canuckeh's inFamous (PlayStation 3) review

Not quite beyond good and evil

Certain comic book storylines have been around long enough that few people bother to question their logic…provided they remain within their original fiction holding cell. People won’t question the science that allows a radioactive spider bite to grant one superpowers, let alone what exactly constitutes a “radioactive spider.” Most of us read these ludicrous but imaginative comics as kids, and the stories that have been around long enough that people are less eager in questioning the logic behind a woman with the genetic power to alter the outside weather around her than they are to complain when the movie adaptation doesn’t treat these completely insane stories with respect and dignity.

So there becomes a problem when one tries to create a brand new superhero storyline for an audience that has since matured enough to rationally question life. The ending of imFAMOUS, without giving anything away, is a surreal mindbender with massive plot holes that would’ve fit into an X-Men story many years ago with little doubt or objection. But in today’s day and age, the ending feels stupid and illogical. It’s as if the writer had a brilliant idea for a swerve and was eager to use it, despite not being able to figure a means to make it work within the existing plot.

Perhaps I should talk about the rest of inFAMOUS, or as I like to call it, “Infamous.” Because the only thing more annoying than a title with altered capitalization is a title with either inappropriately-inserted punctuation or numbers in place of letters.

Like many, many, many RPGs before it, Infamous forces the player to choose between good and evil; either be the divine savior of the land who farts Febreeze and Jesusly heals the sick, or the diabolical, no morals version of Satan with a knapsack.  

You play as Cole, the generic name for a generic-looking character. I’ve been on the receiving end of a vicious lecture from a writing teacher about the importance of giving your character a distinct name, and I’d like to bring his frustration out to the readers; what a terrible name, Cole. Cole McGrath to be exact. The unofficial descendant of Resistance’s Nathan Hale is a delivery boy who drops off a bomb that devastates and transforms himself into Electro without the hokey yellow costume. The game introduces a small circle of characters (the angry girlfriend, the terrible comedic relief sidekick, the pushy agent, the villain that does nothing until the third act) and does nothing of note with them for most of the game, leaving you with a story of “Cole beating up gangsters that just won’t go away” until a fairly intriguing final chapter, where the player is finally given decisions that actually bear relevance to the main plot.

The whole idea of good and evil comes into play during key missions where the player is asked to make a decision for either the people’s benefit or Cole man’s own. Some of these decisions are a bit logical, like one where Cole contemplates leading a riot against the National Guard or letting the not quite as armed citizens absorb the first spray of bullets. But then some of the later “decisions” are agonizingly contrived. So there are these valves that Cole must shut off to stop the flow of toxic waste into the water supply. Seems simple enough, except a small crack will spray chemicals into the face of whoever turns the valve. Still seems simple enough being that a logical person would just turn the valve from the side after having already seen how this trap works, but Cole is not a logical person! So you must decide whether to take the shot in the face or make someone else turn the valve. A similar scenario; when faced with a need to destroy canisters containing the liquid, Cole must either stand next to this canister and use one type of attack that’ll project the contents in the direction of the public, or another kind of attack that’ll send the chemicals to Cole himself. Using the lather attack from a safe distance seems to not be an option for this man who loves to make hard decisions, even when he shouldn’t have to.

But really, the proverbial kryptonite of the whole morality system is Cole himself. The decisions that the player makes don’t reflect in the way Cole chooses to handle himself, which is to say that he flip flops on issues like John Kerry. One moment he’s expressing the need to save the city and the next, he’s trying to convince Agent Lady that these people don’t deserve salvation. There’s no rhyme or reason behind his scattered shifts in tone and belief other than that the writers didn’t want to put in the extra effort into having multiple scripts. Certain RPGs got around this issue by letting the player choose one of several possible dialogue options, and while they meant less than nothing in the actual game, they at least gave the player the chance to keep his or her character as consistent as desired. Here, Cole is trying to be some kind of shade-of-grey mix of beliefs, and that doesn’t work here. Especially since the game rewards players based on staying true to one moral alignment over the other with special powers, so the player will always try to be either morally pure or chaotically evil, both of which clash with the existing Cole character.  

