Review: inFamous

Jordan Deam | 21 May 2009 10:00
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There's a lot to be said for games that give you the freedom to be a complete jerk. They often provide the starting point for some interesting conversations about morality and game design. In 2007, we kept asking each other "did you kill the Little Sisters?" and pondered what it meant about our play styles and our personalities. In 2008, the question was whether we knocked off swaggering gangster Playboy X or his recently paroled colleague Dwayne in GTA 4. And if Sucker Punch Productions had their way, we'd all be talking about which color lightning we picked in 2009's inFamous.

inFamous is a third-person sandbox game in the same vein as Crackdown or GTA but with an extra dose of moral ambiguity. You play as Cole, the survivor of an electrical blast that rips through Empire City, killing thousands and leaving behind a crater the size of a stadium. As your wounds heal, you discover that you have the power to control electricity. Whether it's red lightning or blue depends entirely on the way you treat your fellow citizens.

Not exactly a choice on par with "killing a defenseless little girl or saving her life," is it? That's partly due to the game's mishmash of stock characters, whom you never really learn enough about to care much for. It's also a product of the game's hollow world design - sandbox games like GTA create a feeling of realism through an almost impossible level of detail that inFamous never approaches. But more than anything, it's a classic case of gameplay undermining a game's narrative. Instead of choosing between moral actions and immoral ones, you'll likely be making a simpler choice: Do I want my character to improve or not?

You collect two types of experience in inFamous: neutral experience and what I'll call "weighted" experience. You automatically earn the former when you complete neutral side missions, but the latter depends on how good or evil your methods are. Your weighted experience affects your "karma meter," a handy cheat sheet that lets you know at a glance what kind of person you truly are. If you reach the top of the scale, you're a Hero; if you fall to the bottom, you're Infamous.

That's all well and good, but the problems arise when you factor that "weighted" experience into your karmic rank. Not only will a good action not contribute to your character advancement when you're trending evil, but it will actually move you a notch closer to "neutral," the game's weakest state. That means that you pretty much have to decide which path you'll take at the very start of the game. And if you're smart, you'll choose evil.

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