Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Comic Book Hero Made For Games: inFamous Rocks!

Open world, sand box style games have never been much fun to me. I've played them all in bits and pieces, from Grand Theft Auto to Assassin's Creed, and though I enjoy them for their quality of freedom, I just never get into them. I recently acquired inFamous through the PlayStation Network Welcome Back program, and ever since acquiring it I delayed even touching it. I would turn on my system, and every time I stared at the game name and moved onto something else. This trend continued until my friend and fellow intern Kreston started raving about the game. So when he came over, I was forced into a corner and booted up the game. From start to finish, I could not put it down. inFamous is your typical sand box game on crack, a modern day Assassin's Creed with it's own slick style and power to make you the player feel like a total bad-ass, most of the time.

The story of inFamous revolves around Cole, a bike courier whom is sent to deliver a package that ends up activating in his possession and killing thousands of people in his residence of Empire City while giving him electric powers. The player picks up during the after math, slowly exploring and strengthening Cole's powers as the story of the package, dubbed the Ray Sphere, unfolds. The player starts out with a simple shock attack and up grades through out the game, building on whether Cole is being a good little boy or a demon terrorizing the streets. Without giving too much away, the story takes a few twists and turns and comes to a fairly unpredictable  conclusion that has left me chomping at the bit for more (Oh inFamous II, you will soon be mine).

A Quick Shot of the Amazing Hand Drawn, Comic Book Style Cut-scenes.
Game play is third person, with a majority of Cole's powers utilizing over the shoulder aiming found in most modern third person shooters. All the powers are mapped to various buttons while holding L1 to aim and are very easy to access and utilize in battle. I am a complete and utter failure when it comes to shooters of any kind (unless they have auto-aiming like Metal Gear Solid 4!), but after a few hours I was an expert with the finely tuned controls. Most of the powers obtained will be used in the battles, with a few exceptions, and the rate at which the player can grow may seem a little sluggish if you go through all the side missions as the appear along side the story mode, but over all everything felt extremely well paced. The platforming and mobility around the city is fairly over the top, using the un-realism of super powers to progress the player quickly up the sides of buildings and scatting across rails. This was perfect for the setting,and though not as realistic as Assassin's Creed's building scaling, the 'snapping' effect that puts Cole right in place is fairly accurate for the most part, though it may aggravate on some of the later, more finely tuned platforming sequences. As the player progresses through the game, new forms of travel, such as trains and gliding ability, add more flexible and quicker means to travel across the growing city.

Though the player has the freedom to progress where ever his/her heart is content, the original size of the 'sand box' is rather small, requiring story levels to unlock more access. The player starts on one of three islands and progressively moves to the second and third, restoring power to each island to keep Cole's powers at their prime. With each story mission completed and power restored to districts, side missions are unlocked. These side missions range from a fairly nice variety, with some as simple as escorting prisoners to jail, blasting them when they try to escape, to take down entire wars between the rival gangs. There wasn't a side mission that I hated or refused to do and all of them yield at least experience, if not blast shards, the collectible of the game. With each completion, the district in which the player found the mission is unlocked and is under Cole's power, without the chance for enemies to return. This basically means that from that point on, the likely hood of enemies being around is slim to none and you are free to look for blast shards and dead drops.

Blast shards are fragments spread from the explosion of the Ray Sphere and are used to power up Cole's battery cores. Each battery core is used for the more advanced abilities and the more battery cores you have, the more special abilities you can use without recharging, which becomes incredibly useful. This dynamic makes collecting these shards more worth while than most games. In Assassin's Creed there are flags, but without any more of a purpose than to inch you closer to 100% completion, the weight they carry compared to the blast shards is little. These blast shards can be found in some of the tiniest places and some in the most obvious, and by pressing L3 the player can send out an electric sonar to help temporarily display their locations on the mini map, making finding them a little less challenging, but in turn a little less frustrating.
Traversal and Combat are Seamlessly Interwoven.
Dead drops are hidden transmissions from Dr. John White, a scientist who helped work on the Ray Sphere. These little transmissions are hidden in satellites across the city and can also be found using the L3 sonar technique. Though far less numerous than the blast shards, these little tidbits of dialogue help add an extra layer of depth to the story of inFamous and how the whole scenario came to be. The history of the Ray Sphere and the characters surrounding it are very interesting, and John leaves some great bread crumbs to help flesh out the story in a very inventive way. I think I had some of the most fun trying to find these through out the game.

Cole can also perform stunts. These are small challenges to perform through out combat, starting simple, such as striking an enemy in mid air with a melee attack, and progressing to near impossible, such as striking an enemy while in air with a lightning strike and then thunder dropping them. These little actions were fun, but with only a small sentence to tell you what to do for the current stunt (no way to figure out what all the stunts are unless you go online) and no pay off other than a trophy for completing one, 10 and then all 21 stunts, I stopped trying after 13. This is one of those small distractions that can keep combat interesting, but will pretty much be up to the player as to how much time he/she invests in them.

The karma element in inFamous is not as strong as some games like Mass Effect, where every decision effects the outcome, but it does carry enough weight in game play aspects for the player to at least consider what it is he/she is doing with Cole. Though most powers are the same, there are specific powers to both the Evil side and the Good side and can only be accessed by completing good or bad karma side missions. Once a mission is complete, depending on which one you chose to complete (some are strictly good or evil, some give you two separate choices to complete the same mission reflecting whether it's good or evil), the opposite version is canceled out, meaning you can only complete either good or bad for each karma mission. This does weigh on the mind, because in order to complete the final version of either power the player needs to complete 15 out of 15 evil or good missions, so early on the choice is pretty much made. Though there are times in the story to make these decisions, unless you are completely devoted to one karma or another, they don't carry much weight. I personally chose to be good, but I'll be playing evil next just to see what happens. It's a big enough dynamic to care about what choices you make, but not as powerful as Mass Effect or other games like it, and that's OK.

Presentation wise, the game looks great. The city is utterly destroyed, but each island carries it's own visual dynamic and the enemies of each faction look great. The main cast look polished and the voice acting and music are solid, with small bits of orchestral scores to help build tension or the feeling of being an omnipotent hero/villain. There was some lag when the battles carried into all out war with close to 15 or 20 characters on screen, but other than that there was no lag what so ever and no frame rate drop.

Over all, I was blown away by inFamous. It has made me reconsider sand box games and how they can be enjoyable. With multiple endings and plenty of hours of game play (I'm pretty sure I clocked in around 30 at least) this game is well worth your money and a great addition to any one person's PlayStation library.

10 out of 10

Interesting Sites:
The GameFaqs:
The Wiki Page:
The Game Site:
The IGN Review:

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