inFAMOUS (PlayStation 3) review
"It all started with a bang. Or rather, it ended with one. Half of Empire City, gone in a fiery apocalypse. Buildings, roads, people, everything. The bomb left almost nothing behind, not even the bodies of its victims. Just the sickening stench of smoke and burned flesh. They were the lucky ones, though; they got to die quickly. The survivors were in for something much, much worse. Riots, chaos, rape, murder, the complete and utter breakdown of society as we know it. Itís been two weeks in..."
It all started with a bang. Or rather, it ended with one. Half of Empire City, gone in a fiery apocalypse. Buildings, roads, people, everything. The bomb left almost nothing behind, not even the bodies of its victims. Just the sickening stench of smoke and burned flesh. They were the lucky ones, though; they got to die quickly. The survivors were in for something much, much worse. Riots, chaos, rape, murder, the complete and utter breakdown of society as we know it. Itís been two weeks in this Hell, and thereís still no help from the outside world. Quite the opposite. Oh sure, food gets dropped in every so often. But itís not enough to keep everyone alive. Nowhere near enough. The government has quarantined the remains of Empire City indefinitely, and any would-be escapees are shot on sight. They claim that a plague has overrun the place, but the stricken citizens arenít buying it. If thereís anything plaguing these people, itís the hordes of gang members killing everyone left and right. The remaining population reflects the city itself; slowly starving and rotting away, broken beyond salvationÖ
And itís all Coleís fault.
At least, thatís what everyone thinks. After all, heís the guy that delivered the bomb. Never mind that he didnít know what the package was, let alone what it was going to do. But hey, everyone needs a scapegoat, and Coleís the right guy for it. The explosion granted him the power to control electricity, so he sticks out. You would too, if you could shoot lightning bolts from your fingers like a modern-day Zeus. But that kind of power brings a lot of unwanted attention. Who better to target your rage, sorrow, bitterness, than a superhero, someone so seemingly different from yourself? People curse him, wish he was dead, call him a murderer, and throw anything they can because they believe heís responsible for their tragedies. Not to mention how his mug has been plastered everywhere, unjustly branding him a terrorist. His girlfriend wonít speak to him, and his best friend is kind of afraid of him. Itís that alienation, that feeling of being an outcast that works as the underlying theme in inFamous.Yes, thereís a plot (which is ultimately disappointing) involving conspiracies and super villains, but thereís more to it than that. Itís not just about some guy that gets superpowers, but what he does with them. How they affect his life and his relations to the people whom he cares about. How he deals with being given the strength that can make a difference, and the choices he makes accordingly.
Youíll have to make those choices, too. Every so often during the story, youíll come across some major ethical dilemma. Some of these are pretty straightforward; does Cole turn off a water valve spewing poison, or does he force some hapless bystander do it for him, potentially killing the person in the process? Others wander into that everlasting gray area of morality; does Cole take more power for himself, or does he try to save someone instead? Then thereís all the little, spur-of-the-moment decisions during the regular gameplay. Should gang members be merely incapacitated and restrained, or killed and sucked of their natural electrical current? What about the innocent, dying citizens of Empire City? Should they be healed, or slaughtered indiscriminately? Itís not like there are any police around to enforce the law. Regardless of the choices, theyíll have some impact on Coleís growth as a character and the cityís reaction to him. For every good or bad deed you do (and the gameís judgment of such things are occasionally off), youíll be granted experience points. Get enough out of either side, and youíll be able to use more attacks. Heroics get you more technical stuff (scoring multiple hits for headshots, stronger bombs, etc), while villainous deeds essentially make your lightning attacks more explosiveÖand red. Because we all know that red equals evil.
Either way, youíll have a lot of opportunities to use those powers. Given how many gang members have overrun the city (and there are hundreds of those annoying hooded freaks), someone will always be trying to riddle you with bullets or explosive shrapnel. He doesnít bother with conventional weaponry; lightning bolts, energy balls, and shock waves take the place of standard third-person shooter hardware. Many of these things are further modified throughout the game, like the energy grenades sticking to enemiesí bodies and aiming the bolts like sniper shots. Thereís nothing more badass than sending someone flying and juggle-zapping them on their way back down. Even the basic melee attacks have something extra behind them. What makes this arsenal so awesome is how well it blends with the rest of the surroundings. Since every attack costs a bit of power, youíll have to look for anything with an electrical charge - cars, lights, rails, etc - to get powered back up. Thanks to a clever scanning system, finding a power source is as easy as pushing a button. Same goes with the combat; you can duck behind overturned cars or barricades, pop up to make a few quick blasts, and hunker down again. Enemies on a rooftop harassing you? Lob an energy grenade and watch them plummet to their grisly deaths. The controls and hit detection are surprisingly precise, which means you wonít be able to blame shoddy design for getting some random bystander fried. The firefights are frequent and intense, and thatís exactly how they should be.
