I've recently joined the Dark Side, after years of griping about the PS3 I thought it was about time I finally got the console, what better way to Christen it too with a copy of inFAMOUS, yes, I love sandbox games and it seemed the perfect one to cut my PS3 teeth on.
If you've been living in some unenlightened age or under a rock, then you're going to miss out on the latest gameplay gimmicks that seem to have jumped into the game industry both feet first. One of them being the resurgence of the anti-hero, that troubled soul who has been made responsible for the events that are about to unfold or is indeed the cause. In the case of Cole, the main protagonist for inFAMOUS, it's the former and a bit of the latter. Cole wakes up after the big explosion and finds that he seems to have developed lightning based electrical powers.
What's excellent about the storytelling in inFAMOUS is that it's done through simple comic-book cut-scenes that are laced with a lot of atmosphere and a good deal of dark humour. It's through these scenes that we find out more about Cole and what drives him, what the city is like and who Cole's enemies really are.
Troubled hero (check) and now for the next great gameplay gimmick I can't get enough of, the sandbox environment. Cole's adventures are completely free roaming and set in a fairly large city. Cole begins with a smattering of powers but very quickly as he completes story based missions, puts the power back on in Empire City and solves problems for the inhabitants his power suite grows and he earns Experience Points (another cool gameplay gimmick) which he can use to buy new abilities and upgrade his powers.
Cole's movement and combat controls are a cinch to pull off, there's a nice context sensitive parkour (free-running) system that brings to mind Crackdown more than Assassin's Creed and Cole can easily navigate his environment. Later on in the game you'll unlock a Static Shock style rail-powerline grind that allows you to zip around the city a lot quicker and Cole also gains the ability to glide using static electricity.
There are numerous side missions in Empire City, some good and some evil. Once you complete a good or evil side mission you lock out the opposing mission for that playthrough. Cole's life can take two directions, he'll come across Karma moments in the game where he can directly affect an outcome and change the way the city and its people view him. Do you want to use your powers to help others, or help yourself? These moments help you head towards the Hero or the Infamous path and unlock a set of new powers depending on your Karmic alignment.
All missions and combat earns you XP, doing cool moves like blasting a guy into the air and then shocking him in the head earns you a bigger reward. At the end of a mission the game indicates what you did as your best stunt and gives you a bonus. Your actions in a mission also lead to a heroic or villainous path: kill too many civilians or police officers and you're likely to head down towards the Evil side of things. You also get XP if you heal civilians or restrain bad guys (once you can use that power) and there are lots of hidden things to find in the game. Blast shards unlock more battery cores (Cole's energy reserves) and finding enough gives you a new point of energy.
The health meter works on a recharge system and replenishes outside of combat as long as you can hide for a while. You can also recharge Cole's powers as well as his health by draining electrical sources of their power. You can use the left stick (clicked in) to send out a psychic ping and pinpoint certain elements in the environment (amongst other things) such as power boxes and rails. The controls for inFAMOUS are tight, Cole's powers are easy to select and use...there are numerous powers for you to unlock and upgrade and using the parkour system is intuitive and easy. The camera can sometimes get in the way of things but it's only a minor niggle.
In addition to the main story quests that lead you across the city and have you doing a variety of tasks, there are the ever present side missions that are spread around a few different types, none of them are mandatory but they do bring in nice rewards and some bonus experience points. Empire City is a pretty big place and there are at least three distinct zones with gangs in each one. Doing the side quests will capture an area of the city and prevent enemies from respawning.
inFAMOUS is a nice looking game, it has a set time/day cycle as the game progresses and you can really see the detail in all the environments. The buildings and the people have a good layer of texturing to them and the main hero has a distinctive look, Cole's personality shines through in his actual dress and clothing based on how good/evil you are in the game. The city also changes based on how you help or hinder, with neighbourhoods looking vibrant and full of life if you're being heroic and the people have hope, or conversely they look like dives and ghettos if you hinder the population and become their enemy. The special effects for Cole's various powers are extremely well done and the game has a high cool factor in that regard.
The animation in inFAMOUS is good quality, Cole is extremely well animated and he's full of character. His idle animations and the way he plays with electricity help add a level of detail to his design and immerse you a little more in his personality. When he's running, climbing and moving at full speed Cole is an extremely nimble character, the context sensitive parkour helps to keep you going and full tilt and watching him grind a power rail or flip off the side of a building into a sudden drop full of sparks is nice. Watch out for water though, Cole tends to send waves of electricity from his body in puddles and he can kill civilians who stand too close. The rest of the world is alive around him and it comes across in all the other animations, from the civilians to the gangs like the Reapers, it's all well put together.
The explosive physics effects are nice; the physics in the game are decent. Cole's powers have a direct effect on the environment and the enemies ragdoll through the air nicely if caught in a big blast. They also react well when struck by Cole's combat moves and combined with the animation system, it works solidly.
The enemy AI is pretty standard, it does a good job of providing a challenge and each gang has a different theme along with many different types of enemy combatants. The Reapers employ fire bombing gang members that rush you for instance. The Dust Men are more likely to take cover and engage from a distance or up on high. NPC AI is likewise good, it reacts nicely to everything that's going on around it and people can really freak out if Cole is going down the Evil path.
The ambient sound effects of Empire City are excellent either day or night, the city feels alive with the hum of power cables or the swish of roof mounted AC fans. The sizzle and crackle of Cole's electrical powers combined with the thud of his electrically charged fists on the enemy are solid and well done. The spot effects and sound work of the game are really polished, there's nothing that we can gripe about here at all.
The game has a nice musical score that builds at all the right places, levelling off when things are calmer and adds a good pacing and sense of urgency to certain missions.
The voice work in the game is solid, the script is a little hokey at times but that's nothing too bothersome. Cole has a good voice and his character is well presented, Zeke is an annoying sidekick but helps provide some insight to Cole's world. The NPC dialogue as you wander the streets is excellent and it helps to build on the atmosphere of the game and create a city on the brink of chaos, recovering from a great disaster.
None, zero, zip, nada.
All in all
I really liked inFAMOUS and there's a fair amount to do. The core story will last a while depending on how much you like to grind up that XP to upgrade Cole's powers and there are some nice twists and turns. Collecting Blast Shards and Dead Drops are interesting little diversions that offer minor rewards. The game feels a little repetitious in the side missions from time to time and the enemy aren't too challenging unless you make a big mistake or two. There are no animation glitches and there is certainly no problem with draw distance or tearing, this is a superbly made title.