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PlayStation 3

Now Playing: inFamous

I was dead-keen on inFamous when I jumped in the car to pick it up. I’d heard nothing but positive reviews in the week or so leading up to its release and, having conquered the last boss at 1.30am last night, I’d say a fair number of those reviews were justified. Sucker Punch, first party Sony developer of Sly Cooper fame, has delivered a rollicking good time with their take on the superhero genre. But inFamous isn’t without its problems.

The inFamous trailer.

For the uninitiated, inFamous is a PlayStation 3-exclusive open world adventure that places you in control of Cole McGrath (whose last name I’ve only just discovered thanks to Wikipedia). The game begins as a massive bomb devastates the fictional Empire City. The story, told via a series of beautifully animated comic book-style transitions, opens with Cole waking up from the explosion to find he’s able to control electricity. Large amounts of it, actually. As Cole, you can blast bolts of electricity from your palms and absorb juice from just about anything connected to the mains. So much for the ol’ carbon footprint.

Cole’s power (and actually, almost everything else) then revolves around electricity, including the majority of your mission objectives and movement throughout the open world environment. To begin with your electrical powers just let you zap baddies and blow things up, but as you progress you’ll unlock the ability to glide, shoot rockets, electricity grenades, use the current as a shield and, eventually, pretend you’re in the X-Men and summon huge lightning storms from the sky.

Cole looks out over Empire City

Cole looks out over Empire City

Being a conduit for 40,000 watts apparently gets in the way of driving, so, although you’ll see a lot of them around Empire City, vehicles aren’t much chop for getting from A to B. You can run about the city’s streets but what you’ll really want to do is grind the game’s many railway tracks and powerlines for speedy movement. Anyone who’s played a Sly Cooper game will spot inFamous’ roots here, and it’s this fast-paced aerial platforming where the game shines.

It’s a safe bet Sucker Punch played a fair bit of Assassins’ Creed last year, as Cole climbs from object to object on any building or structure with all the agility of Altier. Climbing buildings is also good sense if you don’t fancy being riddled with bullets (for all his powers Cole doesn’t last long in the firing line) as the rooftops offer the best protection.

My biggest problem with inFamous was the ordinary story and iffy pacing. There are a few key characters – Zeke, Cole’s tubby friend, FBI agent Moya and her husband John for instance, but they’re all terribly developed. Cole’s primary motivation is his girlfriend Trish who’s in a strop having come to the conclusion he deliberated detonated the device. As a result, you’ll spend many of the missions trying to make things right with her. The problem, and it’s a big one, is the she’s the most one dimensional, unlikeable, wooden character in the game. It doesn’t help that her character model looks like it belongs in 1999’s Quake III…

If you don't fancy the hero route you can wreak plenty of havoc.

If you don't fancy the hero route you can wreak plenty of havoc.

So, the story is pretty rubbish (although a few plot twists – one in particular – do perk things up a bit). But once I’d given up on the story getting any better, I really enjoyed the gameplay. In terms of the pacing, things start off well, take a real nosedive around the ten hour mark with predictable escort and shooting gallery missions, then pick up rapidly for the game’s conclusion. One section around three quarters in asks you to ascend a massive tower made from debris (rubble, metal beams and destroyed cars) – this was a real treat.

The game’s three islands, clearly influenced by Rockstar North’s Grand Theft Auto design, look pretty samey. I only noticed I was on a new island when I crossed a bridge to return to an earlier objective, so there was a missed opportunity here to diversify the experience more. For a first party PS3 game that’s been in the oven as long as inFamous has, it actually looks pretty ordinary. It’s serviceable – the frame rate holds up and when you’re up high the scale is pretty impressive – but put it next to Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune or, worse still, Killzone 2 and it looks like a high def PS2 title. The character models and animations during in-game cut scenes are particularly poor.

You do get the sense by the end of the game (when all your powers are finally unlocked) that you’re a real superhero. There’s also plenty to do once you finish up if you’re a little OCD – hundreds of blast shards and ‘dead drop’ satellite messages are hidden away if you fancy extending your maximum electricity and Trophy hunting, and you can play through again making different good or bad decisions to influence minor story changes.

With better writing, even given the pacing issues, inFamous could have been really special. Still, all in all, I had a great time with this one.


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