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Shocking Infamy

infamous-ps3-boxart-bigVideo games based around superheroes are rarely good, but they’re usually fun to play, right?  (Well, except for the games where you get to play as Superman…there’s just something about them that never quite works…) Whether it’s a pure comic book game, or a movie tie-in, there’s usually something in there than can provide at least five minutes of clobbering fun before you bring it back to the shop to trade in.

It’s unusual then that one of the best superhero games is an original property, with no original basis in comics or movies. Sure, the basics are there in a lot of other forms, but “Infamous” is its own game, and all the better because of it.

A single-player game and PS3 exclusive, “Infamous” puts you in control of Cole MacGrath in the fictional Empire City: a messenger, Cole delivers a package that explodes upon delivery, wiping out several blocks of the city and granting Cole electricity-based superpowers. As the city is forced under a government quarantine, Cole finds himself using his powers to fight the gangs that have taken over Empire City. Through several missions and side-quests, Cole finds his own path and thanks to the game’s karma system, ultimately becomes either the city’s guardian, or a force to be feared.

As an open-world based game, the gameplay of “Infamous” takes place amongst the streets and rooftops of Empire City, beginning first in the modern Neon district, moving through the slums of the Warren and finally unlocking the Historical District. The gaming areas are structured logically thanks to the game’s story: thankfully, there’s no invisible walls, and since Empire City is an island under quarantine, the bridges have been destroyed or raised, with the inevitable boundary of water that proves Cole’s only unavoidable weakness. There is a linear sense of progress to the game as Cole moves from one of the city’s islands to the next, restoring the bridges and infrastructure as he goes, but ultimately, the game allows you to go anywhere within the areas you’ve unlocked (with very minimal load-times) and, in theory, do anything.infamous-20080715042215895

Cole’s powers are the high-point of the game: while all are electricity-based, there are many variations that allow Cole to defeat the various gangs of Empire City, and these are improved on regularly through the game. Upgrading powers works along two differing strands: new powers are unlocked as you move through the game’s story missions, but each power is subject to a levelling-up process through experience points earned as you work through the game. The powers range from shooting electricity from Cole’s hands, summoning lightning bolts, travelling along electric cables, shields and explosive charges.

Cole’s health is tied to his powers and energy levels, and although the game gives you a sort of ultimate power, that doesn’t come without its price: while Cole will recover in time from injuries, this isn’t always possible when surrounded by enemies, and the quickest way is to drain the electricity from some surrounding streetlights. But because of this, the game doesn’t allow for running into the middle of a group of enemies and taking them all down simultaneously. It might not appear that way, but there’s something very tactical to the game, and for some occasions, it’s easier to take to the rooftops and take out your enemies from afar (although even then, many come armed with long-range weapons and can provide just as much difficulty as when there’s nobody in blasting distance.) Cole portrays himself as an “urban explorer,” making every structure climbable and giving him the reflexes needed to doge attacks or hang off ledges in order to provide his own assaults.

infamous-20081009020107996While not based on any comics or known superheroes, the intertextuality is obvious, and the game clearly takes its inspiration from the “Spider-Man” movie games and the gritty style of “Batman Begins.” The relation to comics doesn’t end there, however, as rather than using cut-scenes or FMVs, the game makes use of animated storyboards and comic-style illustrations, with the story playing out more through Cole’s voiceovers and in-game actions than anything else. Other elements drift between the obviously comic-book inspired and the not-so-much, from the power granting Ray Sphere, the power struggles amongst the gangs, the dystopian Voice Of Survival that takes over Empire City’s TV signal, the notions of responsibility and sacrifice, and even time travel, all of which makes the world of “Infamous” both immersive and believable.

For the most part, the controls for “Infamous” are easy, mostly using the face buttons for jumping and the triggers to shoot, combining all of these to perform special attacks. Cole’s powers aren’t limited to one hand, and the game includes the ability to switch between arms when shooting Cole’s electric blasts, done by clicking on the right analogue stick. Of course, if you press too hard on the right stick while targetting, it’ll switch between Cole’s arms, and you may miss that all-important shot. Similarly, Cole’s shield power, unlocked far too late in the game, requires the player to hold down R2, not always the easiest to do when you’re busy dodging, weaving and attacking as well.infamous_cole

While “Infamous” provides its fair share of both missions and side-quests to indulge these powers, the story-based missions tend to be on the shorter side: players won’t really need to explore much of Empire City if they just want to get on with the story, and will easily be able to finish the game’s story mode within five or six hours of gameplay. The game’s obvious set-up for a sequel in the closing moments is an interesting and exciting prospect, if only because it feels like our time with Cole is far too short to really get to grips with him as a characters, his powers or Empire City.

With all this in mind, “Infamous” gets a B+ rating from BurnAllZombies: a great game, but far too short, so we’ll hold off on the A grade until we see what adventures Cole can face in the future.

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  1. Mary
    June 24, 2009 at 2:07 AM

    Pretty cool post. I just found your blog and wanted to say
    that I have really enjoyed browsing your posts. Anyway
    I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!

    • Ken
      June 24, 2009 at 7:17 PM

      Thanks, I really appreciate it!

  2. Hedgie
    June 21, 2009 at 4:32 AM

    Superman games don’t work because he’s invincible. He cannot be hurt so it either falls that a) in the game he can be injured, thus making it retarded and uncanonical or b) he can’t and there is zero sense of urgency, fear or immersion. It’s like a game designed to be played in God Mode – God Mode is fine for small sections after a frustrating series of attempts but not as a full game.

  3. Dan
    June 21, 2009 at 1:15 AM

    It’s weird that the best superhero game in a long time is an original property. Don’t get me wrong I’ll play the hell out of Marvel : Ultimate Alliance 2 when it comes out but from what I’ve seen I like that inFamous is neither a GTA, Spider-Man 2 or X-Men Legends clone.

    Plus looking at all the other super hero games out it’s just so gorgeous in comparison. The only thing I don’t like about it is that since it’s PS3 exclusive it probably won’t get the DLC support that it would get on 360 since extra missions and side quests would be great.

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