When I decided to pick up the PS3 Slim bundle from Wal-Mart on Black Friday, it was because I had heard great things aboutBatman: Arkham Asylum (which is getting well-deserved praise as one of the best games of the past year). I honestly knew very little about the “other” game that came packed in with my shiny new Slim, and when I first booted InFamous up, I had no expectations. The inclusion of InFamous was nothing more than the icing on the cake – I had no idea just how good that icing would taste.
At its heart, InFamous is a superhero origin story. You play the part of Cole Macgrath, a lowly messenger in Empire City. It seems Cole made a bad choice in which packages to ferry about, and ends up toting some kind of bomb that blows up half the city while simultaneously imbuing Cole with the power to control electricity. At the game’s outset, you wake up in the smoldering crater of the aforementioned bomb, and from that point onward you try to hunt down the truth about what happened while blasting your way through many a bad guy.
The game play of InFamous has you travelling around Empire City, climbing buildings, blasting enemies, and completing missions. Cole has the Spider-man like ability to scale nearly any surface. The environment is “sticky” in that he can jump on and latch onto just about anything, from window sills to telephone poles. It’s a lot of fun to climb tall buildings and jump from rooftop to rooftop. You will also unlock additional means of travel throughout the game including the ability to grind power lines and train tracks, and even hover through the air.
I do have a couple of minor complaints regarding Cole’s ability to move through the environment. I found things a bit TOO sticky from time to time, and it occasionally caused problems when I was in the midst of combat. I also found it odd that Cole seemed entirely unable to climb chain-link fences. I understand that in terms of game play certain areas had to be inaccessible, but it made little sense to me that I could climb a 15 story building but not a 10 foot fence. Both of these issues are rather small, and I found the freedom of movement a heck of a lot of fun.
The combat system is executed nearly flawlessly. It wasn’t long before I was strafing and blasting my foes with reckless abandon. In games like this, things often feel a bit too frenetic when there are many enemies about, but the combat engine here is ultra-smooth and I always felt in control of the action. You start the game with a basic lightning blast attack. As the story progresses, you unlock new abilities like a telekinetic push, energy grenades, sniper shots, and other 1st-person-shooter-like weaponry. Most powers are also upgradeable through experience points. You gain experience in a number of ways, including downing enemies, completing missions, and collecting various items.
One of the more thrilling aspects of the combat system is the interplay you can develop between different powers. Blast enemies in the air with telekinesis and then zoom in for a head shot as they fly through the air. Grind a power line, zorching fools with electricity while you come at them, then leap in the air at the last minute and do a ground stomp. InFamous allows you to improvise with your abilities at every turn, and the net effect is a true sense of feeling “super.”
The world of Empire City is well-crafted and detailed. There are a number of different building types to keep things fresh. The city is also split into three distinct islands, each with a different overall look and feel. I found the character models to be a little lacking for a PS3 exclusive, with a jagged, rough feel. There are also some occasional issues with pop-in and glitches in the world, but nothing too major. Overall the game looks very, very good.
I liked the use of comic book-like cut scenes that told major elements of the story. They were beautifully drawn and enhanced the superhero feel. I did find the narrative a little lacking, however. Some of the twists and curve-balls in the plot didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. The characters also suffered from a typical video game problem – a lack of depth and development. Over the course of the story you don’t learn a whole heck of a lot about any of the major players. Still, the story was serviceable and kept me playing.
The well executed world map and waypoint system helps keep you on track while allowing the freedom to work at your own pace. You can rush right through the story missions that propel the narrative, or you can spend time on the side quests or just plain exploring. Blast shards strewn throughout the world can be collected for experience, and when you get a certain number of them they increase your maximum energy. Another type of hidden collectible is the Dead Drop, a recording in the vein of the audio logs from Bioshock that fill in the back-story a bit more.
InFamous also has both a good and evil side. At various points in the game, you are given a very obvious moral choice. The choices you make will move you one way or another on the game’s morality scale. Certain powers are only available to you depending on your spot on this scale. There are also good side missions and evil side missions to help you along. Different powers are available depending on whether you are playing good or evil, as well. Good powers generally focus on incapacitating enemies and sparing innocent bystanders, while evil powers focus more heavily on wanton destruction.
Sometimes it’s good to have no expectations for a game. I went into InFamous completely green, and I enjoyed every minute of it. The story and presentation aren’t perfect, but the incredible combat engine and the superhero feel more than make up for any shortcomings in other areas. I enjoyed every battle in the game, and I had a blast climbing, hovering, and grinding through the city. For me, one sure sign of a great game is whether or not I want to continue playing after I’ve “finished” it. Well, after blasting the evil denizens of Empire City with lightning rod Cole, I’m ready to hit the streets again with a more evil bent. Watch out, Empire City, Cole is on his way back.