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inFamous Review

21 May 2009

Three and a half years of hard work. That’s how long it has taken for developer Sucker Punch to create its electrically charged third person action adventure, inFamous. With so much time invested in it, Sucker Punch has a lot riding on its success, including its high-standing reputation. To say that we’ve been looking forward to checking out Cole’s range of electrical powers and exploring Empire City from its highest rooftops is a huge understatement. Finally, our chance has come. We’re about to find out whether it’s been worth the wait.

inFamous is an open world action adventure starring Cole, a bald-headed bike messenger who develops a range of electricity-based powers after a package he was delivering explodes, causing devastating consequences to the world around him. Having been knocked unconscious for two weeks following the blast, Cole awakens to discover that his home town has changed drastically around him: Empire City is now in lockdown due to the spread of a mysterious plague that has infected its residents. The authorities have sealed all exits out of the city to ensure that nobody can leave. Chaos ensues as police abandon the city and gangs take to the streets. Cole has no idea who gave him the package that led to this disaster or why he has these new powers. All he does know is that he needs to harness them quickly and decide whether he wants to use them to help the troubled citizens of Empire City, or to add to the ever growing chaos.

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The story of Cole’s trials and tribulations is one of the many highlights of a game that is littered with great moments and impressive features. Not only does inFamous offer a compelling, well-written narrative, but it’s told with great style and pencil sharp comic book style art direction. The storyline weaves in and out of the gameplay magnificently. While missions help to drive the narrative forward at just the right pace, clever flashbacks get you thinking and stylish cut-scenes add to the growing anticipation. Being able to choose two very different karmic paths throughout the game gives you real focus. The duality of the two branching paths -- Famous and Infamous -- plays a big part in keeping you immersed in the tale by giving you some tough moral decisions to make along the way. Should you incite a riot by shooting at the baton wielding guards from within a crowd? Or should you take them on single-handedly and risk your own life? inFamous is littered with interesting scenarios and inventive moments that you’ll remember long after you’ve powered down your console. Conclusively, it’s inFamous's absorbing storyline that gives the gameplay real purpose.

The gameplay in inFamous complements the storyline perfectly. The design of the city and the despotic mood on the streets really grabs you by the throat and sucks you into the action. Empire City is a cleverly designed interactive playground that overflows with atmosphere. Sucker Punch has managed to capture the feeling of lawlessness in the city superbly. Looting and assaults are commonplace and the general feeling of chaos is amplified by residents' activity that you’ll find around every corner. Beggars scavenge through rubbish while plague victims lie helplessly in the middle of the streets as other city inhabitants manically dash around ignoring their pleas for help. The city is a living, breathing adventure playground and its three districts are a joy to explore.

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Empire City isn’t as big as it actually looks at first glance. Still, it takes about 10 minutes though to move across each of the three islands of Empire City, so it’s still adequately big enough to keep you busy for some time searching for blast shard collectibles or gaining territory from the Reaper gangs who control the districts. Thanks to the fluidity of Cole’s movements, as he leaps from one rooftop to the next, shimmies up telephone poles or grinds along power lines, it exciting and intuitive moving across the city. Most buildings connect one way or another, be it through their close proximity or via a cleverly positioned power-line or other object that allows you to acrobatically work your way across. Sucker Punch once said in an interview about Empire City: “If you think you should be able to climb on it or interact with it, we let you do it.” That’s certainly true here and it’s what makes the city so appealing. Most objects can indeed be interacted with. You can knock pylons down to make platforms allowing you to reach new areas areas, use telephone booths to boost your electricity powers, or use your shockwave to send vehicles spinning and cascading down the busy streets.

inFamous features a number of familiar missions structures and objectives. You’ll have seen the same type of tasks in other games in the genre, Grand Theft Auto and Crackdown included. Generally, doing the same mission over and over again can get repetitive, and admittedly there are times when this is the case, but largely objectives feel fresh because the storyline behind them is so unique, as are Cole’s skills. Missions and side objectives are littered around the map as you traverse around the city interacting with NPCs who set you a variety of story-driven challenges, such as point to point time trails, escort, courier and dozens of combat-centric missions. Whatever you decide to do there’s real focus to the gameplay. Frequent phone calls keep you focused on the job in hand and a clearly defined map ensures that it's easy to find your next objective. And with each kill executed, stunt mastered, or objective completed you’re rewarded with experience points to spend on advancing Cole’s impressive arsenal of electrically-charged abilities.

