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inFAMOUS (PlayStation 3) artwork

inFAMOUS (PlayStation 3) review


"I believe rather strongly that moral choices are one of gaming’s most frequently abused clichés, and Infamous is one of the most prominent offenders. There’s the fact that our protagonist, Cole McGrath, is a standalone character who by and large doesn’t represent the player, resulting in a narrative that awkwardly tries to combine role-playing with third-person storytelling. There are the flow-breaking asides in which Cole mentally examines his choices, and there’s the fact that his two o..."



I believe rather strongly that moral choices are one of gaming’s most frequently abused clichés, and Infamous is one of the most prominent offenders. There’s the fact that our protagonist, Cole McGrath, is a standalone character who by and large doesn’t represent the player, resulting in a narrative that awkwardly tries to combine role-playing with third-person storytelling. There are the flow-breaking asides in which Cole mentally examines his choices, and there’s the fact that his two options always represent extremes, forcing the player to be either sickeningly sweet or aggressively, violently evil. Plus, you know how a lot of games close with one “final choice” that ultimately solidifies your alignment and negates all of the prior decisions you’ve made? Infamous does that, and then has the balls to bring the plot to the same conclusion regardless of which direction we went with.

Worst of all is that Infamous informs players that they’ll only reach the peak of their power if they choose to stick with a single alignment and max out their moral slider in one direction or the other. This removes any weight these choices have in their own context – players are making one choice, at the beginning of the game, that dictates their decisions from that moment forward. This is not how you handle moral choices; all you’re doing is giving players an excuse to replay Infamous, which a good game shouldn’t need.

I’m getting all of this out of my system now because Infamous (which I refuse to spell the obNOXIOUS way) is a very, very good game, one that is otherwise very difficult to find issue with. It contains not a single new idea, but it’s so satisfying regardless, and offers such a balanced mix of play styles, that I can’t imagine any serious gamer not liking it. I don’t want to let my lone pet peeve get in the way of my central point that Infamous hits all of the right notes, so now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, allow me to explain why every PS3 owner on the planet needs to have a copy of this game.

It is, first and foremost, an exemplary sandbox title, because it takes full advantage of its open-world nature without forsaking the game itself. It’s drawn a lot of comparisons to Crackdown, and not without good reason: It’s about a superpowered hero tasked with fighting gangs in three districts of a major city. So this is a Crackdown clone, albeit one that’s much better and refuses to make the same mistakes. Namely, it offers the free-roaming joys that a sandbox game is all about, while still giving players an actual story accompanied with a straightforward progression of objectives. Players have the freedom to choose just how open or linear Infamous is.

Cole’s superpower is that he’s electric, and it’s clear that Sucker Punch have milked that one to its extreme. His basic form of combat sees Infamous switching to a familiar dual analog control scheme and shooting lighting out of his hands in much the same manner one would fire a gun, and he later obtains attacks that resemble grenades and rockets. Other applications of his powers are less feasible: He can heal civilians, or “cuff” enemies, or drain both to restore his health, and he can also shoot heat waves (or something) out of his hands and hover like Rayman. Plus, he can survive a fall of any height without so much as a bruise. As ridiculous as some of his abilities are, they’re distributed at strategically-timed intervals throughout the game via story-related events, which raises the level of curiosity the player has over just how powerful Cole will become. By the end of the game, he’s literally raining lightning down from the heavens in a devastating attack Square Enix would probably call “summon God.”

Infamous was released around the same time as Prototype, a game that also set the player loose in an open city environment with a set of neat superpowers to play with. The big difference between the two is that Infamous is careful not to give the player too much freedom, as while it’s possible to travel through Empire City quickly, it’s still a challenge. Cole is quite good at parkour and can climb nearly any building with patience, and one of his perks is that he can “grind” along power lines and train rails like an electric Sonic the Hedgehog. The process of getting to know the city’s network of power cords and mastering the mechanics of Cole’s abilities – pairing the momentum of a successful grind with the parabola-shaped arc of his hover – perfectly encapsulates the sandbox experience while still leaving a great deal up to the player’s own skills.

What truly impresses me about Infamous, however, is how it balances its linear narrative and open environment in such a way that makes both aspects equally worthwhile. The side quests are genuinely well crafted and offer the dual purpose of awarding experience and clearing out sections of the city to make combat a less constant occurrence. Meanwhile, the central missions are varied in such a way that gives each of Infamous’s many play styles a chance to shine, where you’re never doing any one thing for too long. Action-oriented assignments are as much of a rush as nearly any shooter you’re likely to play, while the platforming bits feel tight and responsive. Escort missions in which you’re surrounded by bloodthirsty enemies are genuinely claustrophobic; segments in which Cole is racing against the clock offer an appropriate level of intensity.

