Let me nip this in the bud first. Cast your eyes across screenshots and videos of inFamous, from developers Sucker Punch Productions, the thoughts of GTA IV, Crackdown, Assassin’s Creed and the upcoming Prototype may run through your head like a rapid rushing river of familiarisation. To be honest, I don’t blame you, but thanks to these titles, on the first play through of the game you’ll easily warm to its controls. You know what to expect from the game, as you bound across rooftops and scale up buildings like everyone’s favourite superhero – Spiderman - there you go, that’s another one.
Bounding and scaling buildings are all common actions seen in these previously mentioned titles, but it’s in inFamous that it takes these things and turns that dial up to eleven. Now all this wouldn’t be possible for your character – Cole – if it wasn’t for his powers, and that leads me to the story, so let me fill you in on that…
You play Cole, a bike messenger who is given the standard assignment of delivering a package. Unfortunately for Cole, and the inhabitants of Empire City, this package contains a bomb. While in your possession the bomb detonates, engulfing the city in an electrical explosion, leaving the city in ruins. Although being at ground zero Cole survives, unscathed by the ordeal, and has gained powerful electrical abilities. The explosion has forced the city into quarantine by the government, which leaves its surviving inhabitants battling for life as they fight over food drops whilst living in fear against newly formed gangs and factions that roam the streets around them.
With the aid of your new super powers it is up to Cole to bring order within the city, but it is up to you to choose the way in which you do this. You have the decision to either do good deeds and be praised by your fellow city dwellers, or be feared by adorning a more selfish approach, creating order by using an evil and destructive iron fist.
Whichever direction you choose to bring order to city, it isn’t going to be an easy one, thanks to DJ Dallas. Dallas is the voice of the city that broadcasts via the media, spreading false rumours that you were the cause of the explosion, which as you’d expect; this sets the public’s opinion of Empire City against you. If you stand still in the streets pedestrians will throw things at you or push you aside with anger and disgust. But once you start to win the public over you be witnessing nice touches, such as strangers stopping and smiling at you, to taking photos of you as you leap by them. This all gives you the impression that you are bringing justice to the city and the people in the city are appreciating your efforts.
The whole game runs deep with moral choices. Aside from your real-time interactions within the city, while in the story missions you come face to face with a split decision that will either give you good karma points or negative karma points. Each choice rewards your character with either positive or negative karma, and anyone will know (if you watch My Name is Earl) that if you do good you will be positively rewarded in return. This plays out just like that with a karma meter poised in the top left corner of your display. Whichever route you choose you will gain different abilities throughout the game. Good gives you more precise and helpful powers, while bad karma unlocks more destructive powers.
You can either swing your karma one-way or the other throughout the game, and this no doubt affects the storyline as well as the amount of side missions you can access. These side missions are not compulsory but they help boost your XP, which gives you a faster way to enhance your abilities as well as the chance to explore the cityscape of Empire City. Similar to Crackdown, completing each side mission eliminates the threat of the thugs and factions that roam the surrounding area. Doing so will make the public favour you that little bit more and will be a step closer to returning the city back to normal. Side missions are given to you from local inhabitants, and these range from the simple orders of eliminating a gang or sneaky package retrieval, to using your paranormal powers to solve deaths to removing surveillance modules off the walls of a buildings. Although these can have a feeling of repetition with them, the area they appear in is always different, so you’re scaling different buildings and this gives a refreshing feel to each mission you decide to complete.
A sandbox game wouldn’t be without its collectables either. Assassin’s Creed had flags, Crackdown had orbs, GTA IV had pigeons and inFamous chooses to continue this trend. Located around the city are pieces of blue glowing shrapnel created from the explosion, collecting these will boost the amount of electrical charge you can absorb - giving you more power and longevity to your range of abilities. Other collectables in the game come in small satellite dishes that are located on building rooftops. A lot of your time is spent on these rooftops, so you’ll come across these beeping collectables a fair few times. Each dish carries an encrypted audio feed (Bioshock style), which once decoded helps to learn more about the game’s story. Collecting these audio feeds are not critical in completing the game, but for dedicated completists out there you’ll enjoy the hunt and it does enhance the longevity of the game.
Combat in the game is a regular occurrence, and a large portion of the storyline and sideline missions involve at least some form of taking a group or someone down. Being a sandbox title, how you do this is entirely up to you. You can choose to go running in at ground level, or you may find attacking from a higher level more successful, the choice is yours. Outside of being in a mission you’ll find most attacks come at you from above, as thugs favour the rooftops. So this encourages you to scale nearby buildings to take care of the gangs while being on a level battlefield.
Although vehicles are present in the game, I praise the developers for not following the sandbox flock by not including vehicular control. Navigating your way across the city is done mostly on foot, like I’ve mentioned with combat, this forces you to explore the actual city more, as you slide down zip lines, scale walls and bound from rooftop to rooftop. This is one area that inFamous excels over other sandbox titles to date, and it is something all future developers of similar sandbox titles should take note of. Seeing as Cole can fall from the highest of heights and land like a cat, all bones intact, the control of your character is enhanced and more forgiving, which helps you focus more on the exploration of the city. Nearly any ledge or pole can be hung from or climbed upon. This gives a very fun and unmatched experience as you can very easily traverse your way up, over and across the city. I’ve come across a few invisible walls, strangely on lower ground, but everything else you see can pretty much be climbed and this gives you the ability to scale buildings with any style or flair you’d like, whilst doing so at your own pace.
Graphically, inFamous is pleasing to the eye. That is if run-down, dingy cityscapes are your thing. Regardless, the dark moody atmosphere of Empire City is compelling with plenty of nice touches that help you feel amongst the plagued inhabitants. The engine used is certainly no slouch, with a superb draw distance and throughout my time in the game I had not experienced any slowdown, even when a ton of cars, scattering pedestrians, bullets, enemies and explosions all going off around me at once. The narrative side of the story is carried through via a fitting graphic novel art direction, which again compliments the gritty feel of the whole game.
The audio in the game compliments the same efforts involved in its graphics. Soundtracks are sparse, but when they do trigger they are well crafted and fit perfectly with the mood and atmosphere at that specific point in the gameplay. Voiceovers from Cole are believable (if a little too Clint Eastwood-esque) and carry the story over very well, if a little tongue in cheek at times thanks to your fellow biker friend – Zeke.
I could gush more about inFamous, but it is a game that is best sampled than described. In all honesty this title was not firmly on my radar and I regret that now, as the time I’ve had with this game has been truly an enjoyable one. Scaling buildings and objects just works perfectly, you rarely miss a jump or ledge, and this helps enhance the gameplay further, letting you concentrate on navigating or shooting your foes. Some gamers may cry out for a multiplayer mode, but a game of this type just doesn’t need it. Without it the developers have concentrated on a solid singleplayer experience with stellar gameplay and story, If you like playing in the sandbox then I thoroughly recommend that you pick this PlayStation 3 exclusive title up, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.