InFamous

Review

posted 6/18/2009 by John Yan
other articles by John Yan
One of the big sandbox games coming to the PlayStation 3 stars an electrified hero/anti-hero who plays like a merging of Electro and Spider-Man. Infamous has been teased by Sony for a while now and the game's been pretty much on the radar for a great deal of PlayStation 3 owners. Sucker Punch has finally released the game and its one hell of a fun ride but like most rides there are a few bumps here and there.

The story of Infamous plays out like a comic book. You play as Cole McGath, unwitting delivery boy of the item that's leveled the city. As a bike courier, you were on your way to deliver what you find out is the Ray Sphere as it explodes and takes out six city blocks. A lot of people were killed but some have developed super powers like yourself. Along with the explosion, a plague forces the government to quarantine the three islands that comprise the game and it's your job to find out what happened and what it all means. You can go through your quest heroically or as evil as you want with your choices affecting a few aspects of the game.


If you've played any of the sandbox games out there like the Grand Theft Auto series or the Saints Row series, you can get the idea of what the gameplay is like for Infamous. As Cole you have the power to control electricity and you get various abilities from it. You do start out with the basic lightning blast ala the Emperor in Star Wars but as the game goes on your powers grow in both strength should you choose so and abilities. As you progress through the game, you gain experience points which you can then spend on improving your current powers. Some levels will only be accessible after you achieve a certain hero or thug status though. Each power's increase in abilities or strength is also split in two depending on what your character's karma is. It seems, as with movies, evil guys have the coolest powers and Infamous that same route as well. Now, I usually play my characters in a good way but man it sucks seeing the evil side always getting the better "toys" to play with. Still, I decided to go through the game as a hero and take the tamer upgrades. The upgrades, as I said earlier, can take the form of a stronger power or some added abilities to that power. For example, one of the upgrades to the shock grenade that you can throw can automatically bind enemies in certain circumstances. You do get a good variety to choose from and you do have the choice of whether you want to upgrade a power or not. I will say the last power you uncover is pretty wicked unleashing some massive vengeance that will take out many, many things.

The offensive power you'll use the most is the regular lightning blast. It's the only offensive power that doesn't take away from your reserves and you can use it even when you are fully drained. Hitting enemies a few times will knock them down. It's here where you can also play out how your character is as well. Another blast will kill the victim, you can leave him be, or put him in electric handcuffs for another point or few of experience with the former and latter choices. The other powers though take some amount from the reserves you have. But, there are plenty of areas to drain power from to recharge. Passing cars, light posts, even downed people can be drained for power. Collecting a set amount of blast shards can increase your reserve amount though and these things are scattered about the city like those damn orbs in Crackdown.


There's onscreen display on your health so you have to rely on some visual cues on how you are doing. As you are taking damage, you'll start to see some red veins appear around the edges of the screen signifying that you are hurt. It's only when you start seeing black and white that you know you are in danger of dying. You will automatically heal but it takes a long time so if you're in a firefight you need a quicker method to gain back health. Draining electricity from things will facilitate this so it's a fun challenge sometimes and a strategic one at that trying to balance fighting enemies and keeping your health up by draining electricity. Also, you have to be careful about draining things too quickly as things do have a limit on how much electricity it will feed you before it's tapped out.

To help you get around the city, there's the requisite radar located on the bottom right of the screen. You can use your power to scan the area for power sources, areas of interest, and enemies. The radar will also point you to other missions and mission objective locations. The radar does a good job at conveying where you are going and it's good that you can activate a more detailed view of power sources, blast shards, and enemies with a push of a button without having that information always crowding up the radar. If you need a bigger overview of the city, you can pull up a map with the select button where you can see dictate way points, show points of interest, and see how the city is faring with your activity.

Unlike other sandbox games, you can't just hijack a car to get around in. Instead you are forced to go on foot but that's not as bad as it sounds. Because of Cole's adeptness with climbing on everything, you can easily get to your destinations without too much time. I was surprised at how easily it was to climb things such as buildings or poles. Sucker Punch did a great job at developing a system where Cole "attaches" onto climbable surfaces easily. You don't have to be too precise either to try and jump and land on top of cables so there's some built in method to allow you to land on these areas easily. The modeling of the buildings allows you to climb on any ledge and hold onto any building extremity. When I said Cole was like Spider-Man, Cole really can climb on almost anything with ease. He'll even hang on the side of things with an almost arachnid-like pose. Some great fun can be had just by finding various ways to get up and around the city with Cole's abilities. The "magnetic" properties of Cole's traveling abilities can sometimes get in the way. On some occasions where the action gets heated and I just wanted to a quick jump over someone, being too close to a climbable object would have me latch onto it and disrupt the flow I had going in combat. Also, there are times where I wanted to travel from one area to another but small things that I can climb on would get in the way of me quickly getting there. One such example is trying to ride a rail on the el train. With a stationary train nearby I had problems just latching onto one of the train rails as Cole would constantly grab the side of the train. It took a few tries but this is just a small example of how annoying the engine can be in determining what Cole can grasp on to.


