*WARNING: CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS*
You ever have one of those days? You know the ones I mean... you get up, brush your teeth, head out to work delivering packages. On a whim (or so it seems) you open one (which is highly illegal). at which point it explodes with such ferocity that the blast decimates a large portion of a major metropolitan area killing tens of thousands of people in the process. But that's not all, you somehow survive and not only that, you have super powers as well!
No, huh? You haven't? Me neither... hmmmmm...
But such is a day in the life of Cole McGrath in inFAMOUS. Cole is an avid urban explorer who loves running around and climbing all over everything (a la Assassin's Creed). After the "incident," Cole learns to control his new powers, which in turn allows him to control electricity at will. But he has no memory of what happened that fateful day. Since the explosion, Empire City (read New York City) has been quarantined by the government as a contagion of unknown origin has popped up. On top of that, the panic caused by the calamity has left the police force completely overwhelmed and largely ineffectual. Roving street gangs run riot and cause havoc. In the midst of the chaos, Cole learns to channel his new abilities, making him a modern super hero. But it is how he chooses to use that power that will ultimately define him.
A good example of this is the very first mission, where Cole and his erstwhile partner Zeke (a wanna-be Elvis impersonator and one of more annoying cohorts I've run across) run to an airdrop of food and medicine which has been snagged on top of a large monument. Cole uses his parkour abilities to climb to the top, then blasts the rusted connection to the parachute with a bolt of electricity allowing the aid package to fall to the ground. Cole then jumps down and this is where choice comes into play: do you do nothing and allow the hungry and desperate people of Empire City to parcel the food out amongst themselves? Or do you zap a couple of them causing them to disperse and take the entire cache for yourselves? Thus begins your karmic conundrum... are you going to be the savior of Empire City, or it's bane?
As the story progresses a conspiracy unfolds, with Cole caught in the middle. You soon learn (minor spoiler alert) that it was he who opened the package that caused the explosion. Trish, Cole's girlfriend and seemingly sole voice of reason in his life, lost her sister in the blast, and doesn't react well to the news that he might be to blame. Cole decides to leg it out of town (seeing as how people are not too fond of him at the moment) but runs into brutal resistance as government soldiers gun down any who try to leave the island. He then meets a woman named Moya who claims to work for the FBI and is searching for her husband John. In return for his aid, she begins feeding Cole intel about the nature of the Raysphere, the device that caused the explosion and is the source of his powers.
Meanwhile, Cole must now clear the city streets of the dangerous gangs that have taken control. inFAMOUS is a sandbox game where you can go pretty much anywhere you choose. As you progress you unlock more areas to explore by turning back on the power (without power there is no electricity, which leaves Cole at a distinct disadvantage) over the three impressively large boroughs of Empire City: the Neon District, the Warren (slums), and the Historic District. Cole soon learns that there are other 'Conduits,' people with powers as well, who control the gangs and are out for their own ends. These are the foes he must face, all the while unknowing of what is truly going on... and what is coming.
Without giving too much away, the story unfolds slowly but the ending is quite clever and the twists are ones I didn't see coming. Sometimes the problem with sandbox games like inFAMOUS is that you can get lost doing the little things, and as a result, the narrative can drag a bit. However, Sucker Punch (the developers) added a lot of clever little touches, like explaining why Cole can't use guns or ride in cars (the electricity cooks off the gunpowder causing the guns to explode, same with the gasoline in the cars). This serves to limit Cole in certain ways, but expands the "super hero" possibilities in others.
The gameplay is pretty much open world exploration. Cole can climb pretty much everything (albeit in a stilted, jerky manner) and can zoom around the city on power lines and the EL train tracks (although this isn't unlocked for a while which is annoying... Empire City is a biiiiiig place, running everywhere takes forever). Apart from the main story missions, Cole spends a great deal of time clearing the streets of gang activity, making them safe once again (something you'll do as either a good Cole or a bad Cole). This is done via 'Side Missions' that involve everything from helping get stolen medical supplies for a local clinic to stopping modded buses full of bad guys. Some of these are fun, others are not. The satellite uplinks (basically checkpoint races) are a pain, as are clearing a building of surveillance (you have to climb all over a specific building looking for small glowing red devices). The tailing missions where you have to follow a specific target without being seen are the worst though. These are all trial and error, which annoys me. You need to know the exact pattern or the proper path to do them correctly. Of course, all these missions are optional. But not doing them means that bad guys might show up in the middle of story missions unannounced, making things all the more difficult.