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While combat starts off fairly basic, with a burst of lightening from Cole’s fist being the standard weapon of choice, things soon heat up. The shockwave ability, which showcases the physics engine in inFamous brilliantly, gives you the power to unleash mayhem on the streets. When used, objects fly across the street causing a domino effect on everything in the vicinity. There are also some great skills that you purchase along the way, such as Overload Burst which allows you to fire an electrical bolt that chains off conductive surfaces and kills anyone standing near metal cover. All of Cole's skills generally involve manipulating electricity and as you progress, and as you earn more experience points you can see the fruits of your labor through Cole's character development. As he grows in stature and power, his skills expand exponentially. To put it simply, with such impressive powers at your fingertips you feel like a total badass.

It's not all great news, though; inFamous does have a couple of issues that prevent it from being a practically perfect game. The L1 targeting control, for instance, can be a bit hit and miss. It's slightly oversensitive to your commands with a reticule that flicks and moves slightly too quickly across the screen. Also, it sometimes seems that you’re aiming nowhere near the enemy yet you'll still manage to hit him, whereas other times, when you think you're spot on, you'll miss. Furthermore, you'll often see bullet trails coming from all directions when enemies fire at you, yet when you turn in that direction there will be nothing there -- the enemies are, in fact, actually firing from the opposite direction. It can be quite disorientating. Our final gripe is that your XP is generally spent on upgrading existing powers to make them more powerful, rather than purchasing new ones. Cole does have some great skills, but the chance was here to really push the boat out. After a while, however, you'll soon realize that Sucker Punch has largely played around with the standard weapon set that you'll find in many other first person shooters by simply turning a pistol into a lightening bolt and a rocket launcher into a Shockwave attack. Still, whether you're battling in the middle of the street against half a dozen Reapers, blasting them one-by-one off the roof of a skyscraper, or Thunder Dropping into the middle of a busy street, you'll rarely get bored of electrocuting people and causing mayhem with your powers. Visually, it's very impressive.

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While Empire City doesn’t quite push the PS3 to its limits, it still looks remarkably majestic from up high with great draw distances that afford you with a nice panoramic view of the city. There are areas, specifically when you’re on the streets of the city, that look like they’ve been copied and pasted from other sections. Concurrently, however, there are many graphical highlights, including some superb lighting effects caused by electricity surging around the city. Character models don’t look realistic, but instead have a stylish, hand-drawn feel which gives them a cartoony. That includes Cole himself, who boasts a very subtle cel-shaded look that makes him stand out against the realistic backdrop of the city. Overall, the graphics and character models, though not outstanding, help to give inFamous a unique look and engaging atmosphere.

Let's break it down for you. Though inFamous does have a couple of small issues that prevent it from getting top marks, it has lived up to our expectations. The shifting good vs. bad storyline provides a solid foundation that the gameplay builds upon, and therefore missions and side objectives feel genuinely refreshing. Empire City provides an excellent base for exploration and Cole's skills make the third person "shooting" feel fresh and exciting. In conclusion, three and a half years of development work has been worth the effort. inFamous entertains, thrills and delivers a compelling narrative that backs up this action-packed adventure with some style.

-The Final Word-

Powered by its compelling storyline, inFamous is jam-packed full of entertaining and memorable moments.
  • The gripping storyline and how it intertwines with the gameplay
  • Exploring the superbly designed Empire City by rooftop
  • Cole's range of acrobatic and electrically-charged skills
  • Some of the repetitive mission types
  • The combat targeting system, which could do with a little refining
9.0
Platforms reviewed : PlayStation 3
See PSU's reviews scores on Metacritic and Gamerankings

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