was cool. He probably enjoyed going clubbing and looking at girls while girls tried to avoid him. Zeke would probably get home and delude himself into thinking he was a big hit. In the game, he usually seems calm and cool, always wearing his sunglasses but not seeming to grasp the seriousness of the situation. Regardless, I wish Zeke was a deeper character.
There are a few flaws in inFamous. First, while the graphics are decent most of the time, some parts stand in contrast. There are occasionally close views of faces that really only emphasize the fact that the facial expressions in the game are rather limited. Trish, who as I said before is supposed to be liked by the player, is by far the worst model in the game. She looks shockingly appalling compared to everything else in the game. There is also issues with clipping. I fell through the world multiple times, sometimes had problems getting Cole to actually stand correctly, and once was able to pass right through a wall. One power requires Cole to stand over a person lying on the ground, reach down, and touch them. Sometimes when I activated this, Cole would step back and forth a short distance, clearly trying to path over the body, walk a few yards away, and then stretch his arm way over to perform the ability. No, stretching his arms is not a power he has. There is also a rather big hole in the story. In one particular mission, a character does something at which Cole gets mad. (I’m trying to be ambiguous here as to avoid spoilers.) According to Cole, because a character leaves, something bad is allowed to happen. The other characters all seem to agree that the character leaving caused the bad thing, but it was never clear to me, after playing through the game twice and watching others play it three times, how this character could have prevented the bad thing anyways. Finally, the moral system itself is too polar. Cole either becomes a hero for being good or infamous for being bad. There’s no question as to what actions send Cole down what path. In the beginning of the game, Cole is faced with his first choice. Does he allow the citizens of the city to eat the food that’s airdropped or does he shoot them and take the food for himself? This isn’t a very deep moral question. I’d like to see the ramifications of more complex moral questions. It’s also not clear just how the infamous Cole is supposed to behave. A mission would come along in which I’m tasked with defending some normal citizens from something bad because apparently I want to protect them, but I also go around introducing rockets to the faces of random passersby when I’m in control of Cole. At other times, the story seems to imply that I have no regard for anyone else at all. Which is it?
That paragraph on the game’s flaws was rather large, so what’s so awesome about inFamous? Moving around the city for one thing! The sense of freedom is pretty cool. When Cole has all his movement improving powers, it’s amazingly fun to climb up a building, grind across some power lines and glide to the next building. The atmosphere is intriguing too. Cole becomes cleaner and brighter as he moves down the hero path or dirtier and darker as he moves down the infamous path. The news reports (and dead drops to a lesser extent) add a lot to the atmosphere as well, making you question what’s happening (and providing some small answers). The most interesting thing is how people react to Cole. When neutral, they just throw things at you. If they learn to fear you, they’ll attack you or cower from you. If they learn to love you, they’ll praise you, ask you for help, take your picture, or just brag on the phone to their friends about seeing you in person. These events aren’t plot points or anything; random characters will just interact with you as you run by them.
inFamous is full of flaws, but it’s really awesome to play. It’s a ton of fun, and that’s what really matters. I played the game twice, once as hero and once as infamous, and I watched one additional playthrough in its entirety and two more off and on. Despite having seen the story that many times, I still find it entertaining to watch and play and am looking forward to a sequel. Running around in Empire City reminds me of gaming when I was younger. inFamous is a lot like Super Mario 64 to me. Both games had goals, but a lot of fun was had by simply running around, interacting with the world. Most games I play today don’t elicit from me the want to just run around. This is exactly what inFamous does right.