Infamous by and large offers nothing to complain about – the plot is exciting, the controls are tight, the world is expansive, and the missions themselves are consistently varied and surprising. Aside from the moral choices, though, the only thing going against Infamous is that it presents us with nothing we haven’t seen before. Sandbox cities, cover-based shooter combat and parkour platforming are all commonplace in today’s gaming era, and it may very well be that few people will look back five years from now and think of Infamous as a classic. It’s by no means a system seller, as has been said, but it’s just excellent enough to make any owner of a PS3 happy they bought one.

Rating: 8/10

Suskie's avatar
Featured community review by Suskie (January 03, 2010)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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Feedback

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fleinn posted January 16, 2010:

..honestly.. every review of inFamous should include a mention of:
-the camera (that should have won an award)
-the way the parkour play works, amount of nodes for collisions (ledges to climb on), and how often they are updated (skate on vehicles down the street)
-how the gameplay is integrated into the story (I've still not heard of anyone who hasn't felt a small tug of guilt, or boost of righteousness during a playthrough)

..and reviews of inFamous should not include:
-console wars. Review the game, not the console.
-misplaced comparisons without actual analysis (apples are fine, but we've seen fruit before - oranges are best). Not because you can't make comparisons, but because you need to be specific and compare something in the game.

This, for example: "Aside from the moral choices, though, the only thing going against Infamous is that it presents us with nothing we haven’t seen before. Sandbox cities, cover-based shooter combat and parkour platforming are all commonplace in today’s gaming era, and it may very well be that few people will look back five years from now and think of Infamous as a classic."... really doesn't tell me anything at all about the game, or why you seem to both like and hate it at the same time. If you described well why you both like and hate it at the same time, I think that would be very interesting. :)
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LowerStreetBlues posted January 16, 2010:

Allow me to offer the author advice:

"What truly impresses me about Infamous, however, is how it balances its linear narrative and open environment in such a way that makes both aspects equally worthwhile." "Worst of all is that Infamous informs players that they’ll only reach the peak of their power if they choose to stick with a single alignment and max out their moral slider in one direction or the other." Those two just juxtaposed quotations, fleshed out over an entire review, might demonstrate why a person might like and dislike the game at the same time. Next time try something interesting like that.
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zigfried posted January 16, 2010:

In response to Fleinn's comments, I saw no references to console wars in this review. Perhaps you were speaking in general about inFamous reviews, and not about this one... just wanted to make sure, because Suskie's review did not go there.

The sentence that you highlighted actually did tell me something about inFamous. It told me that the game is great, but no single element of the game is noteworthy enough to herald as an innovation.

A lot of people have a mindset nowadays that if a game isn't innovative, then it is somehow a disappointment. I disagree, and it appears Suskie does as well; a great game doesn't have to incorporate anything singularly novel. If it can put everything together into a great package, or if it can take prior innovations and refine them, then that's a game worth playing. That's basically what that sentence, when combined with the prior sentence, is saying.

Because of Suskie's conclusion, people who have played a lot of sandbox games know to expect another great experience, albeit not an entirely fresh one. People who have not played sandbox games know that this is one of the best.

So when you talk about Suskie seeming to "like and hate" the game at the same time... I didn't pick that up at all. Aside from the fake moral choices, it sounds to me like he loved the game. He just doesn't regard it as something people will look back on as a genre-changing classic.

//Zig
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honestgamer posted January 16, 2010:

Wow, Suskie! This was a terrific review. As Fleinn noted, it doesn't discuss the camera (which I guess is good?) and there was no discussion of the overall visual polish (which sounds like it must be sufficient, at least, based on your blanket description of every feature being good but not standout), but I got a solid idea of how this game plays and I know that I'd probably like it despite the fact that you didn't award it a 10/10 or anything. I somehow missed reading it when you first posted it, but now I have and I loved it. It's the sort of thing that I wish we had posted as a staff review months ago (though then it likely would have been lambasted on N4G.com for scoring the 8/10 that we seem to give most exciting PS3 games for whatever reason, a trend that I unwittingly started).
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zigfried posted January 16, 2010:

In my opinion, the best cameras should go unnoticed and unmentioned.

