...and superheroes in general
Superhero games will always have a certain allure over many gamers; they give you a chance to experience what it's like to be powerful. That is, what it is to be free. I doubt that Superman ever has to worry about paying his taxes, similarly Spiderman never has to worry about transport and Batman never has to worry about the police turning up on his doorstep to charge him with vigilantism. No, superheroes are above the problems of lesser men. They fly around in the air at breakneck speeds while the rest of us scuttle around on pavements and fields; gazing up in wonderment. But while this is the case there is also the issue of responsibility. Decisions concerning school buses and lunch breaks are replaced by choices that could save, or kill, hundreds of people. Their powers only leave them in a cage of their duties. Then again, there is always the route of the supervillian...
It is these factors that Infamous portrays so beautifully, even emphasising them to the point at which it is Cole's powers that directly prevent him from leaving the city that has been quarantined. The game takes place in a sprawling metropolis known as Empire City that is completely surrounded by water; Cole commands the power of electricity so obviously the two do not mix. It was also a result of the rather explosive way he discovered his powers that the city was blocked off from the rest of the world. So our hero (that is to say you) is left to try and restore order to the city, while trying to find out how, exactly, he obtained his powers.
What Infamous thrives on is its moral choice system. Like any other hero, Cole must make decisions that will affect other peoples' lives. The first example of this is when a food crate is dropped in the city; you are given the choice of letting people share out the food or simply taking it all for yourself. This creates the superhero/ villain divide that I mentioned earlier and will eventually change the way the supporting characters act toward you, the reactions of pedestrians and even your appearance, including the colour of your electrical attacks. The skills you acquire also change in accordance to your karma: the "good" extras include healing yourself when you attack and other useful, defensive things while the "bad" extras help your attacks wreak as much devastation as possible. The more you specialise in one trait, the more powerful your attacks. This, for me, is where the game falls hardest; everything puts you on the path of being completely good or completely evil for fear of missing out on the best attacks. What if I want Cole to be a good man but fall to weakness every once in a while for love? No more 7-in-one rockets for me. It renders the whole moral choice aspect useless as after a while you make decisions based on what your character would do, not what you would do.
However, Infamous is the only game that I've played which completely rewards you for being super-evil. There is one particular choice that will leave you at least twice as powerful than before with black lightning, though this new found power is at the expense of many lives. So why would you not choose to do this? Well the game actually makes you feel guilty for your actions, be it from the pedestrians' wails as you come near or by the reactions of the supporting characters, most notably your (ex)girlfriend Trisha. Do you choose complete power or do you choose moral fulfilment? Most will go for the latter.
One thing that I do love is the open map that is Empire City. Admittedly, parts are closed off at the beginning of the game but Infamous hardly ever resorts to tight corridors and invisible walls. All combat is done in the open and you are free to run across the rooftops whenever you please. The freerunning itself in this game is fluid and enjoyable, especially when you acquire the ability to speed along cables and glide. It is perfectly possible to grind along a wire between buildings and glide over the building before landing on the next wire, without losing any momentum. The intense speed that you can achieve does make it quite challenging at times but it also makes it rewarding. When you pull it off you feel as though you are unstoppable. You feel as if you are a superhero, one that is frustratingly close to being able to fly.
To further enclose you in your new superhero persona, Infamous incorporates and experience point system where you use the points gained by killing people and doing cool stuff to upgrade your powers. This means you get to see Cole rise from a simple courier to someone more akin to Zeus. What's more is that you unlock completely new powers as you restore electricity to the rest of Empire City; powers like electro-rockets and shields. The only problem with these powers is that, while they are definitely numerous, they are mostly re-imaginings of real-world weapon archetypes like the electric-grenade. It doesn't necessarily detract from the game at all but the combat is noticeably repetitive after a while; you get comfortable with one playstyle and a few powers. Personally I always spammed the grenades and the normal attack, but I pushed enemies of buildings when need be. The special attacks come at a price however, Cole is more akin to a battery than a human generator so he has to recharge after a long fight. This can be done from generators, street lights or by absorbing the life force from fallen enemies, or even civilians if you're so inclined.
The graphics in this game, as with all PS3 exclusives, are utterly gorgeous. Light shines through gaps in the concrete forest and electricity dances around chain-link fences like moths to a light. The rest of the electric effects are, of course, equally as pretty since electricity is the game's focus. The script and voice acting are also done quite well although many have accused Cole's voice of being too gravely and I would have to agree. However, I think the voice actor does an amazing job of encompassing emotion within Cole's growls, which is more than I can say for Christian Bale's Batman.
But what would a superhero be without proper supervillains? And oh my god does Infamous have some amazing bad guys. There are three main "bosses", so to speak; one for each island that makes up Empire City. Each one is refined in their own way and one in particular even makes Heath Ledger's Joker look perfectly sane. Sasha is a crazy, love-fuelled woman who tries to get Cole to love her by using her power over tar-like toxins. When Cole is in contact with the stuff he hallucinates, is weakened and can hear her talking to him. It makes for a very disturbing yet ultimately fun experience which is unlike any game I have yet to come across.
Infamous does a rather interesting thing when it comes to the majority of its cutscenes. It sticks to the superhero roots by presenting them as animated comic strips; like a slide show of .gif images. They are extraordinarily well done and really draw you in to the world of Empire City along with perfectly simulating a comic book.
This game shines so brightly because it perfectly encompasses what it would be like to be a real-world superhero. You may command the forces of electricity but at the same time you are most definitely mortal. At the same time you have the freedom to dash across rooftops but it is your decisions that will affect the city's outcome. I would reckomend that any PS3 owner should at least play this game as it is as close to a perfect hero simulator than we are ever likely to see.
Funny story, when Yatzee challenged the developers of Prototype and Infamous to draw images of each others' protagonists in women's lingerie they both accepted. Apparently Sucker Punch (Infamous) won.
As usual any comments concerning the review or the subject are appreciated. Do you think there's a superhero game that's done it better?
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