In 2009, Sucker Punch decided that while Sly Cooper was a good little money maker, they’d like to expand a little, move into another realm so to speak. They wanted a hero that could still tight rope walk, still collect widgets and still hide behind things. But, this time, they wanted it to be gritty. To be dark. To be hiding because sons of bitches were shooting to kill in your general direction. In other words, they wanted not so much to write more about the Thievius Raccoonis – they wanted to go epic superhero.
What resulted was inFamous: a sandbox game featuring a conflicted man imbued with superpowers by secretive parties. While his abilities are awesome in scope they came at great cost, killing millions in the process. And Cole, the title’s protagonist, wants to know why just as bad as he wants out of Empire City’s quarantine zone.
inFamous clearly came from the developers at Sucker Punch long analysis of Rockstar’s formula that has served them well since GTA 3. This is not meant as a condemnation. Far from it. They took the ‘mundane’ worlds that you get in GTA and turned it into Gotham City after being hit by hurricane Katrina. It’s a crumbling, dark and desperate place to live. Infrastructure is gone for the most part, and while there’s still traffic in the streets and life trying to move on as best as possible, the city is clearly in distress. Gangers and people with strange superpowers wander the streets indiscriminately causing death and imposing villainous tyranny on innocents. It’s a city ripe for the taking.
And thusly, you can choose to take the high road or the path of least resistance, becoming either the savior of the city or its cruel dictator. one way or another, you’re going to call the shots – but at the end of the day, you either unite the city and become its beacon, or you show it who its new master is. This isn’t just a cavalcade of gunfights and taking criminal control. This is about winning hearts and minds through demonstrations of fear or virtue.
I chose virtue, because that’s how I roll.
inFamous does a few things well that I wished I could have done in the GTA series, namely it has controls that make the game play well. At no point do the controls feel counter intuitive or gawky (the leading cause of gunned down bystanders in GTA). The playstyle is engaging. It’s fun to play – this should be a given but we’ve all played games with shit controls. Many sandbox style games lack fine control in the name of keeping the world running, but this does not.
Likewise, they designed the city incredibly well, not only in terms of design style (which is very well done) but in a logistic sense as well. Even in 2013, the game’s 2009 graphics hold up, and nothing is seemingly off limits in the environments either. Even the ‘hard-to-reach’ blast shards spread through out the city are possible to reach with just the right amount of effort and there are definite challenges that can be imposed on you from the terrain, forcing you to choose your battles and bulwarks carefully. Lean and shoot is used many times, and there are terrain advantages to having the high ground that mix with powers (death from above and the floating shield entry were big favorites).
And then there’s the array of powers. There’s a lot of them and they’re sorted into good and evil buckets as are their enhancements. The options give you a lot of ways to make basic powers even cooler and the options are tied to whether or not you decide to be Superman or the Devil himself. Buying up the lightning grenade tree was a must for me, and the game got much, much more easy once I realized that with the good karma options I could throw bolt grenades that automatically restrained opponents. It’s a lot easier to control a firefight when your opponents are being pinned to the ground effortlessly one by one. It gives you a lot of different ways to approach the game on your own terms – with an admittedly nagging exception…
Sure, inFamous allows you the latitude to buy up powers for an approach that works for you. Unless you want to go the route of being able to fry your opponents gonads off right from the get go. Which, is why I’m late to the game on this. Let me explain.
When I initially started playing the game in 2010 upon my purchase of the PS3, I saw that sweet, sweet third-tier shock ability and said ‘I’m gonna bank roll my points and buy that, cause blasts cost nothing in terms of power cost.’ As it turns out, this is the one way that they did not build for you to play. At 12,800 points, you’re gonna be AED-ing people in the streets for hours and killing Reapers – low XP-yield reapers – for a long goddamn time. It would take hours of grind to get it, and it sends a clear message: try anything else. So, once it’s railroaded you away from what is obviously awesome, you can work within those confines any way you like. It’s a nagging little thing, but there you have it.
There’s also some control glitches. As mentioned earlier, the game works very well in terms of controls. But when it goes off the rails… oh man does it go off the rails. Glitches included, and are likely not limited to: spinning the camera uncontrollably, being pulled by magical magnetism to items you did not want to remain anchored to (almost always in uplink missions), whimsical ability to disable turrets, and occasionally falling through the bottom of the world. This last one happened on a mission going swimmingly well until I tried to jump on a charged platform and fell through it into the infinite un-city below.
And… fucking uplink missions. You will come to hate these as much as I did. That’s all I have to say about that.
Lastly, morality is a little.. broken. I like it as a mechanism for story outcome and progression. But, falling from grace or rising above base nature is a moral choice – it should not affect my long term memory when it comes to skillsets. If I learn an ‘evil’ ability and then become good later, good causes a sudden bout of amnesia. Someone at Sucker Punch decided that morality changes will take away opposing karma abilities and enhancements. If you try to play middle of the road, you’re locked out of goddamned near everything so it’s not really an option that will get you very far, and there’s no reward for taking the moderate path. Pick a side. Nobody gets to be Switzerland in Empire City. Not if they want to win.
So, the irony is, there’s two ways to play because of the power trees. So much for true customization.
Lastly, the ending was contrived. You spend a lot of time going through the game, having buckets of fun, layering intrigue on intrigue from the multiple parties out to use your abilities, and then… that? That’s my ending? I haven’t seen that level of shit ending in a game since Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver. Here’s a spoiler: it’s a cliffhanger. It gives you an explanation, but wraps up nothing. inFamous, by my understanding, was a gamble on the part of the studio. Sucker Punch hadn’t tried something like this and didn’t know if it was going to work. That’s not the game you bank on getting a sequel to. It got one – one that I’m not as enamoured with as of yet – but still. It was a dicey move on their part.
The Sum Up
Bad ending aside, I had a wonderful experience with this game. For an older title from ’09 it still holds up amazingly well and plays well with minimal glitching. It itches that hard to reach spot of super hero fandom, the one that cannot be reached by simply watching Batman the Animated Series or reading through old Punisher comics. It harkens back to the golden years of Cryptic’s City of Heroes, back before it went full on stupid. The sense of achievement I got unlocking Cole’s powers was satisfying, as were the implementation of said powers. It’s pretty to look at and it’s actually fun. Where playing GTA seemed to make an open-sandbox game some sort of chore where your frustration with the controls somehow fed the sadistic gluttony of Rockstar’s developers, Infamous empowered (see what I did there?) you to go out, kick ass, and take names.
This one gets a four stick review – it’s not perfect, but it’s well worth your time and effort.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PlayStation 3 (reviewed); Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment ; Developer: Sucker Punch Productions ; Released: May 26, 2009 ; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP: $59.99
This review is based on a retail copy of InFamous purchased by the reviewer.