Wednesday, 5 February 2014


Post-Launch Review
Developer: Sucker Punch Productions
Released: May 2009
Played: story complete, 83% secondary objectives complete


After being caught in a blast that killed thousands in Empire City, Cole McGrath discovers that he has electrical super powers. Trapped in a quarantined city and blamed for the explosion, Cole is forced to clear his name by stopping a secret society from recreating the blast and levelling the whole city and unleashing more powers. In the process, Cole will have to decide what's more important: protecting Empire City, or taking the power of the Ray Sphere for himself.

At Launch

inFAMOUS was quite well received, earning average review scores of 86%. Reviewers were impressed with the gameplay and powers, and how they tie into the morality system. Movement was praised, except for some climbing issues. Critics enjoyed the story, particularly in the second half of the game, but many felt that the early chapters are too difficult.

Post Launch

I don't think there were any patches, but there was one addition: the Gigawatt Blade, previously available as a preorder bonus, is now free in North America on the PSN store.
inFAMOUS was re-released in the inFAMOUS Collection, along with inFAMOUS 2 plus some DLC, and Festival of Blood. The download code for Festival of Blood and the DLC has an expiry date on it for March 31 2013, but I was able to use mine in January 2014, so I guess it's still good.

One of the first things I noticed is that inFAMOUS has nice cutscenes. They look like partially-animated comic book panels with a distinctive heavy-edged style, overlaid with narration by Cole. While the art is really cool, the cutscenes aren't very good at portraying action or very dramatic moments, since the images are pretty static and Cole's voice is a little monotonous. There's one cutscene where a secondary character dies, and it doesn't feel at all emotional or impactful, because it's just a picture with Cole's gravelly voice explaining that the person died. 

Cole's voice is a minor problem through the whole game. It's all gruff and gravelly, basically your generic reluctant hero. It's fine in narration, but when Cole is having a conversation and the person he's talking to sounds like a completely ordinary person, the deep growl is almost humorous. To exaggerate a little bit, imagine Christian Bale's Batman ordering a pizza.

To backtrack slightly, the second thing I noticed is that the opening chapters are quite difficult. What's frustrating from a game design perspective is that the problem is quite obvious: too many enemies. For the rest of the game this isn't a problem, but early on you have no powerful offensive abilities and little mobility. Getting to enemies is hard, fighting enemies is hard, and running away from enemies is hard. You're constantly being shot at from somewhere. Once you're able to start clearing districts through side missions things ease up, but until you do you'll be dealing with constant gunfire you can't really escape.

Fortunately, once you start unlocking abilities, inFAMOUS does have some pretty cool applications for electric superpowers. Of course you can blast people with lightning, but you also unlock stuff like shock grenades and an electric shield. Cole can replenish energy and health by draining electricity from lamp posts, power boxes, cars, and other equipment. You can even heal injured citizens or drain the neroelectricity from bad guys.

Unfortunately, getting around the city is really boring for quite a while. Climbing is a little too sticky - it can be hard to drop off a building you're on, and sometimes when you jump you'll attach to something you didn't mean to. More importantly, there are no special movement abilities until you've done ten or so story missions, so for the most part you're stuck running around on the ground or slowly climbing buildings. It's often difficult to move from one building to another. There are some shortcuts you can activate - cranes or towers you can shoot that will provide horizontal paths across rooftops - but it took me a while to realize those existed because the game didn't tell me.

Why am I going on about movement? Because inFAMOUS is a very similar game to Spider-Man 2 (and Prototype, which came out only a few weeks after inFAMOUS). Both games share an urban open-world environment, story and side missions that you can activate when you choose, collectibles hidden around the city, and of course the superhero theme. But the best thing about Spider-Man 2 - the thing that inFAMOUS lacks - is that travelling around the city is really fun. As Spider-Man, you swing through the streets on webs. That's pretty cool, and Spidey's special movement mode is available right from the very start. More importantly, web-swinging isn't passive like the lightning rail travel: not only do you have to steer, attaining maximum speed is very skill-based. A great swinger knows when to accelerate, when to break a swing, when to deploy a new line, and which moves kill your momentum.

inFAMOUS does have a very cool movement power, and that is grinding along power lines or rails. It's a cool and fairly original movement mode for a superhero and open-world game. But it does still fall short compared to web-slinging, because once you're on a line or rail, you don't need to push any buttons. Switching lines quickly can require some skill, but any timed missions are usually forgiving enough that it's not a problem.

But anyway. One element of inFAMOUS that Spider-Man 2 doesn't have is a morality system. Depending on how good or evil you are, you can buy power upgrades that affect your abilities in different ways: evil powers tend to be more widespread and destructive, and good powers are more precise to avoid hurting bystanders. Your standing also affects Cole's appearance and attitude. Cole's lightning is blue when good and red when evil, and civilians will cheer and praise a good Cole but run from evil Cole.

A lot of the moral choices are pretty basic and boring, like deciding whether to kill a civilian and steal his stuff. There are some much more interesting choices, though - like deciding whether to save a key character or six doctors, or choosing whether to boost your power at the cost of civilian lives. But the most interesting moral element is the most subtle: how you treat civilians in a combat scenario. Most fights take place on the street with innocent people caught in the middle - recklessly harming civilians shifts you towards evil, so if you want to be a hero you need to be conscious of innocents and make sure they don't get caught in the crossfire (and heal the injured after the fight). I really like this element. It's something you have to keep in mind at all times, and it helps make it a little more difficult to be good than evil. 

Even though I don't like most of the moral choices for being too simple, inFAMOUS does a pretty good job of making good and evil rewarding in different ways. Gameplay is a little easier if you're evil and disregard civilians while good is a little more challenging, but the XP rewards are the same either way so it's down to how you want to play, not which path is objectively better.

inFAMOUS' story is definitely its strongest point. It definitely feels like a classic superhero story, with a lot of twists and surprises. Kessler turns out to be a great villain in a strong, very comic-book conclusion. There are a bunch of running plot threads that resolve or tie together at various points through the story. My favourite of the side narratives is the news broadcast. Every once in a while you can stop to listen to news from the outside world about the situation in Empire City, and the situation is very clearly being twisted to make the government look good. Cole's heroics and victories are credited to army strike teams and engineers, and the news has a running theme of "life in Empire City is returning to normal" even as things are actually getting worse and worse. This side story doesn't really have a conclusion, but it serves as a constant reminder that there's a perfectly normal world just past the quarantine line, peppered with the sinister undertone of government-controlled media. The conclusion is left wide open for a sequel: while the story is satisfyingly complete, there are a couple of intriguing loose ends.

So what's the verdict?

Recommendation: play it.

inFAMOUS is a good game that falls short in a couple of important places, especially early game, but redeems itself with a very strong story and an interesting, well-integrated morality system. I especially love that if you play good you have to be mindful of innocent bystanders during battles. Plus it's always fun to shoot lightning out of your hands and zip along power lines.

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