There are very few people in the world who haven’t had a conversation about what superpower they would have. Super strength, the ability to fly, super speed and invisibility (usually suggested by men) are all towards the top of the list but how often do you hear electricity as a requested power? Well Sucker Punch, the creators of the Sly Cooper games, seem to think the world is missing an electric powered hero and have kindly given us one in their third person, sandbox, PS3 exclusive game, inFamous.
Here enters Cole McGrath a bike messenger who is minding his own business delivering a package when it promptly explodes in his face. He awakes from the blast to find himself endowed with some impressive voltage and the small matter of the city around him being in chaos. So with gangs taking over the streets it’s time for Cole to find out exactly what’s happened to him and either help or neglect the panicked citizens around him. Herein lies one of the key features of inFamous, its karma system.
Do good things and your karma will increase, do bad things and it’ll decrease. A simple premise but one that has the potential to dramatically change the way the game is played. The spectrum goes from a hero status all the way down to the standing of infamous, with each side the player receives a different reaction from the general public. Prepare to be booed and have things thrown at you as the darker side while the lighter side sees you having your picture taken and being cheered for. Your appearance also changes with each side of the scale as well as access to certain powers, although it does give some variety to the game it doesn’t really make you invest any emotion in the game since you can change sides so easily. There’s just something missing that makes the karma system feel less exciting and less significant than it could have been.
Fortunately plenty of excitement can be found in Cole’s set of skills, with one of the most impressive ones being the way he scales buildings. He traverses the concrete jungle with ease using an intelligent auto grab system that latches him to the nearest climbable surface when jumping. The only problem with this is that on occasions Cole will grip to the wrong surface and this can become frustrating when pursing a target or when surrounded by enemies. Although this can be easily rectified, in the middle of an intense mission it can derail the action somewhat. The other trick Cole has up his sleeves is his ability to control electricity and this is where the bulk of the fun lies. At least that’s the theory.
In reality a number of the powers feel like they could be found in a standard third person shooter. A pistol easily replaces the lightning, the shock grenade is simply a grenade and the megawatt hammer is the equivalent of a rocket launcher. The remaining powers however are less generic with the most extraordinary move being the ability to summon a lightning storm upon your enemies. All of these moves are perfectly executed by the simple yet intuitive controls and while all the abilities look suitably flashy and powerful the truth is that Cole often finds himself overpowered by small gangs of enemies. This detracts substantially from the premise that the players are controlling a newly created, city saving, electricity endowed superhero, instead resulting in a large amount of evasive manoeuvres and run and gun techniques. What’s even more frustrating is how Cole can leap from a tall building and land without a scratch yet a few rounds from a machine gun can push him to the brink of death. Ultimately whether players like this type of gameplay or not will come down to personal choice but Cole just didn’t seem to exude the feeling of a superhero and the sense of power that goes with it.
What inFamous does excel at is in the visuals and presentation department. As this game draws heavily from the style used by comic books it’s not that surprising to see cutscenes played out as narrative slide shows. These are highly entertaining and help suck players into the world of Empire City. This immersion is continued in the game and in spite of it being an entirely fictional city there are many monuments and key features that make the world believable. All of these are rendered with a high level of detail and even when moving through the city at speed, buildings’ suddenly popping into view rarely ever happens. Character models are also sufficiently detailed although the variety in citizens isn’t as extensive as it could have been.
All of this is backed by a satisfactory story that may not be compelling enough to warrant too much excitement but does offer some twists that make the first play through rewarding. Add to this an expansive sandbox city to explore, varied story missions, numerous side quests and collectibles and there’s plenty of time waiting to be spent on Cole’s adventure. It’s a shame there’s no multiplayer element but there’s always the temptation to start again and concentrate on the other side of the karma spectrum. After all it just as much fun to be feared as adored.
In the end this game doesn’t reach it’s full potential and it constantly offers up elements of brilliance but couples them with areas of mediocrity. Teasing players with a range of electricity skills that equally impress and disappoint while all too often feeling suspiciously like a simple third person shooter rather than a game brimming with heroic power. The graphics and story telling style are highly entertaining and it’s always enjoyable to explore the world given to you but the fact that you barely make any real impact leaves the effort feeling shallow. To say this game is poor would be a mistake as there are plenty of fun times to be had but those expecting to feel highly empowered are likely to feel sorely discontented.