Fortunately, Cole's powers can be truly impressive. His standard electrical bolt is his ranged attack and can be upgraded as you earn experience for completing story missions, side missions, and defeating enemies. As his powers develop (which you earn by turning on the power to different areas, Cole using his own body to reestablish the circuit), he learns to do other things: a massive shockwave that can knock back enemies, electrical grenades, and static thrusters which allow him to glide amongst others. He can also melee any enemies close enough to him, although the camera can make this a bit of a pain.
As Zeke so eloquently puts it, Cole is a walking battery. Using his powers, especially the special ones, drains his supply (displayed as a meter with multiple points), and he must 'recharge' by absorbing more from nearby power sources. Clicking the left analog stick will send out a pulse which shows the location of these on the mini-map. Also scattered about Empire City are blast shards, remnants of the Rayshere explosion. When Cole finds enough of these he gains another node on electricity meter. This encourages exploration, and there is plenty to explore.
So all this said, why wasn't I a big fan of inFAMOUS? Cool super powers, massive open city to explore, intriguing if slow story? Well, that's harder to answer.
Graphically, inFAMOUS is a mixed bag. Back in 2009 when I first played it, the graphics were great and the city was immense. Now, they look awfully dated. The animations can be very jerky and the frame rate can stutter, not to mention people have a bad habit of getting stuck in the background. The lip syncing is terrible; it's like watching badly dubbed Japanese anime. The cutscenes that serve to progress the story are really nothing more than comic book style storyboards. The soundwork is decent, although some of the voice acting is pretty bad (Zeke is a tool and Cole sounds like he's trying to channel Christian Bale from... well, every movie Christian Bale has done except The Fighter).
There are lots of little things with the gameplay that simply annoyed me. At the forefront of my complaints list is hit detection and the simple fact that you can never tell just where the hell you are getting shot from! Apparently these roving street gangs are comprised entirely of former members of the Marine Recon Sniper Team. They'll shoot you from four buildings away with unerring accuracy. Problem is that when you get nailed, it can be difficult to tell the direction from which the shot came. The camera doesn't make it any easier, nor does the fact the mini-map (where enemies show up in red) is actually a little too small. If they are outside of range, but still able to hit you, then things can get really annoying.
This is compounded by the fact that it seems to take an inordinately long time for the blood splatter/gray screen when Cole is injured to go away. Intense firefights are common, with loads of enemies. This wouldn't be an issue if not for the wonky camera making things even more difficult to track the bad guys as the screen goes all fuzzy. Fortunately, Cole will heal more quickly when draining electricity. A good strategy is just to make tracks, heal up, then come back from a different angle.
Platforming can sometimes be a pain the ass. This is partly because of the camera (again) but also because it's sometimes difficult to judge distances. Cole sort of floats when he jumps, which is weird. Also, for some inexplicable reason, he sometimes seems unwilling to actually grab onto sections of buildings that you might normally think he would, resulting in long and frustrating falls.
The 'morality/karma' choices are pretty self explanatory: you'll either be saintlike or satan incarnate. However, as the game progresses the results of some of these pivotal moments are not quite as black and white as you might think. What bothers me about this sort of thing is that I like to play these games three ways, the good way, the bad way, and my way. I'm not always a nice lovable fuzzball (to quote Rush Limbaugh), and in certain cases I imagine I'd be a selfish prick. The problem with games where you get certain specific powers for either being good or bad is that to get the best ones you have to be all of one or the other. You can't answer the "What would I do in this situation?" question in some of the more ambiguous situations because you know you won't have a enough good/bad points to unlock all the goodies at the end. Fortunately, when you do get Cole leveled up, the game becomes a lot more playable.
By the way, in anticipation of the sequel I played it through again, this time as the bad Cole. I have to say, the bad guy powers are soooo much cooler!
While inFAMOUS certainly isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination, I was just not as overwhelmed by this game as some people were. I really think it comes down to personal preference. If you like this sort of thing you'll probably like it more than I did. I'm not sure why, but inFAMOUS really came across as a bit of a chore sometimes despite Cole's awesome powers and an excellent ending. Here's hoping that Sucker Punch will address some of the issues for the upcoming sequel!
Score = 7.8 / 10