ars Technica: Infamous Verdict


Sublimely Static
Feb 3, 2007

A man afraid to run away: Ars reviews inFamous

The demo was good, and the full game is a powerful experience in what it is to be a hero, or a villain. With strong characters, beautiful graphics, and a good selection of things to do and see, this is one of the best open world titles in recent memory.
By Ben Kuchera | Last updated May 20, 2009 11:00 AM CT

In many ways, Cole MacGrath, the protagonist of Sony and Sucker Punch's latest title, follows the Spider-Man model of being a superhero. You have to have amazing powers, and the people have to hate you for it. To be fair, at the beginning of inFamous, the people have a good reason to hate you. You see, the city has been reduced to piles of rubble by the explosion of a bomb. Untold numbers of people are dead. The government has quarantined the area. The police are outgunned, and the gangs control the streets with very little to fear.
So why are you stuck in the middle? Simple. You delivered the bomb.

Things aren't that simple though: Cole also survived the blast, even though he was literally on top of it. After waking up, bruised, bloody, and near death, bad things start to happen to things around him. Somehow, Cole now has the ability to control the power of electricity, although everyone in the city wants his blood. "Let's see the freakshow," his best friend Zeke says, asking Cole to use his power to charge the home-rigged batteries that power the rooftop hideaway they share.
Cole realizes that even if he jumps off the roof, he won't be hurt. He begins to realize that he can control what's happening to him. There is no electricity in the city. The gangs are becoming more violent. There is no help coming. As Abraham Lincoln famously said—and the game quotes—"Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man, give him power."
The city is yours

Cole isn't a normal superhero. He doesn't wear tights, preferring instead to stick to his daily wear from when he was a messenger. He can't fly, although his love of urban exploring and enhanced strength give him the ability to scale walls with little problem. He's also burdened with a populace that wants him dead, a girl that won't talk to him, a friend who wants his help to get laid, and the knowledge that he may be the only one who can help stop the anarchy the city has fallen into.
The city is split into three large sections that you explore as the game moves along, each area opening up when you've completed enough story missions. As you explore the city you'll also be presented with the problem of how you want to maintain order. Do you sacrifice others for your own safety? Leave behind a man to hang? Do you use your power to heal people, or to steal their energy? Every battle becomes a tight-rope walk; you can't use your more destructive attacks without causing flipped cars and explosions, taking out innocent lives.
The game is beautiful, with a detailed, crumbling city and dark, quiet sewers to explore. Your electrical attacks cause crackling energy to spark between metal surfaces, and you can shock large groups of enemies if they're foolish enough to stand in water. Speaking of water, don't go near the stuff; it's a quick death when you can't control the power rushing from your body to the liquid. Don't worry about guns, since you can't use those either. The game explains what happened the one time Cole tries to touch a gun after the explosion: the spark from his hand ignited the gunpowder.

Don't worry, you have plenty of attacks to discover and level up. You can send shock waves through the air, causing bodies and cars and dumpsters to fly this way and that. You can use a precision electrical strike like a sniper rife. You can throw electrical grenades that can stick to bad (or good) guys. All of these powers, outside of your standard shot and melee attacks, use electrical power. You have to recharge by finding sources of electricity and tapping them, and this also heals you. Yes, this is one of those games without a real health bar, meaning you have to look for the blood splatter on the screen to see how close to death you are. You'll want to move away from the light if things start going black and white, if you get what I mean.
You can use the experience you gain from doing story and side missions to level up your powers and reduce the damage you take, but even with your amazing powers your body is rather frail when it comes to bullets. The gangs are everywhere, and they have an annoying habit of completely covering an area with gunfire, leading to some deaths that feel a little cheaper than they should. Don't feel bad if you die... a lot.
Is this just Crackdown, revisited?

In many ways, yes, this is very reminiscent of Crackdown on the 360, but don't say that like it's a bad thing. Instead of the pristine future city of the Xbox 360 title, you have a gritty urban setting. You may not be able to jump as high as you could in Crackdown, but a few hours into the game you gain the ability to slide across power lines, grinding them like a skateboarder and building up speed.
In one memorable scene, you use your electrical power to keep a train car moving. As someone in the game points out, your power makes you a living third rail. If you don't want to wait to catch a ride with the train, you can simply ride the rail itself, sparks jumping from your body, hands out for balance. It's a thrilling way to travel, and gets you to where you're going quick and easy. You may not have webs to sling or a cape to help you fly, but you'll be moving around the city like the hero—or villain—you hope to become.
The game continually throws moral challenges your way, and while the choices are binary, the writing does a good job of making the evil choices seductive. In many ways they make sense, even if you know it will make you more of a villain. If you go bad or good, it changes your powers, it changes how you look, and it changes how people see you. Start killing innocents and the people will jeer you, throwing rocks your way. Do good things and they're cheer you or take your picture. Posters will begin to be hung in your honor, and they show either a savior or a demon, depending on the choices you make.