Later on you'll get some powers that will allow you to traverse the city faster such as riding power cables, el tracks, and power gliding. The riding of cables and tracks is similar to how Iceman slides around on his ice slides. Most of the times the early missions before you get these powers are close and only when you can quickly glide around in the city do the mission locations spread out more. I think that was a pretty good decision by Sucker Punch to keep the missions close early on as you don't want to player to get frustrated by spending too much time wandering from one mission to another. Once you do get some of the traveling powers you can really do some cool maneuvers. One of my favorites is riding a power line, building up speed, launching off the end into a power glide and then landing on another power line to continue my travels. You can even launch, glide, and then latch onto a side of a building. The game really does a great job at giving you a sense of real power both fighting and traveling. With the combination of moves Cole can perform in both scenarios, Infamous really makes you feel like a super powered being.

You know every superhero has a kryptonite and Cole's is of course water... and chain link fences. OK not just chain link fences but they do seem to get to me a lot when I am trying to kill the enemy. First up, water is something that's very bad so anytime you see a body of water its best not to dive in. You'll start taking damage quickly and won't last long before Cole bites it. It's a good thing it never rains in the entire game as Cole would be pretty useless. Which reminds me, I don't think it's a good idea for Cole to sleep outdoors on top of a building. That's his "headquarters" which is his friend's Zeke's place and sleeping on top of a roof seems pretty stupid should a pop up thunderstorm appear and destroy Cole. Of course, Cole's not too bright at times because one mission had him turning three valves to shut off this black goo poisoning the water supply. Each time he finished turning it the black goo would shoot out from the center of the wheel and into his face. You'd think after the first or the second time he'd turn it from the side or put his jacket over it to prevent it from happening as getting hit in the face with that stuff because it causes him to have some bad hallucinations, disrupted vision, and hearing voices in his head. At least he's smart enough on the last one to have the option of making someone else do it but choosing the good path of doing it yourself gets you a gooshot in the face again. But back to the subject at hand. Water is bad so stay away. Also as with the properties of electricity and it's tendency to take the shortest path, things such as lamp posts and chain link fences stops Cole's power dead in its track so enemies hiding behind such items are hard to hit unless you get precise. If Cole didn't have the force push power anyone could have built a box out of chain link fences and trapped Cole like a rat and not have worry about him at all. So, Cole isn't all powerful and he does have some weaknesses that can affect him in the world.

Missions are divided into main and sub-missions with some of the secondary missions having the good or evil nature attached to it. That means you'll need a specific karma rating to even activate the missions. The secondary missions are pretty simplistic most of the time with objectives such as removing surveillance objects from the side of a building or just taking down the enemies. It's actually a benefit to complete the side missions in that doing so will clear the areas of enemies so you won't have to be shot at constantly when traveling through them. There are some missions that are tagged good or evil whereby completing a set number will unlock another power. Once completed, you'll see what percentage of each island is now safe as well as the areas being highlighted in your radar and map. This really helps on than other two islands after the first one as you can really get a good amount of enemies coming after you in dangerous territories. Clearing some areas give you some nice breaks and safe havens to rest in.

One great thing about Infamous is how the city seems really alive. People don't just walk around in the streets but they actually do things and do logical things. Because the city is in such a bad shape, you'll see people going into dumpsters searching for food. When an important TV broadcast is on, some people will stop and watch it. If you become a hero to the citizens, you'll see people take out their camera to take some pictures of you. It's just too bad that the citizens aren't as detailed or diverse as say Cole or Zeke. Yes some dress a little differently but there's the change from one to another isn't really that big. So while the actions of the citizens are well defined, the diversity in looks is a little lacking. The city changes as you are playing the game as well. Posters of you will start showing up in areas with the design chosen by you. When completing missions that turn on the sector's power, everything will light up with electronic billboards coming alive with various ads. As mentioned early, the modelers did an incredible job at creating the details of all the buildings and architecture allowing Cole to climb on almost anything. The game does suffer from pop in problems though which is a little bit of a disappointment. While draw distances for the city are pretty good, you'll see things such as buildings and parts of buildings pop in as you move along the city.


