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Gaming Evolution
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Gaming Evolution
Gaming Evolution
Published By: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developed By: Sucker Punch
Genre: Third-Person Action
Players: 1
Rated: T (Teen)
Release Date: May 26, 2009
Screenshots: Link
Amazon: Buy Now!
Written By: Christian H.

June 23, 2009 - First thing's first: I don't know how I'm supposed to spell “inFAMOUS” when it's put at the beginning of a sentence. inFAMOUS? InFAMOUS? InFamous? I'm going to go with “InFamous” because it's no more a hassle to type than PlayStation. Alright, so now that that issue is taken care of, let's get to the game. InFamous (yeah, that wasn't so bad) is a 3rd person action game made by developer Sucker Punch Studios, most famous for their Sly Cooper series on the PS2.

Cole Macgrath is a city bike messenger sent on a seemingly typical package delivery. However, that package turns out to be a super weapon that explodes, leveling several city blocks and killing thousands. Cole himself is not only left (mostly) unharmed but awakens from the blast to find that he's gained powers over electricity. In the weeks since the blast, a plague has broken out, causing the fictional Empire City to be quarantined by the U.S. Government. Gangs have taken advantage of the chaos and run rampant in the streets, terrorizing the populace and fighting never-ending wars against each other and what remains of the city police department. In an effort to escape the crumbling city, Cole winds up captured by the FBI. An agent named Moya offers Cole freedom in exchange for some government work. She wants him to find her husband, located in the city, and track down the Ray Sphere, the aforementioned super weapon that caused this whole mess and gave Cole his powers.

The story is no literary masterpiece, but it isn't trying to be. All InFamous is trying to do is tell an entertaining comic-book plot, and at that, it succeeds thoroughly. It helps that cut-scenes are done in the style of an animated comic book, which is not only stylish, but actually feels more appropriate than in-game cut-scenes or CGI cinematics ever could. The only major problem, as I see it, is in the character of Cole's girlfriend. The writers seem to really want you, the player, to care about her. However, since the player is given a rather bad first impression of her, it makes it difficult to ever really like her. Finally, moral choices made through the game will alter Cole's personality and the overall tone of the story. Ultimately, however, InFamous' plot is very linear and moral choices have little affect on it.

InFamous follows the same basic rules as most open-world games. There are side-missions to complete, “blast shards” hidden across the city to collect, and various random events to take part in. Empire City is divided into three islands, which unlock as you move through the game's story missions, and each island is initially divided into sectors that have electricity and those that don't. Part of the plot sees the city in a massive power outage. Since Cole is basically a living battery that needs to be recharged, this is very bad for him. These black-out areas are completely dominated by enemies, making them very dangerous. To restore power to various sectors, Cole has to go down into the sewers and reactivate the substation for that part of the city. The real conceit of this aspect is as a means to grant Cole new powers as he absorbs massive amounts of electricity from the circuits he restores.

Story missions and various side missions dot the city and accepting them is simply a matter of navigating to the appropriate glowing spot and accepting one. While it's possible to move through the game at a high speed, accepting only story missions, the side missions are varied and incentivized very well. Completing side-missions reclaims portions of the city from the gangs, creating a (mostly) safe haven for Cole. Enemies will still appear as random encounters, but they will no longer patrol the streets and rooftops. Completing certain side-missions also unlocks clinics, which allow Cole to respawn at the nearest one when he “dies.”

The karma system is more interesting than your standard good/evil dynamic in games but only slightly. For the most part, you're still given the usual binary choices of being the ultimate good guy whom everyone loves or the ultimate evil jerk whom everyone loves to hate. A small cut-scene will play, the game will pause and present you with the good or evil choice. What makes it a little different is the fact that karma is like a second power meter. It needs to be built one way or the other to unlock new powers to invest in and it needs to be constantly fed and re-filled in order to maintain access to these powers. Interestingly, it's the little things that contribute most to this. Whether it's reviving fallen citizens on the street, sucking life out of your enemies or restraining them for the authorities, or causing or preventing wanton destruction and chaos, just about everything you do contributes to the karma meter. And since you also gain experience points for these little actions, they never feel arbitrary or annoying. Karma and your powers, and how you choose to develop Cole, go hand-in-hand and make the morality system a tad more involved. Still, there's no actual “moral” choice involved; there is merely a choice of what kinds of powers you want to invest in. “Good” Cole favors precision and damage control, while “bad” Cole favors mass destruction and no concern for collateral damage.

Some of the basic design of InFamous differs from what you might expect from a “superhero” game. Unlike most superheroes, Cole is not a total badass and he isn't meant to be. Yes, he can shoot electricity from his hands, but otherwise, Cole is very mortal. In other words: bullets still hurt him. A lot. This isn't a problem in and of itself, but what makes it a problem is the enemy AI. Enemies are ridiculously accurate with any sort of weapon, able to kill Cole from a rooftop three blocks away with a standard assault rifle. They toss grenades to rooftops from the streets and aren't scared to fire rockets at point-blank range. Furthermore, they're tough. The final gang Cole encounters seem super-powered themselves with the amount of punishment they can take. Because of these issues, combat can sometimes feel like a chore.

Another issue with the design of the game is in Cole's powers. With a few exceptions, they just aren't very creative. The “Cole as a human battery” aspect is rarely taken advantage of. There are times when he needs to power vehicles simply by touching them and his grinding and lightning storm powers are cool to look at and unique to his abilities. Most of his powers, however, are just standard shooter weapons with a lightning skin applied. There's the lightning bolt which is basically a pistol, the shockwave which is basically a combination of shotgun and Force Push, precision which is basically a sniper rifle, and even lightning grenades and a lightning rocket launcher. Shooting lightning at guys is still fun, but really no more interesting than shooting anything.

However, one place where InFamous really shines is in its platforming. And it should, the Sly Cooper series features some of the best platforming around. Cole's parkour is smooth and intuitive but never feels “too easy” or like the game is playing itself. Cole controls in a “sticky” way, with the game slightly nudging him for you in the direction of a ledge, ladder, wire, etc. but it rarely feels so strong so as to make Cole appear out of your control. It's not perfect, however. Those occasions do occur and can cause some frustration, and climbing down can be a chore as Cole will grab on to every ledge that he falls past. However, the vast majority of the time, it works, and works well. Navigating the city, especially once you acquire the grind and glide powers, is a joy.

InFamous may be Sucker Punch's first game on the PS3 but it's built on a (heavily modified) PS2-based engine. Physics can sometimes be an annoyance as Cole navigates the city. The graphics are better than acceptable, but the draw distance sometimes seems short and characters animate very poorly in the few in-game cut-scenes. Thankfully, Cole's animation during gameplay is exceptionally fluid and the more often used comic book style cut-scenes are gorgeous and stylish. One disappointment in the presentation comes about halfway through the game, when I began to notice entire city blocks being re-used. There were occasions where I knew how to navigate a “new” area on the second or third island because I had already done it on the first.

Beyond the superhero gimmick, InFamous is a fairly straightforward open-world action game. However, it is also a very good one. The platforming is fast, fluid and fun, and even though Cole's lightning powers are somewhat superficial, they still sure are satisfying to use. At the end of the day, the best thing I can say about InFamous is that I went on vacation for a week in the middle of playing it and was having withdrawals. I played it to death; I found nearly every blast shard, did every side-quest, and I still plan on re-playing it on the evil side.


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