I hate being the bad guy in games—I never harvested a single Little Sister in my time with Bioshock—so I was delighted when I found out you could take areas of the city back from the gangs and make them safe for both yourself and the random citizens in the game. Even better, when the areas are safe, people begin to clean up and take the city back. The more you play, and the more you interact the people, the more the city will rebuild in your image, for good or ill.
I'm trying to stay away from discussing story missions, as this is a game that does best when you explore the story on your own time, but inFamous does a good job of keeping the side missions interesting. Sure, there is some repetition, but not nearly as much as was seen in the newer Spider-Man games or other open-world environments. Every now and again something novel will be thrown your way, and you'll also get the added satisfaction of making the streets safer, if you choose the good path.
Edna Mode said it best: NO CAPES!

Your powers will grow as you go into the sewers and turn the power stations back on—which is an annoying task that often includes jumping puzzles, and platforms over water. As always, water and electricity don't mix. These sections are tolerable just because you'll always gain something cool out of them, but they don't add much to the game.
Combat can also be somewhat frustrating at times, as enemies can easily overwhelm you with fire coming from every direction. This isn't a game where you can blindly attack a fortified position. Mix in gangs of similar enemies and you have some frustrating situations.
The good things far outweigh the bad, though. Attacking armored enemy trucks and finding the correct way to take them down? Thrilling. Riding on top of a bus your girl helpfully wired with a generator to fuel your attacks is likewise awesome, and an oddly touching moment. The writing and character of the game are just as good as the action, and will keep you interested in the relationships the story is built around. Normally comic-book style cut-scenes feel like a way to save money on animation, but in this case, with this subject matter, they work perfectly, and are used in exactly the right amount.
You can decide to collect glass shards to increase the amount of electricity you can hold at once, or track down the game's "dead drops," audio files attached to satellite dishes that tell their own story. Sometimes a citizen will run up to you and ask for help. It's not a mission, it won't move the game forward, so it's merely something that happens in the game. Ignore them or do something heroic; it's your choice. Merely existing in the city, and dealing with situations as they come up—screaming around the rooftops or gliding over the elevated train tracks—is a thrill. This is a superhero game with soul and gameplay to spare.
There is something about inFamous that's decidedly adult and satisfying, and not in the "OMG BOOBIES" way. This is a what-if story about a city with no hope and a man who has been taken out of his life to do something about it. An absolute must-buy.
The good

  • Detailed, living city to help rebuild, or continue to destroy
  • Brilliant writing and character work
  • Fun superpowers
  • Cut scenes set the mood of the game very well
  • Much to do and explore, this isn't a game that will be over soon
  • Be a hero, be a villain, it's your choice
  • Fresh take on the genre, Cole is a unique and compelling hero
  • Solid variety in missions

The bad

  • The enemies can be repetitive
  • Sewer sections are annoying
  • Combat can get frustrating in places

The ugly

We live in a world where dreck like X-Men Origins: Wolverine makes it onto the big screen, and something as good as inFamous is created in a medium barely respected for its storytelling


Sublimely Static
Feb 3, 2007
I am surprised because I was mainly worried that it might fall into certain trappings of open ended titles. Repetition, bad pacing, uneven combat and more have stopped games like these from being stand out. I am glad this is not the case for infamous.I prefer superhero stories. I am no curious about the reception prototype will get.


Elite Guru
Jan 12, 2007
It's a rubbish review - only the most cynical of people would slate X-men origins. It was an excellent movie. I don't know why people continue to expect Shakespeare from comic book movies.


Sep 2, 2008
Nice review, but... how am I supposed to know what to think if the reviewer doesn't quantify his opinion with a number? IGN, Game Informer, OPM - THEY all gave inFamous 9s, like just about everyone else. Doesn't this reviewer want to join the club? :rolleyes:

Seriously, though - nice review. I'm curious to see those sewer levels - I haven't seen much of those in the trailers, and there's nothing in the demo.

Oh, and mcav? Your post lost all meaning for me when you said X-Men Origins was "an excellent movie". :roll: That movie was so bad, I'd sooner watch "Mall Cop" again. Blecch!