//Zig
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honestgamer posted January 16, 2010:

That's true to an extent. When I notice a particularly good camera, it's because I'm playing a 3D platformer and something seems odd and then I realize that what I find odd is the fact that I haven't spent most of the last few hours fidgeting with a camera. It's a unique experience, one that I personally don't recall having since... Super Mario Galaxy, actually. The camera in that one was pretty much perfect.

I was watching a video for Quantum Theory, the upcoming action title from Tecmo Koei (yes, they're using that name to publish now). It had some vaguely cool environments and some neat actin, including the ability to throw a hot sword-wielding chick toward enemies to skewer them. The game looks awkward to me, though, because even the promo video made it clear that camera manipulation is going to get in the way of things. I'd agree that a good camera should be transparent. That transparency is remarkable when it occurs, though, and warrants a mention in some cases.
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fleinn posted January 17, 2010:

@ziegfried: ..keep in mind I'm being overly critical, in the way I wish people would be ;). I don't think it's a problem comparing the game to Crackdown, or anything like that. The problem is comparing the game to Crackdown on some strange high level. That it's put aside another sandbox game with lighting in it.

I don't even see fighting games put against other fighting games like that, for example. And it doesn't tell anyone anything about what the game is like either, even if you had played Crackdown. "It's a game with jumping and lighting in it", could be as useful as a framer. So the impression I get is that it's put there to place the game in some sort of cosmic relation to other console games. That's fine if it tells us something about the way it plays. That there's a characteristic about the game that recurs in either title, or something like that. But otherwise it's a cop out, isn't it. A way to avoid describing the game.

The same about "ps3 owners", "must have title", and "may be known as a classic to some". Keeping in mind that I'm overly critical here ;) - we're not IGN. We don't put our opinion out there as if the conclusion we've reached is so interesting that there is no reason to explain the reasoning behind it. We don't have much interest in adjusting reviews to fit with what we believe is the average opinion about the game either. "Many people seem to think that".. is probably the worst sentence I think I can read in any review. Because it's only used as a way to legitimize an opinion without really explaining the source of it. And this review only narrowly avoids that.

But other than that, not a bad review (and I am interested in Suskie's opinion on it's own, btw :p).

And you can of course decide on your own whether I'm just sour because my favourite game was not singled out as the work of art it is, and grouped together with other mediocre titles ;). Or whether it would be the same with any review that doesn't explain the reasoning behind an initial flat comparison. (That's your karma moment right there :p)
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Suskie posted January 18, 2010:

Thanks for the comments and concerns, Fleinn. I actually do understand where you're coming from, i.e. using too many comparisons as a sort of reviewing crutch. On the other hand, though, if a game is composed entirely of elements ripped from other current games, I'm not going to treat readers as if they're unfamiliar with them. Anyone who's remotely in tune with the modern gaming scene will already recognizing everything that's here.

Whether or not I settled in any sort of middle ground between the two extremes is up to the readers, I suppose. I can simply do what I feel works and hope that it does work.

Also, consider Zig's posts copied and pasted here. He pretty much said what I was prepared to say. Thanks to everyone else for the feedback.
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Masters posted January 19, 2010:

You got feedback for your Uncharted 2 review as well.
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fleinn posted January 20, 2010:

"Whether or not I settled in any sort of middle ground between the two extremes is up to the readers, I suppose. I can simply do what I feel works and hope that it does work."
:) well, I'm an extremist about this kind of thing, I won't deny that. Hate films that are reviewed by people who can't stop about pointing out they've seen too much film (even if I get the references).

And I agree it's difficult, because you don't want to review the game in a vacuum either. But it's risky requiring the reader to know a lot about games to really understand the comparisons.

A.. trick that works when reviewing films is using some other title just to set the stage. You list it's "cinematic qualities" or memorable moments and interplay between the characters, or something like that. And then give a blank reader some insight to the impression you have about the setting, and someone who gets the references maybe a different or familiar perspective of a movie they've already seen. I mean, it could be as simple as nodding in parkour gameplay, like you do, and then doing a comparison about how the parkour play works.. if there are any differences or even something... like how the different setups made you feel when jumping around.

But people won't necessarily get that you're referring to the "trekking around the city" gameplay that you have in games like these. So making a good description of what it is might be necessary either way, so the comparisons are clearer - and your impressions of the game comes out better as well.

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