The game area is composed of three islands which get unlocked as you go along. I do have one minor gripe about the city though in that all the areas look similar. There's no variety between the three islands but then again, being in a city where it's quarantined and rundown probably doesn't afford much of a difference other than being how dirty it is. Still I would have liked to have seen some different neighborhoods other than the same types of buildings in all of them although the last island does have that a nice big destroyed area where the Ray Sphere first blew up. The surroundings are pretty much what you would expect being on ground zero. I did find the first island started to get monotonous with the missions and what you are asked to do. Thankfully, it gets better as you move to the next island and beyond. Missions get a little more diverse and even the same ones takes on a little better twist than in the first island.

Not only do you travel around the top of the city but you get to traverse underground as well. This is just to turn on the power in substations though and as mentioned earlier, it's where you earn new powers as you light up each part of the city. The areas are so dark though and a lot of it is just comprised of jumping puzzles, which for me is a little annoying. While each mission to turn on substations is a little different and they do serve as a training ground for each new power you acquire, they really started to wear thing after a while. Also, since it's so dark and the only light you get comes from the sparking electricity from your arms there aren't much detail in these levels. So, jumping puzzles + darkness + repetitive gameplay = annoying mission structure for turning on the city's power. Good thing there's only one of these on the last island.


Something really cool is each island has their own set of enemies. You can compare it to gangs and territories as a different group controls each one. And you'll get into a few missions where there are large conflicts between the various groups from each island. While you do get a lot of them after you, the variety of looks in each one within the group don't vary too much. Still you can chalk this up to being a member of the gang so they all dress pretty similar. The one thing that annoyed me though was that no matter whom the enemies are, their aim is impeccable. I mean they can pick you off from three buildings away high on top of a roof. They definitely don't have the aim of a Stormtrooper as you'll take a lot of hits from gunfire in the game. AI though isn't too bad as a lot of the enemies will hide behind cover and some are smart enough to stick behind a fence where your lightning powers are useless but bullets get through without any problems. Each group of enemies will have unique power infused grunts that goes by the Conduit. These guys will be more deadly than the average enemies and often times unleash some super power. While not as powerful as main villains, they can be pretty deadly on their own right. As you move from island to island, there will also be additional enemies that aren't human based. The second island has two different types of monsters made from trash and the third island has these annoying flying machines that launch projectiles at you. It's good to see the changes from each island though in terms of enemy variety.


Boss fights through the game usually get better as you go but I found the first one to be the most interesting. Instead of the typical run, dodge, and shoot you had to go up to the villain named Sasha and tear off pieces of her armor. You do this by tapping on a button quickly while using the analog stick to direct Cole's hand to certain spots. It's something different but the other boss battles aren't as diverse as the first one so it's a tad disappointing there. You'd think the main villains would get a little more complicated in how you finished them off as you go through the game but alas, it's not so. Although the last boss fight does have the direction of the hand to a spot again but it lost its appeal when you did on the first boss.


Now there are two different endings after the end credits depending on what karma you have when you finish the game. Let me say that the end sequence and the revelation of why everything has happened is just plain awesome. I sat there with my mouth opened as everything was revealed to me. The story, while starts out a little slow, really ends with a big bang and it's worth it to get to the end. I haven't been satisfied with an ending to a game like how Infamous does in a long time and I'm really glad played all the way through. Unlike Fallout 3 pre-Broken Steel, you can play after the end game and finish all the side missions you might have missed and earn the trophies you are missing.

In the end, Infamous is one of the better sandbox games to come out on the console. As an old comic book fan, I love the feel and style of the game especially the comic book like cut scenes. Cole is really fun to control with awesome powers and great traveling abilities. The missions can sometimes be a little repetitive but they do get better as the game goes on. Giving you the ability to play as a hero or anti-hero, there's not much change in terms of story until the end but you do get different upgrades which can influence your decision and offers a little bit of replayability as well. For some, they might feel the game get a little repetitive but it is good to stick it out and get through it all. The story does offer a few twists and surprises that had me pretty giddy as a comic book fan. As one of two super hero like sandbox games to come out recently, Infamous does a great job of standing out on its own and it one of the better exclusive PlayStation 3 games out there right now.




B+
While the game does get a little repetitive on the first island, it's the second and third where it really takes off and the ending is full of win. Infamous is fun to play both as both good and evil but there are frustrations that can happen with traveling and difficulty of some of the fights.