inFamous User Review
Ah, but why compare this gem to a set of PS2 games, even if they do share developers? So, I’ve already called inFamous a slick superhero game, and while this is fitting, it seems like a bit of a disservice. First of all, as I would expect from a game like this, it is open world, and sees you travelling across Empire City as you complete objectives. If I have a single problem with the game, it is that it feels almost too much like a standard third-person shooter. Many of the powers that are granted to the player are reminiscent of video game weapons and while this does aid accessibility, it acts as a detriment to distinctiveness. The only other real issue that I experienced with it was that the controls often felt just a tad too loose. Though I must say that I enjoy the absence of any kind of auto-aim or lock on feature. It makes everything that little bit harder.
The controls themselves are set up in a way that may be difficult to grow accustomed to, if you are more used to military games, though the standard L1/R1 aiming/firing scheme is in place. And, as is the case in most games, movement and camera are controlled by the left and right analogue sticks respectively. You can use the Square button to attack with melee, though this is rarely necessary as enemies tend to hang back. It is also used to ’Thunder Drop’ when jumping, which deals damage to enemies within a certain radius of your landing point. The X button is used to jump, circle to dodge or enter into cover and L2 to drain electrical energy from nearby devices. But these are all done without aiming. While aiming, they all take on a different function. You begin with only the assignation of the X button as a ‘Shockwave’, which sends objects and enemies flying backwards through the air. From here, you are required to restore energy to the different sections of Empire City, and doing so results in Cole gaining more powers. This always made me slightly giddy during my first play through, as I wondered what was the next ability that I was going to be granted. Thankfully, these acquirements are paced well, and allows you to get used to using one before throwing the next one at you, and this helps to make the game feel very diverse as you have a huge range of attack options at your disposal by game’s end. It’s just a shame that it comes to a close so quickly after gaining that last, epic power.
There are roughly a dozen different abilities that you gain access to as you progress through the game and these include enhancements to make it faster to get around as well as powers to increase both your offensive and defensive capabilities. Each one adds something unique to the gameplay, and can be used in different ways, though most of them are reminiscent of ordinary weapons in other games, such as grenades, sniper rifles and rocket launchers. Thankfully, each of them features two upgrade paths, and these are what really differentiates them from what is seen in other games. The levelling of these abilities relies on two things, the first of which is XP. Yes, everything that you do in inFamous nets you experience points. Killing enemies, healing pedestrians, finding blast shards, completing missions and performing stunts all add to your XP tally, and this can accumulate very quickly. However, the other requirement is your Karma meter. This varies depending on how you play the game, as acting like a Saint will turn you to the light side, where your electricity is blue and powers are more contained and defensive, while acting like a Demon will turn your electricity red, and open up the paths to more chaotically destructive abilities. Whichever method you choose to use is backed up by what you are granted, which makes the game far more fun. That being said, the Karma system is a bit TOO black and white to be truly enjoyable, and there are no really compelling reasons to go against the nature that you’ve chosen.
Almost every open world game offers a collectible system, really popularised by the Hidden Packages of the Grand Theft Auto series, and inFamous is no exception to this trend. Scattered about Empire City is 350 blast shards, and collecting them will increase the amount of electricity you can hold. It’s not necessary, and certainly not intrusive, but some of them can be tricky little blighters if you choose to go after the lot. There are also a number of Dead Drops lying around, and these help to further flesh out the backstory of the game, giving context to certain relationships and ideas that crop up throughout. I’m not usually inclined to hunt out these extraneous items, but it’s actually surprisingly easy here, as tapping on L3 sends out a radar on your minimap showing nearby shards and pointing you in the direction of the nearest Dead Drop. All that and I’ve forgotten to mention one of the core features of the game. Cole is an urban explorer. He has a remarkable freedom of movement, and is capable of amazing stunts. Every building in the game can be climbed, you eventually gain the ability to grind on rails and float, both of which make getting around much easier, and it is always simply fun. I really can’t emphasise that last point enough.
It is almost impossible to play inFamous without cracking a smile because of the sublime blending of all of the different elements, that almost no other game that I’ve ever played has managed. In this respect, inFamous stands alone. Add to this that you aren’t doing the same thing for any great periods of time and you get a well-rounded and fleshed out experience. Better yet, everything that you do is backed up by the story, which is very compelling. It’s strange. Normally I feel disconnected from the protagonists of games, but when Cole hurt, I hurt. There is this incredible connection to the character, and I know not from whence it springs. Thankfully, the tale comes to a very fitting and satisfying conclusion, while also teasing the soon-to-be released sequel.