But you canít spend the entire game playing like a wannabe Jedi, however. Not if you want to make any progress in the story and unlock new areas to explore. In a style echoing the Grand Theft Auto series, youíll have to complete several missions before venturing further into the city. The story focuses on Coleís work with a government agent in search of a missing operative and the machine supposedly linked to his powers. Most of these involve tracking down certain people, saving hostages, defending targets from baddies, or investigating anything usual. Others focus more on combat, like stopping armored vehicles or exterminating some particularly tough foes. Youíll periodically be asked to get down into the sewers and restore power to a section of the city. These are some of the most bland and repetitive missions in the entire game; the platforming involved - jumping along slippery pipes and using your zappy-hands to see rotting walkways in the pitch-black underground - are simplistic and unsatisfying. Oh, theyíll throw in the occasional skirmish with the gang flunkies, but theyíre quick and dull. These little dives are more of a way to test one of Coleís newfound skills or your powers of observation. Nothing particularly well-designed (a whole underground network to explore would have been awesome, but at least youíll be treated to a cutscene with the neighborhood lighting up after a couple of weeks of outages. Thanks to the steady pacing, itíll never feel too tedious.
Donít finish up the story too quickly, though. If you spend too much time on Coleís main quest, youíll miss out on the majority of Empire City. It might have been blown halfway to Hell, but itís still worth walking around and taking it all in. The city is comprised of three sections which are only accessible after youíve done enough of the story. But once you get everything freed up, youíll realize just how big the place is. Itís huge.The skyline is crammed with tall office buildings, and there are all kinds of structures, alleys, parks, and other places to discover. Itís not as extensive or in depth as that of Grand Theft Auto 4, but the game makes up for it by letting Cole climb just about anything (except for chain link fences, which is quite possibly the most ridiculous gaming oversight in recent memory). Every windowsill, ledge, pipe, awning, water tower, billboard, and streetlamp is an opportunity to climb higher and get better vantage points. Leaping along rooftops is so much more fun and entertaining than plodding around on the streets; not only is it fast (being able to hover and grind along wires makes it even better), but it captures that superhero vibe oh so well. Youíre encouraged to wander the high grounds, too; with hundreds of secret messages and shards from the explosion strewn everywhere, scouring every last far-flung crevice can be rewarding. Since Cole can survive from any fall (unless you land in water), itís not like thereís much risk in going up. This place was made for exploring.
Too bad itís not perfect. The platforming may be simple and forgiving, but thereís a reason for it: the sheer amount of glitches. Nothing game-breaking, but enough to make for minor annoyances. Apparently one of Coleís other superpowers is the ability to occasionally walk through surfaces, from a given ledge to the map itself. Not to mention how he can get frozen up while trying to heal or kill someone on the ground. Or how he gets stopped by invisible walls. Or how enemies can get stuck in buildings, allowing them to take free shots without any fear of getting zapped. While those inconsistencies are common in sandbox games like this, itís unfortunate that they couldnít have been handled better. The majority of the issues are with the visuals; the framerate isnít horrendous, but it can slow down when thereís a lot going on. Pop-ins are a common occurrence, be they a row of parked cars or a tree across the street. Itís as if the city is blanketed in a thick, toxic haze. But it did just get partially blown up, so maybe it makes sense. Regardless, it doesnít make up for the choppy, wooden movements of the character models during the in-game cutscenes. Coleís works well enough, but some of that animation is cringe-inducing.
Not all of it is bad, though. It wonít take you long to realize just how alive Empire City really is. There are crowds of people milling about, either wandering aimlessly along the streets or driving the crumpled remains of their cars. As you start climbing any given building, youíll frequently hear the awestruck gasps and cheers (or epithets, depending on your reputation) of the crowd below you. Youíll even get the occasional call for help from someone with a dying friend or a request to clear out baddies and liberate a given area. Many of these little missions are repetitive, but at least they serve as a reminder of what Cole is to the city. But even when youíre off exploring some random part of town, be sure to take in all of the little details. The lighting effects are incredible, especially in the sewer sections when youíve just got glowing hands for flashlights. When you get the power back on, itís as if every light fixture, billboard, television screen, and scrolling marquee is giving off its own little glow. Thatís aside from all the little details, like how Cole will accidentally kill anyone nearby if he walks through a puddle, or how there are blatant Starbucks knockoffs on almost every block. The place isnít quite gothic (the massive statues and towering skyscrapers aside), but itís gritty. Youíll see rusted railway systems, battered cars blocking the roads, and people warming themselves by trashcan fires. Itís not pretty, but itís not supposed to be.
If anything, it should be the opposite. Much of this game is about those darker, uglier aspects of mankind, the stuff we try not to think about. Itís about morality, the choices that need to be made and how they affect oneís character. Coleís fitís the role perfectly; heís an everyman that is both blessed and cursed with power, and its your decisions that determine what he does with them. The concept is great - few games have the guts to blow up their worlds right from the get-go - but the writing could have used a little more work. At least the story missions follow a steady pace, grabbing your attention and holding it hostage for hours on end. Even if some of the challenges are pathetic and repetitive, the decent variety of powers, solid gameplay mechanics, and intense combat will keep you on your toes. Not to mention that you can climb onto almost anything, allowing you plenty of freedom to explore every nook and cranny. Despite the all the glitches, Empire City is a bustling place filled with tons of potential admirers and foes alike. Above all else, inFamous is just plain fun. Chain link fences are overrated.
Community review by disco (May 31, 2009)
Disco is a San Francisco Bay Area native, whose gaming repertoire spans nearly three decades and hundreds of titles. He loves fighting games, traveling the world, learning new things, writing, photography, and tea. Not necessarily in that order.
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