You’ve got guts to name your game inFamous. If it’s a flop, you’ve served critics the headline on a silver platter; "At least they got the title right." Thankfully, the game is anything but – and one of the finest titles of the year.
At first glance inFamous doesn’t look like much. We’ve seen plenty of games starring a disassociated loner with memory loss in a post-apocalyptic setting who must kill lots of bad guys in order to save everyone. As a huge fan of Sucker Punch’s Sly Cooper trilogy, inFamous initially drew suspicions that the platforming gurus had sold out. It looked as if they were thinking, "Well, open world games sell well, so let’s do that," or "dark and gritty ’mature’ games sell, so let’s do that." Those misgivings are quickly rendered moot as the game has one of the most emotionally engaging opening sections I’ve seen. Sucker Punch knows what they’re doing; this game is born from a deep love of comic books.
The game centers around a young messenger named Cole who wakes up in the center of an explosion blessed (or cursed) with electrical super powers. There’s a plague going around, so the government has quarantined the now-lawless city. Crime runs rampant and citizens fend for themselves. "Society," Cole notes early on, "has committed suicide." You are now the most powerful man in the world, and can decide to restore order to this crumbling berg or let it rot and use your powers to protect only yourself and your loved ones. Sounds like an easy decision, but soon hints surface indicating that Cole had something to do with this catastrophe, making him public enemy #1. His girlfriend won’t even talk to him (blaming him for her sister’s death in the catastrophe) and his best friend remains skeptical. Feeling betrayed by the city that he once loved, it’s not hard to buy either Cole going rogue or helping Empire City rise from the ashes.
The game play mixes Crackdown and Sly Cooper. The Crackdown comparison is simple enough – it has the same balance of free-roaming platforming allowing you collect things, shoot enemies, level up, complete side missions, and advance the plot. The controls and feel like Sly, where Cole can instinctively grab on to anything that should be grabbable (or is that grippable?) as he scales his way across the city. Phone lines and rails make for common transport because, as the game explains, a car would explode if he were to enter due to his electric powers. The missions follow a Sly-like structure, setting you to increasingly preposterous objectives as you try to save the day. Highlights include: an assault on prison where you and a squad of guards must band together to stop an army of robots, scaling a tower of junk that puts Crackdown’s Agency Tower to shame, and pursuing a series of hot-air balloons that, in pure super-villain form, spray toxic, mind-controlling gas all over the city. It’s silly at times, but fitting given the game’s comic book roots.
Cole’s electric powers are fun to use. His basic attack is a lightning shot, this game’s "pistol." He also has a shockwave ability that shoves enemies away (best when used on roofs) and the ability to shock enemies using anything metal as cover. Weapons power up in unique ways as well. Rather than just making attacks stronger with a larger radius (though that happens), they’ll allow you to regain lost health and energy, redirect powerful bolts, and more. inFamous handles ammo in a unique way too. Using powers drains your bolt meter, but you can suck up electricity from any electrical appliance nearby (generators, streetlights, cars, TVs, etc…). While you will run out of ammo, you’re never too far from a recharge. Most games give you a cool weapon like a rocket launcher and never much chance to use it, but here you’ll be using all your powers constantly. Watching a stream of cars explode with bodies flying around never gets old. As a fan of ye olde ultra-violence, it’s a testament to inFamous’ combat that without blood or gore, the violence is still entertaining.
Much of inFamous’ charm lies in its presentation. Ordinarily, I abhor pre-rendered cutscenes done in a different than the rest of the game. inFamous is the exception to the rule, portraying its plot-heavy moments in a digital graphic novel style. The transition to these cutscenes can be jarring, but they succeed due to wonderful hand-drawn artwork and a memorable musical score. The voice-acting is good, though Cole sounds generic.
The art style isn’t flashy as some games, but there’s a unique, almost collage-like look to the world. Different areas aren’t radically unique, but are different enough to keep things interesting. The game’s pre-rendered sky that changes depending on what core mission you’re on rather than a real weather cycle works well. It may not be realistic, but inFamous establishes mood over realism.
Sadly, the game’s morality system doesn’t work as promised. The game rewards you for playing towards either extreme, with certain abilities unlocking if you reach either an extremely good or evil rank. As a result, if you’re playing as good there’s not much reason to choose evil. I played as good, and picked the good option almost entirely throughout. With the exception of one choice that presents a great ethical dilemma, most players will end up picking one path and sticking with it. People don’t prefer to play down the middle in these sorts of games as it makes for a less dramatic story. What’s more, playing good or evil doesn’t make as big a difference as you might expect. It’s still largely the same story, which is a shame as I wanted two completely different stories. The story is still great, just not very interactive, as most of the changes are subtle.
Though the moral choices don’t live up to their hype, either way you play will give you a 25+ hour adventure if you choose to do all the side missions. Even if you only play through the game once, you’ll feel like you’ve experienced something epic. Being able to play it again on a different side of the moral divide is more of a bonus that a fully fledged new game, but enough to warrant a second visit. Aside from the overambitious morality system, controls can hitch up now and again. Cole can be grabbier than a 1960s ad exec at happy hour, making precision climbing a chore for hard to reach collectibles. Side missions get repetitive as well, but at least they’re all optional.
While Sucker Punch hasn’t nailed the perfect super hero game, they’ve come closer than anyone. With a complex narrative, stylized cartoon violence, varied objectives, and smooth controls, inFamous is both endlessly fun to play and spins a compelling yarn. Furthermore, it does so with a level of style reminiscent of games like MadWorld and Prince of Persia. It may not follow through on its lofty ambitions, but it’s addictive, gripping (no pun intended), and moving. Despite all its flaws, I can’t recall the last time I’ve had so much fun with a game.