The tale of Cole McGrath falls into some of the tired tropes of both video games and comic books, but manages to craft something very original and engaging at the same time. In the beginning of the game, Cole is caught up in what appears to be some sort of terrorist attack, and is granted superpowers related to electric manipulation for his troubles. He falls into a coma for a couple of weeks and awakens to find that his treasured Empire City has fallen to degradation and lawlessness. With gangs roaming the streets, and the police afraid to restore order, he takes it upon himself to do just that. However, there are people standing in his way, people that want to manipulate him for their own nefarious ends, and he must overcome them if he is to ever be at peace.
The story and gameplay has clearly been a labour of love, and I feel that it truly is a shame that the same level of polish just hasn’t quite been applied to the technical aspects of the game. Don’t get me wrong, it is all more than adequate, but it’s still sadly lacking. First of all, the sound. The voice acting is actually quite good, with each character feeling decidedly different, though some lines are delivered with a lack of conviction. The inclusion of Phil LaMarr among the voice actors is brilliant too. Anything that has Vamp from the MGS series is golden in my book. Cole can come across as being too gruff, but that’s really the only other issue that I found. Zeke and Trish are both played well, and the emotions of the boss enemies play well to their motivations.
The aural ambience of Empire City is quite nice, as pedestrians will occasionally call out in praise or for assistance, vehicles will blare their horns if their way is impeded and explosions and gunfire are quite effective. This being said, it is all downplayed in favour of a sweet techno soundtrack that plays along beside most of the time spent with the game. There’s nothing exceptionally terrible about the sound, but nor is anything particularly outstanding.
What is outstanding is the lighting. Normally, I can pick the lighting engine of games to pieces, but there is nothing bad about this portion of the graphical presentation. Shadows cast always reflect the actions and balance of what is happening. Coloured light actually reflects off walls and floors. Don’t get me wrong, there is still room for improvement, but it’s quite remarkable as it is. Another strong point is the particle effects, though this is a necessity thanks to the focus on electricity. This arcs about much as you would expect it to, and this follows over into flames. However, character models are definitely low-res compared to what’s been seen out of other games, and the animation system is too limited, in my opinion. This is especially evident when it comes to the in-engine cutscenes, as these are particularly bad. Usually they contain little more than two characters moving in a very stiff manner while flapping their gums, but even this is occasionally eschewed for a simple panning shot across in game assets while a voice over plays in the background. Definitely a poor effort. There are other cutscenes that capture the very essence of the game, and these are played at crucial points within the story. They’re made up of animated comic panels, and while they are similarly plain to the engine rendered scenes, they’re far more appealing due to their unique nature.
The biggest drawbacks stem from the city itself. In any open-world game, this should be the main focus, and while a lot of work has clearly gone into differentiating each area, it can’t be denied that there is actually very little variation in the appearance of the buildings. Each of the three boroughs has many of the same landmarks, though they are scattered about differently, which goes a way towards forgiving this. That being said, the island specific set pieces are beautiful, and it’s clear that a lot of work has gone into them. Pedestrians are largely forgettable, and the same goes for vehicles, with their being no more than three different body types with different paint jobs applied to them. This general lack of impressiveness is backed up by the game appearing to be quite washed out, though I must admit that this effect works well for the draw distance.
In mentioning the flaws in the city design, I have to bring up the fact that it is possible to fall into walls at certain places. This is a disorienting and disengaging experience, but thankfully not a game breaking one, as it is always possible to slip back through if you are patient. And patience really is the name of this game, as it will probably take the average player somewhere in the vein of fifteen hours just to complete all 40 missions of the campaign, though the speed player will likely be able to beat it in under twelve. Doing this however, does not do the game justice. It is simply far too addictive to get lost amongst the buildings, searching high and low for each and every one of the Blast Shards and completing the dozens of side missions. These are, admittedly, repetitive and derivative, but they offer a delightful break from the campaign when one simply wants to explore the city, or take on missions that are not a part of it. In addition to this, you will occasionally come across random events such as lynchings or muggings that your participation in, or lack thereof will have an effect on your karma. The way you gain your powers, and the association between that and the ever increasing difficulty is delightful, the boss battles are truly awesome, continuing Sucker Punch’s trend of delivering on them, and the Static Thrusters ability needs to be in every game, I don’t care who you are.
Really, it would be foolish to pass up on inFamous. The game is simply a blast to play from start to finish with one of the most compelling stories I’ve yet found in a video game, and an addictive quality that is rarely found. I’ve played the title for in excess of fifty hours, and I still haven’t had my fill. If that isn’t enough to persuade you, then nothing will be.
Thankyou for your time and I hope that you found my words to be both informative and helpful. Until next time PSXE, Peace and Law be with you.
P.S. I’m going to try to make this my last extremely long form review, to better prepare myself for the more professional undertakings that I intend to embark on over at TR. I do apologise to anyone that will miss them, but the detailed analysis of every aspect isn’t really required in my mind. On the other hand, knowing myself, I’m not sure I’ll be able to resist. I enjoy the English language FAR too much.
This user review does not reflect the views of the PSX Extreme Staff.