Monday, June 15, 2009

Cole Becomes Electric

Welcome to Empire City, a place where disease-ridden gangsters and psychic hobos rule the streets. You’re Cole McGrath, bike courier cum electric dynamo, and you have the power to save the city or bend to your will.

InFamous is a game that opens with a bang (literally), and never stops coming at you, a relentless assault of lightning and open-world free running. In a story heavily inspired by the comic book genre (Batman: No Man’s Land in particular), you play the aforementioned Cole McGrath, who develops electricity based super powers after being caught at the center of a massive explosion that wipes out six city blocks and plunges Empire City back to the stone ages. Armed gangs roam the streets, and the government has locked the place down, basically leaving the city to collapse upon itself.

As a natural consequence of having super powers, you are forced into the middle of the situation by a shadowy FBI agent named Moya, who turns you into a glorified errand boy. She tasks you with two main goals: finding her husband, John, who was deep undercover with a group known as the First Sons, and locating the Ray Sphere, the device that gave you your powers.

To that end, you’re given free reign over three separate districts of the city, which open up consecutively as you progress along the story mode. In each section of Empire, you can go where you please, jumping over rooftops and scampering along power lines. The platforming in inFamous is incredibly intuitive. You never question whether or not you’re going to make a jump; unless you do something boneheaded like leap into the river, Cole will always find his feet planted on firm ground. Scaling buildings is effortless and later in the game Cole will gain the ability to grind along power lines and train rails, and hold himself aloft for a short time with a hovering ability. Cole doesn’t take fall damage, either, so feel free to hurl him off every building you can see.

In addition to being a skilled urban explorer, Cole can also hold his own against the myriad gangs fighting for control of Empire. Starting with a basic lightning shot from his hand, Cole can develop more and more impressive techniques as the game goes on. These powers are gained by restoring electricity to sections of Empire, and can be leveled up by using the exp you gain from defeating enemies. Cole’s lighting powers develop along two lines, which is in keeping with the moral choice system of this game. Good players will find that their powers are more precise and even restore some of your electric charge, while Infamous players will experience “Unlimited Power!” as a certain creepy galactic emperor would say.

But power doesn’t come without temptation. At several points in the game, you will be confronted with the option of either having Cole take the moral high road and use his powers for good, or to indulge in his baser instincts. The karmic choice system in this game is very black and white, and basically serves as a mechanism for making you play inFamous twice through, once good and once evil. Whichever path you go down gives you a different set of perks, as mentioned above. While the game will occasionally break flow and make you tackle a moral quandary, you can also perform acts for good or ill while you're running about Empire City. If you heal pedestrians with your defibrillator ability or restrain enemies with lightning manacles, you gain exp and good karma points. Conversely, if you kill downed opponents and suck the bio-energy from pedestrians and villains alike (a nasty looking but effective way to refill you juice meter), you’ll be well on your way to being universally reviled. The karmic choice mechanism is central to the game’s story, but it will feel a bit silly on occasion. As long as you’re willing to take it tongue-in-cheek, it shouldn’t disrupt your experience too much.

InFamous is a very well put together product, and the team at Sucker Punch should be proud of themselves. Solid controls, a good gameplay hook and fun combat all combine to make inFamous a sure-fire winner. A must buy for any PS3 owner, inFamous will give you the guaranteed shock-and-awe of a summer blockbuster.

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