inFamous // PS3
August 20, 2009
It is a testament to Sucker Punch’s ambition that InFamous tries to wear so many different hats. The shooter-cum-platformer-cum-RPG-cum-morality-simulator genuinely surprises in the breadth of it’s scope; sometimes with great success, sometimes falling short of the mark (see ‘A question of morality‘).
At it’s core though, inFamous is a third-person shooter. Owing much to the Grand Theft Auto template, the game is navigated by completing a series of missions in a progessively unlockable sandbox city; the majority of which revolve around violence and destruction. There are no guns in this shooter – but Cole McGrath’s superhuman abilities are so similar to established shooter mechanics that you won’t notice the difference. For the bolt blast, read standard-issue rifle. For the Megawatt Hammer, read rocket launcher. Even a sniper rifle is represented via pushing up on the d-pad to enter ‘precision mode’, a slo-mo zoom-in ability that lets you pop off a few headshots.
The familarity with existing franchises does not, however, breed contempt. Destroying enemies in inFamous is no less than a joy, particularly when a few sticky grenades will rip through the baddies and also the environments with visual pyrotechnics and beautiful sound design to match.
You slowly unlock each new ability throughout the story arc, a la Metroid Prime, and accumulate experience points to upgrade these abilities for completing missions and downing enemies, which is where the RPG elements creep in. The system, whilst fairly comprehensive, remains largely redundant considering the sheer amount of enemies make inFamous difficult at all points in the game, regardless of how tooled-up your arsenal. Constant fire from these enemies can get particularly irritating when you are just trying to explore the nooks and crannies of the city as a whole, maybe to eke out a few blast shards, one of the many collectibles in the game (more of which later).
The area in which inFamous is a genuine surprise is in it’s platforming elements. Pretty much everything in the city is traversable, particularly when the ability to ‘grind’ the railway tracks and power cables is unlocked. Once skilled in mastering these and the static boosters, getting Cole around his environment is a breeze and a genuinely fun experience, even if you are constantly harangued by the afore-mentioned baddies. Certain perilous segments of the game, which require you to successfully navigate your way over stretches of water (strictly anathema to a hero primarily functioning on electricity); are pitched perfectly, providing the thrills of old-school pixel-perfect platforming in a modern 3D environment. Occassionally, the camera causes you to miss a platform and plummet to a watery death, but this rarely detracts from these sections of the game.
Gameplay aside, inFamous both excels and disappoints in other areas. The music and sound design is a joy to listen to, especially when experienced through headphones, when every clink of metal, hiss of static and fizz of electricity can be heard clearly. In terms of it’s looks, inFamous suffers from a few lo-res textures and the occassional animation glitch where our hero can be seen to do a highly comical little jig on the spot when requested to interact with certain objects. This aside, Cole is animated, and indeed, voiced superbly. Another area in which the game must be applauded is the cut-scenes – gorgeously-stylised 2D sequences which record the unfolding story in a comic book vernacular which really helps to embellish the main characters.
Finally, inFamous is a collector’s dream, especially for the trophy/achievement whores amongst us that like to wring every title for every bragging right that it can offer. No less than 350 Blast Shards are scattered throughout the city – you’ll have to collect all of them to unlock that particular trophy. There are also 32 Dead Drops to be discovered – scrambled audio recordings that try their hardest to flesh out a convoluted plot that never manages to fully reveal itself to the player. Here gameplay, not plot, is king.
So inFamous puts in a sterling effort to merge the various genres it is juggling here. Whilst the shooter mechanics are rock solid, and the platform elements add an extra dimension to what could otherwise have easily been a run-and-gun game; the RPG elements and ham-fisted attempts at choice and morality sadly fall short of their lofty mark. With more time and, perhaps, a little more bravery, inFamous could have been magnificent. As it is, it will just have to settle for being really rather good.