inFAMOUS; The PS3 Attitude Review
It is 8 a.m. on the set of Stan Lee’s ‘Who Wants To Be A Superhero?’, and auditions are in full swing. One by one, regular members of the public appear with their superhero persona, backed up by a costumes made of plastic bags and a notion of the one thing that makes them better than you.
In Season 1, there was ‘Fat Momma’ who we remember has a dozen doughnuts hanging from her clothes. Her super-power? Can’t remember that. Sorry. Then there’s Creature, a sort of alien fairy who was particularly noted for dressing in next to nothing. Her super-power? Can’t remember that either.
Within Empire City, regular citizen Cole McGrath doesn’t have a fancy super-name. Or a funky super-costume. He doesn’t even wear his super-pants on the outside of his super-trousers.
But one thing is for sure. You’ll never forget his abilities. Especially if you make the mistake of standing in a puddle with him.
Cole is just regular guy. A bike messenger by day, he is given a package to deliver to the heart of Empire City. Unfortunately for him, Cole doesn’t suspect that he indeed delivering a bomb.
After the explosion levels the surrounding area, there is only one survivor. Right in the epicentre of the blast stands Cole, disoriented and in need of medical attention. inFAMOUS throws you directly into the action, teaching you the control scheme and introducing you to the fact that there is now something very different about Cole by having you escape ‘ground zero’.
After you manage to extricate yourself the story continues, which is always beautifully illustrated throughout using what we have already described as an ‘active comic book’.
Whilst Cole has been recovering in hospital, a virus has taken hold of Empire City causing some inhabitants to mutate. The Government has sealed off the entire area to contain the biohazard. The police have become largely powerless, and former drug dealers have now taken over the town.
Cole has been evolving too, gaining control over his ever expanding arsenal of electrical powers.
Empire City itself is a bleak place thanks to everything it has already endured. With the quarantine in action, regular people are trapped inside without any hope, at mercy to the gangs who have taken control of various parts of the city.
It is here, when you are exploring your surroundings for the first time, that you encounter the main talking point of the game. The graphics.
It simply doesn’t do to just say that the graphics within inFAMOUS are good or bad. It is much more complex than that.
The various non-player characters in the game do exhibit far less detail (read ‘polygons’) than you might expect from a game exclusive to the PlayStation 3. Whilst Cole himself looks polished and is well-animated, your enemies and the enslaved masses look far less refined. But there is a clear reason for this.
Unlike some sandbox titles where the city feels empty and the buildings are merely painted boxes, inFAMOUS contains a serious amount of objects on screen at any point, with a large number of these being destroyable. Sure, whilst you’d never want to own any of the cars in the game (unless you actually like Trabants and Ladas), they sure look good when they’re flying through the air en route to your enemy’s face.
Then you need to factor in the special effects. In addition to Cole’s furious electrical attacks and powers, which look completely outstanding in every way, there are explosions and atmospheric effects a-plenty.
Since the style of inFAMOUS seems to be somewhere in between realistic and cartoon, initially the lack of detail of other characters and objects seems odd. If Sucker Punch had gone completely cartoon, however, you wouldn’t take the game as seriously as you do when playing it. If they had gone totally realistic, it is likely we wouldn’t be treated to such an impressive gameplay experience, since the cityscape may have been much more sparsely populated or the action may have been jerky rather than fluid.
However, any oddness soon goes away when you’re flying through the air, blasting enemies with electric rays, throwing shock grenades in their path and landing with a ‘thunder drop’ to take out the stragglers you missed during your electrifying aerial ballet.
The gameplay within inFAMOUS is simply so good, and the action so smooth, that you get used to the graphical style quickly. Any thought that the angular enemy shouldn’t be taken seriously soon goes away when you are being shot to within an inch of your life.
The health system within the game is interesting too. The ubiquitous health bar isn’t really that at all. On screen you’ll definitely see a bar, sure, but that tells you how charged up you are. Sucking electricity from the city through substations, telephone boxes and street lights does recharge your batteries, and it heals you from physical damage, but it is possible to be fully charged and still die from your wounds if you don’t recharge in time. The extent to which you are physically hurt is shown through reddening screen borders and blurry graphics.
Then there’s the karma meter, the game mechanic that ensures inFAMOUS really stands out from the crowd.
Throughout the game you are given opportunities to make moral decisions. As you do more good, you move up through the positive karma ranks towards being a ‘hero’. If you take the opposite route, using your power to create fear or for self-serving purposes, you move through the negative karma ranks towards being ‘infamous’.
These ranks serve their own purpose, since certain powers and weapons are only available to you if you have reached a particular rank. Interestingly, if you decide to flip-flop between being good and evil, you compromise the powers you can gain or use. This means it is far better to play the game through choosing one course, and then play it through again choosing the other.
In addition to game incentivising you to choose one path and stick to it, you’ll find a vast number of side-missions available to play alongside the story campaign. But unlike many sandbox games where it makes little difference if you complete these or not, inFAMOUS only unlocks certain powers if you have racked up enough ‘good’ or ‘evil’ side missions. Again, Sucker Punch are incentivising you to enjoy the side show as much as the main event.
In fact, because the game ‘locks out’ evil side missions as you complete the good versions (and vice versa) it further points you towards the one-course playthrough. That in itself is clever, since it makes you want to go through the game at least twice to experience everything on offer.
Of course, the atmosphere in the game changes dependent on the course you choose. The voice acting, which is excellent throughout, and the ambient sound coming from the trapped citizens of Empire City, changes considerably for ‘heroes’ as it does for the ‘infamous’ amongst you.
The story mode contains more than enough variety of missions to keep you interested throughout, with good pace and an ever increasing difficulty level that matches well with your ever improving grasp of electrical weapons and effects. Some of the missions take place underground in the sewers, whereby your goal is to restore power to that particular part of the city power grid.
As with any game of this type, there are occasions where it all goes wrong and you end up a little stuck. One memorable experience saw Cole falling endlessly to his death underneath the city when he fell through a glitch in the park area. Another saw him half stuck in a wall, and walking through objects as if they didn’t exist.
But none of these glitches ruin the gameplay or the experience as a whole – they are just slight annoyances when they do happen, and they only occur rarely.
And whilst the voice acting is excellent, the same can’t be said for the character acting in the non-comic book cut scenes.
But these two things aside, inFAMOUS is a game that will keep you coming back for more and, thanks to some clever game design and a brilliant balance, will give you a different experience whenever you play.
inFAMOUS might not parade around in brightly-coloured spandex to get your attention, but you’ll certainly never forget the experience of having a real PS3 super-power at your fingertips.
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