Review: inFamous

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From the moment I began playing inFamous, Sucker Punch’s new open-world superhero PS3 exclusive, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my experiences with Assassin’s Creed and Crackdown – and before you ask, no, the game actually has very little in common with Prototype so please stop comparing the two already! Mostly that is a good thing since I did enjoy those two games (Assassin’s Creed a lot more than Crackdown) and too love inFamous, but in similar fashion there are a number of minor flaws sprinkled throughout the experience that hit me with a gut-punch of disappointment every so often as I stomped through the mean streets of Empire City.

But first let me touch on the good stuff because there’s definitely much more good to be found in inFamous than bad. The storyline, for starters, is a huge reason why inFamous ultimately succeeds. In the game you play as Cole McGrath, a lowly bike courier turned superhero badass after a device called the Ray Sphere unleashes a massive explosion that thrusts the city into chaos. Not only does Cole survive the blast, he also becomes imbued with electrical super powers and is subsequently forced into taking down the First Sons, the shadowy organization responsible for the explosion led by a man named Kessler.

Cole’s oaf of a sidekick Zeke is annoying at times (he reminds me an awful lot of Murray the Hippo from Sucker Punch’s Sly Cooper series), but overall the characters are engaging, the voice-overs well acted and the writing – combined with the news broadcasts that play out on TV sets as you pass by and the spectacular cut scenes that look as if they were pulled straight from the pages of a comic or graphic novel – gives the game world a real sense of grit and texture.

What’s also great about the story is that you have the choice to use your powers for good or ill. You can choose to follow the righteous path of a true superhero, fighting the good fight to destroy the Ray Sphere and bring order back to the city, or live to become the villain, claiming the Ray Sphere and Empire City as your own. At key moments in the game you are confronted with moral choices – choosing to rescue Cole’s girlfriend or a group of doctors, for example – and based on your choices the outcome of the story changes, as do Cole’s powers, physical appearance and reputation.

Your actions during gameplay affect this morality shift as well. By treating the city as your playground of destruction with no care for what happens to the citizens around you, Cole’s evil reputation will increase and people will begin to throw rocks and curse as he passes by. However, if you choose to use your powers more carefully and take time out to revitalize injured pedestrians with a quick zap of lightning, Cole will become a beloved figure amongst Empire City’s populace, with citizens crowding around to cheer him on and take pictures.

The morality system is fairly superficial compared to what you’d find in the deepest RPG, but for a sandbox action game it adds a little extra depth that makes the entire experience more fulfilling. Two different paths to follow also equates to more replay value, and coupled with all the hidden collectibles, stunts, side missions and trophies you certainly get plenty of game for the $60 investment.

Beyond the story and morality, inFamous truly excels for one simple reason: it’s fun! Cole’s myriad electrical powers, from basic lightning zaps to shockwave force pushes to deadly shock grenades to the ability to hover over short distances, are so satisfying to play around with in a sandbox setting. And being able to gradually upgrade powers and earn different abilities based on your chosen moral alignment only adds to the fun — that and the explosions and special effects look absolutely spectacular. The game really does a fantastic job making you feel like a superhero.

Mission designs are another bright spot. Sandbox games are frequently bogged down by repetitive missions, but in inFamous there is much more variety to be found — escorting prisoners, clearing surveillance bugs from marked buildings, stealthily tailing bad guys to secret locations, performing requested skills for a photographer to snap pictures of and defending ally installations from waves of attacking enemies are but a few examples.

As well crafted as much of the game is, though, inFamous is blemished by some nasty warts. The weakest part of the game is without question the acrobatics. Given how smooth and graceful the movements and animations were in the Sly Cooper games, I expected Sucker Punch to produce similar ease of travel in inFamous. But it just isn’t there. Once you make it onto the rooftops and begin hovering and grinding from building to building things are great, but actually scaling buildings to get to that point is a tedious exercise of mashing on the X button as fast as possible to inch upwards ledge by ledge. Cole is also programmed to reach out and grab any nearby ledge, so getting back down to street level is even more of a hassle. Sadly, inFamous doesn’t come anywhere close to matching the fluid free-running movement of a game like Assassin’s Creed, and traveling around the city is a big chunk of the game so this is a pretty significant drawback.

I also think inFamous could have used an extra month or two in development to get one last coat of polish on a lot of little glitches that interfere with the overall quality of the game. Things like glitchy character animations, frustrating citizen AI (the stupid people always seem to stand right in your line of fire), and occasional inconsistencies in the morality system causing your reputation to errantly shift in the wrong direction — I recall a few missions in which I did nothing but good deeds only to have my evil reputation increase in the end. These bugs are subtle, yes, but I expect a hyped exclusive like this to exude a level of polish greater than the average game. If it doesn’t, a small part of me can’t help but be disappointed.

I don’t want to end on too sour of a note here, though, because as I said early on inFamous really is a fine game that’ll overwhelm you with hours of superhero thrills and almost assuredly suck away your life as you give into the urge to replay the game multiple times, hunt down all those pesky blast shards and work your butt off to get what is one of the most rewarding Platinum trophies on the PS3. You shouldn’t necessarily rush out to buy a PS3 to play inFamous, but if you already own a PS3 it is an exclusive you’ll be proud to add to your collection.

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Pros:
+ Riveting story
+ Fun morality system
+ Cool assortment of powers make you feel like a superhero
+ Loaded with replay value
+ Good mission variety

Cons:
– Climbing and acrobatic elements lack fluidity – big disappointment!
– Some glitchy character animations and AI

Game Info:
Platform: PS3
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Sucker Punch
Release Date: 5/26/09
Genre: Action/Adventure
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!