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inFAMOUS (PlayStation 3) artwork

inFAMOUS (PlayStation 3) review

"There is a darkness in every man. He can ignore it, he can embrace it. He can struggle all his life against it but the darkness is always there…waiting. "

There is a darkness in every man. He can ignore it, he can embrace it. He can struggle all his life against it but the darkness is always there…waiting.

This is the basis of PlayStation exclusive InFAMOUS, its focal point and ultimately, its salvation. On the surface, it’s simply an action-platformer, one with an introduction that borders on dismal. Like so many before it, InFAMOUS hurls you into the middle of a catastrophic event, giving neither you or your main character Cole any prior knowledge as to how you got there, or even how it happened. You only find yourself standing in a massive crater, helicopters swarming around you, ordering you to escape for your own safety. And as the game leads you through its basic functions while you limp your way out, it introduces several characters via phone-calls and hints briefly at your mysterious powers, depicting Cole inadvertently sapping the energy from a breaker box in a quick yet beautifully rendered cut-scene. Yet the sudden surge doesn’t kill him. It only breathes a little life back into him.

From there, InFAMOUS stumbles to find some sense of originality. It introduces a virus, enemies known as Reapers--regular criminals amplified by the plague--and traps Cole within a quarantine zone, a power building inside him, amidst a city that is tearing itself apart from fear. The cut-scenes are done in a stylish, story board manner like that seen in a comic, and the game has its share of interesting characters--like Zeke, your chubby, glory-seeking sidekick, who often puts you in danger to further his own star-status, or sends you on deadly missions solely for the sake of a girl he’strying to woo. But in the end, it lacked the impact to draw me in right away.

Yet it showed at least some promise, so I endured. After the introduction was over and the premise set, InFAMOUS' originality began to take shape, first, with the varied powers Cole has. His entire body is one massive, breathing electrical conduit. He can leach anything around him that uses energy--lights, cable boxes, neon signs, cars--to later unleash it in different forms. Cole can concentrate it into a devastating blast that will fry distant enemies or fleeing vehicles. He can charge a dead battery or power a train simply by standing on it. His energy can be molded and arced to create a wave that will hurl any enemy or object out of its path. Or, he can cram that same voltage into a tiny ball, lob it over objects and rooftops, leaving an electrical explosion that paralyzes anything within a dozen-foot radius. Cole can act as an impromptu defibrillator and jolt a dying citizen back to life. If an enemy is down but not dead, he can mercifully immobilize them by locking down their hands with his electricity. Or, he can take advantage of either the wounded citizen or villain, drain their life-force to replenish his health--options which aren't necessary to further the game, but they played into who Cole would eventually become.

And it was there that InFAMOUS truly set itself apart; became far greater than I ever imagined it could be. Not since The Suffering has a game drawn such a defined line between right and wrong, good and evil, then allowed the player to choose a side by making different decisions. When I battled for freedom on the bridge, I was followed by a group of citizens. Mid-way through we were met by a line of soldiers ready to shoot on sight. The movement slowed, before switching over to a cut-scene and the game gave me my first decision to make. I could scare the crowd, instigate a riot and sneak pass the guards unnoticed while they slaughtered innocent people. Or, I could separate from them, draw the soldier’s attention solely on myself, fight them alone and risk only my life.

On occasion, random options appeared in InFAMOUS’ massive free roam. By pure luck, I walked past an accused criminal, hanging from a lamppost while a group of vigilante citizens berated him and threatened his life. Again, I was faced with two choices: Do I shoot him down, even though I was unaware of his crimes, or let the angry mob tear him apart?

Sometimes, the dilemma was as simple as deciding how I was portrayed. In the middle of one mission, an artist directed my attention towards two posters: One painted red, with half of Cole’s face as a skull, evil intent in his one eye. The other in blue, Cole standing stoically, a bolt of lighting in his hand, with a crowd of hopeful looking people gathered around him, and it was up to me which one the artist would print and post. One would strike fear, the other would inspire.

And each decision changed the overall aspect of the game.

At first, I opted to do only good deeds. I let the food alone, cut-down the criminals and healed every sick citizen I came across. Each act pushed my reputation further until I became a Champion, then eventually a Hero. New powers were unlocked, and I saw a change in the world around me. People cheered when they saw me, ran up and took my picture, or directed me to others who were in trouble. And on rare, memorable occasions in intense shoot-outs with Reapers, a few citizens actually stepped up, fought at my side and started hurling rocks to protect me.

Yet, no matter how many good decisions I made, or how righteous I became, the news always gave credit to the lazy government who left everyone to die, and an underground, egotistical television host made me out to be the villain. It slowly began to wear on me and my sense of dignity. The right decision is often the hardest to make, yet receives the least recognition. Why struggle to bring honor to my name, when it would not happen regardless? Why fight, when it would be so easy to become the man they claimed me to be?

In my weakness, I began walking the path of darkness mid-game. It was easier, at first. I no longer had to worry about citizens in the crossfire. I could hurl grenades without caution and if my life was in danger I could drain anyone to save it--and it would only further my status as a villain. But then I gradually started to see things shift. Cole’s lightning took on a crimson hue, his skin paled and veins blackened as though he were undead, and the outcome of nearly every mission changed to reflect his corrupted persona. The cops--who originally left me alone--began shooting at me. The people who once revered me and crowded around me just to get a glimpse now ran away terrified. They began insulting me, calling me a bully or telling me how badly they hated me. Enduring that became far more difficult than being careful with my aim, or draining a car instead of a person when I was dying. What kind of monster had I become? I went from being loved and respected, to despised and feared--and it disturbed me.

It was one of the broadest range of emotions I’d ever experienced in a game. When the people stood by me and challenged the Reapers even though they were being shot, it instilled me with pride and a sense of accomplishment. Every time the people looked at me with despondence and fear--emotions I had caused--I felt wretched, empty and sick. Yet the most intense and captivating thing was that I, alone, made those decisions. I was oblivious to the fact it was “just a game”. Such a thought was trivial at that point. I was immersed. I lead Cole to where he was--be it good or evil. Every victory, every cheer or insult felt like it was mine. More than ever before, I actually felt like I was becoming the character.

And no another game even comes close to an experience like that. I could ignore the sometimes cliché story because of it, endure the often repetitive missions to feel it. And with it, InFAMOUS defines itself as one of the best action games--ever. It enthralled me, enthused then corrupted me, haunted me far more than anything else in its genre.

Most games entertain you. InFAMOUS changes you.

True's avatar
Community review by True (August 18, 2009)

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fleinn posted August 19, 2009:

I'm not sure I like all the sentences and breaks too much - but I like the approach. I've wondered about if it was possible to do something like this eventually - to review games as if they were dramas, or a love- story, or, well.. *cough*. I've toyed with the thought, but I've never really written something that doesn't always say that it is a game, with sprites bouncing around, such and such stages are set up in this and that way, etc.

But it seems at least a bit natural when you do it like this. :D
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True posted August 20, 2009:

Thanks for the comments, Fleinn.

That was the exact theme I was going for, and I'm glad that came across. The structure isn't something I noticed or had an issue with, but I will definitely take another look at it now.

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