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Gaming: Infamous

Evil Cole.

Wikipedia fact: "The desolate urban atmosphere was inspired by comics such as DMZ and No Man's Land. Amon Tobin was among the artists that helped to compile its soundtrack, which aimed to reflect the environment."

Year of release: 2009

Developer: Sucker Punch

Available for: PlayStation 3

Demo Available: Yes. It does a good job of showing you what the game has to offer, giving you two main story missions and a side mission, switching between good and evil.

Summary: After being caught in the middle of a powerful blast that wreaks havoc upon the three islands of Empire City, Cole MacCrath finds he has the power to generate electricity from his body and turn it into a variety of weapons, which quickly become very useful as various criminal elements start to dominate the city.

Thoughts:

Like Crackdown and Prototype, Infamous is an open world superhero game. Where Crackdown focused on super-powered gunplay and Prototype on powerful melee attacks, Infamous’s main theme is lightning. Some of Cole’s attacks, steadily obtained throughout the game at key points in the story, are based on regular weapons (such as grenades and rocket launchers), while others are less traditional (like a shockwave or a lightning attack similar to the force lightning of Star Wars). Cole’s inability to use guns is explained away as being because of his lightning powers, which detonate the gunpowder in the bullets as soon as he touches them (he also can’t use cars because of his powers).

I never found the combat particularly satisfying. The basic lightning attack functions like a rifle, only it’s not as effective, and the sniper rifle equivalent generally takes multiple headshots to kill a foe. Likewise, the shock grenades and megawatt hammer function like regular grenades and a rocket launcher, only they’re not as effective, knocking enemies about but not killing them without multiple hits. Even assuming it was a design choice to give the enemies high  health levels, everything feels ineffective and, thanks to being lightning powers, firing off multiple shots often leaves the target obscured in blasts of electricity so that the only way to immediately tell you’ve killed them is if you earn experience points. I also often had trouble identifying where an attack was coming from, despite the game having several different visual prompts, and I found myself trying to avoid fights rather than enjoying them.

Cole in the dark.

There's some great lighting in the frequent underground sections, where Cole's electrical powers (either in good blue or evil red) are the only light source.

What elevated Infamous for me was its story and characters. The game embraces its comic book influences to create a story that is both interesting and entertaining. Its main villains (the leaders of each faction and the big bad behind the disaster) and its heroes (Cole, girlfriend Trish and best friend Zeke) are all well developed and each have good moments in the story, with Zeke in particularly being very refreshing at the start of the game, wholly impressed with Cole’s powers and coming up with ways to profit from it. The game’s hero/infamous karma system provides a couple of variations that alter the story slightly, and after completing it as infamous (evil) I was left looking forward to seeing how things varied in a good playthrough, which is exactly what a game with two different moral alignments should do.

The morality system isn’t always a success though as key choices are generally irrelevant. The first one you face in the game has Cole and Zeke obtaining a large amount of supplies dropped into the city. You can choose to give it to the people so that as many get to eat as possible, or keep it for yourself so that Cole, Trish and Zeke can live comfortably for a while. No matter what you choose it has no noticeable effect on the game outside of the cutscene and even important life-or-death decisions generally turn out the same regardless of the choices you make, essentially making it a choice between whether you want good points or evil points. At extreme morality levels the citizens of Empire City will either start to attack Cole or assist him in battles, but there are many choices that serve no purpose except to add/subtract to your morality levels. Likewise, while the side missions generally make sense (they’re integrated well into the game by having Cole perform tasks to drive enemies out of that area and reclaim it for the civilians), the morality system occasionally results in strange outcomes, such as reclaiming an area by destroying a police station and killing all the police, which seems like it should do the opposite.

Cole is good.

At the start of the game you're asked to look up and to the side, which calibrates your camera invert settings for you without having to go into a menu. It's not a huge thing, but it's a nice touch that a lot of PS3 games overlook.

According to the game’s story, before gaining his powers Cole was an urban explorer, and as such is able to scale buildings pretty quickly. The climbing mechanic works well, sitting somewhere between the wild ledge jumping of Crackdown and the precision climbing of Assassin’s Creed. Cole’s powers don’t give him the ability to make super jumps so hopping from ledge to ledge takes place on a much smaller scale than Crackdown, and as such there are no gigantic structures to ascend. Cole is more dependant on his gliding (which doesn’t really have a great deal of horizontal movement to it) and grinding along wires to get from building to building, which can make for some exciting rooftop chases as you have to try and identify which wires will lead to the building you’re after.

I enjoyed Infamous and it serves as a decent debut for a new IP. I think the morality system could do with being fleshed out so that there are more tangible consequences for the decisions you make and I’d welcome an overhaul to the combat, but Sucker Punch did a good job of capturing the comic book feel with the story and I’m looking forward to seeing how Cole’s story develops in the inevitable sequel.

Trailer:

Game of the Year Status: I enjoyed Infamous, and as such it’s the highest new entry to my ongoing game of the year post since I started it, taking the number six spot. It knocks fellow PS3 exclusive Killzone 2 down a place thanks to having much better characters and a more enjoyable story. Just above Infamous is Brutal Legend, another game which places highly primarily from its writing, with a great sense of humour and a fun world that tops Infamous’ Empire City.

I like how Infamous handles camera control, asking you to look up and then left and basing the invert settings on that.
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