If someone told me that Infamous was supposed to be a superhero game, I’d be a bit confused. Actual superhero games that I’ve played in the past felt distinct, like I could only be controlling Spiderman and not some karate guy from a Streets of Rage beat em up. Cole doesn’t quite play as Cole so much as he plays like Crackdownman (I guess that would be his name…you know the guy from Crackdown) or even your agent of chaos protagonist from Saint’s Row. “Open world third person shooter” is as fitting a description as any for Infamous. Cole-man challenges his enemies by going into an aiming mode and firing bolts of electricity like bullets from a gun. The novelty of throwing sparks of electrocution fades quickly and you realize that you’ve played this game before. Your list of “powers” that can be unlocked include electric gunshots, electric grenades, electric rockets, electric sniper rifle shots and the electric physics gun blast. The feeling of possessing mastery over the ions doesn’t come over the player until near the end of the game, whence you unlock a deliciously overpowered lightning bolt attack that squashes everything in the path of your Sixaxis controller motions. Which I’ll gladly consider that to be the best use of the PS3 motion controls to date.

That massive explosion also helped Cole awaken his “genetic memory” and remember that he’s a descendant of Altair too. With more swiftness and grace than the creed of an assassin, Cole can cling, climb and shimmy along ledges of buildings with relative ease. Exploring the world from the tops of buildings is actually fun in its own Prince of Persian way and the game throws a small handful of entertaining platforming sequences to take advantage. The vertical aspect of the game becomes even more enjoyable once the abilities to grind wires like brother Tony Hawk or glide through the air like brother Fan Man become available. So many famous relatives, not to mention his Sugar Ray brother too.

I should mention that this is indeed a sandbox game, because every other game needs to be a sandbox game these days. Empire City is divided into three portions that become accessible over time, each containing their own sect of gimmick gangs with little variance amongst them; the later gangsters can absorb more damage but except for a few stray mini-boss units (including one that comes up far too frequently in the second chapter of the game for my liking), you’ll be deep-frying the same brand of gun-toting-fools far too often. Infamous’s greatest failing for me was simply the lack of variety in mission objectives. Most of the game’s missions involve either killing a troupe of enemies, or escorting something while an onslaught of enemies comes from all directions. I thought the escort mission went out of style in gaming back in 2000 and yet not only are they in Infamous but they’re here with great frequency and annoyance. The main story missions are hit or miss; there are some good set-piece sequences, and most of the game’s final third missions bring the thrills in large megawatt quantities, but far too often I found the game falling in the same traps as other sandbox games; overdone respawning enemies, frequent-occurring mid-bosses, repeating the same objective repeatedly within the same mission (and then asking the player to do the same mission again at a later time), and escort missions, escort missions, escort missions! The game’s sidequests are especially guilty of repetition, with several missions repeating across all three islands and only offering a petty reward; a paltry sum of experience points and a 2% reduced presence of gang activity in the region. Really? Only two percent? The game hopes that the player will actively attempt each side quest in the goal of purging the crime away from one island, only to go to the next island and repeat the exact same objectives once more. No, Infamous, I’m not interested in your community service.

Skip the nonsensical sidequest filler and the storyline takes about 5 hours to complete. I would say that five hours is a tolerable length if I hadn’t spent so much of it on missions that felt more drawn out than they should’ve been. And obviously, the game expects you to play it twice over to experience both vice and virtue. But with the main game feeling so stretched out as is, Youtube makes a viable alternative for players wanting to see both “good” and “evil” versions of the ending without going through the trouble. Both of which are but a minute long Cole monologue after the game’s bizzaro ending.

If you thought there was nothing fundamentally wrong whatsoever with such Grand Theft Auto clones as Crackdown, Saint’s Row 2, Assassin’s Creed or Spiderman: Web of Shadows, then this is your game to get. Moreso if you’re the kind of completionist that enjoys the thrill of searching every nook and cranny for the 150-odd collectable items that are typically scattered in a sandbox world then you’ll be in Grand Theft Auto clone heaven. For Infamous may be the mother of all Grand Theft Auto clones. But like all of the above mentioned Grand Theft Auto clones, Infamous creates a giant virtual world but fails to find anything but the most tired sandbox conventions to keep players looking for something to do once they’ve grown tired of killing the citizens on the streets.

Oddly enough, walking around killing pedestrians offers no chance on Cole’s good/evil meter. Strange.

3 ½ stars

2 Comments
Posted by spilledmilkfactory

actually, killing civilians does affect your good/evil meter. i ran up to a lady and kicked her in the face and became "infamous."

Posted by CanuckEh

Really? I've gotten no points for my rapid civilian killing sprees. Maybe it's an old lady-only thing, I dunno.

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