Also available on: N/A
Developer: Sucker Punch Productions
Genre: Action / Sandbox
Release date: May 29, 2009
Imagine awaking one day to find that a cataclysmic event has reduced the world to chaos and endowed you with superpowers. Do you use your new god-like abilities to help the desperate people around you, or claim dominion over a shattered society?
This is the burden that inFamous thrusts upon the player's shoulders. It's a dark and gritty comic book-inspired affair, with a deep sense of morality at its core. Wielding those superhuman abilities may be exhilarating, but are you prepared to face the consequences? Toss those sub-par Spider-Man film tie-ins aside and prepare yourself for the definitive superhero experience as we find out.
The story starts with a bang - a bang that leaves protagonist Cole looking a little worse-for-wear. As the intro explains, our leading man was a humble bike messenger, charged with delivering a mysterious package that unexpectedly blew the fictitious Empire City eight ways from Sunday.
The events that occur in the explosion's wake are told through an artfully tailored cut scene, which explains that the cataclysmic detonation has given rise to a deadly plague, forcing the government to quarantine the city. Starvation is rife, mutant gangs roam the streets and law and order has descended into anarchy. But all is not lost - our explosion-surviving protagonist just so happened to awaken with the ability to manipulate electricity.
The game makes a considerable effort to ease you into the role of this human lightning rod. Your first task is to flee from the site of the disaster, during which you will become acquainted with the basic controls. After meeting up with Zeke - Cole’s best friend and sidekick of sorts - you are promptly whisked away to the roof of his apartment, which serves as your centre of operations for the rest of the game. During your first visit to this sanctuary, you are given the opportunity to try out those electrifying powers.
To begin with, Cole packs a lightening attack, force push and ground tremor. In addition to these offensive capabilities, he can also leap from a multi-storey building unharmed and scale structures with the dexterity of Lara Croft. Light RPG elements mean that experience points can be cashed in for new abilities as the game progresses, so the learning curve is gradual and continuous.
In gameplay terms, inFamous has taken a page out of Grand Theft Auto's book, with its open-world and mission-based components. While it is difficult to call this game innovative, its rich tapestry of influences, and the way it seamlessly fuses them, is arguably its greatest achievement. The superhero theme and sandbox style is the perfect union, with GTA's vehicles replaced with godlike agility and its guns making way for lightning bolts.
Platforming makes up a sizable portion of the game, both during missions and while navigating the open world. This aspect of the game has been handled beautifully, making Tomb Raider look its age and Assassin's Creed feel cumbersome. Scaling scenery is both intuitive and fluid, whether you are rail riding using Cole's induction glide power or free running across a giant industrial crane, the developers have really struck a balance between challenge and speed. Mercifully, they have also ensured that Cole locks on to pieces of scenery, allowing you plenty of leeway in tight spots.
Combat is one of the game's highlights, but it can also be a source of frustration. While zapping hooded mutants, soldiers and other foes with your electrical abilities may be thrilling, the aiming takes a lot of getting used to. Unlike GTA, there is no auto-aim function, meaning that targeting can be extremely difficult in the heat of battle. Cole may be superhuman, but he's far from invincible, with foes often gunning you down while you struggle with the inverted aiming system.
Soldiers manning drone guns can lay waste to you in seconds, meaning you will die time and time again before completing a mission. Patience and careful strategy will always get you through, but on occasion you find yourself desperately struggling to find cover from enemy fire when your only desire is to unleash all hell.
A karma system not dissimilar to that of Fallout 3 lies at the game's core. During each mission, the player is presented with a moral dilemma, with the option to take an altruistic path or an unethical one. For example, when seizing a box of rations that the government has been withholding, you are given the opportunity to use you powers to prevent others taking the food, or sit back and allow the starving masses to feed themselves. A gauge ranging from Hero to Infamous measures your moral progress throughout the game and has a huge bearing on the way things play out for Cole.
The best thing about these ethical situations is that Cole takes a moment to explain the rationale behind each action. Can acting with a disregard for the lives of innocent people ever be justified? Well, that’s up to you alone. It's this level of interactivity that transcends inFamous above and beyond its counterparts and lends the story a sense of depth and backbone.
The cast of characters also does its part to heighten the game's visceral nature. Cole is a superhuman of dark ilk and even has the gravelly vocals to match. He embodies elements of all of your favourite comic book stars - from Batman to Spider-Man - and the involving gameplay plants you directly into his head. The supporting cast do their bit, aided by strong voice acting. Moya, an FBI agent who ends up working alongside Cole, brings some thrills to the table and his girlfriend Trish supplies the drama.
The comic book style cut scenes are very novel and keep you involved in the story from start to finish. Aesthetically drawn and stylishly polished, these bridges are a refreshing change from FMV and give the game the feel of a dark graphic novel.
Empire City is the perfect backdrop for this story. It’s huge and immersive, with plenty of structures to scale and post-apocalyptic sights to take in. The graphics and animation are sharp, with just the occasional glitch to let the side down. The cityscape is well rendered and explosive effects rich in texture. While it may not be the best-looking title on the PS3, it certainly does the platform's hardware justice.
Until now, superheroes have had mixed fortunes in the video game world, largely due to the volume of poor film adaptations and generic licensed beat-em-ups on the market. If inFamous has taught us one thing it’s that there is a tremendous amount of scope for superhumans on current generation consoles, but this game will take some topping. An enthralling story, well-balanced gameplay and crisp visuals make this one of the brightest sparks on the PlayStation 3.
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