Imagine being charged with electricity. No more trips to the neighborhood pool without a shock, but what about taking a whiz? Could you even safely date anymore? While Infamous doesn't answer my ridiculous questions (because no one really should), it does put the player into a morally ambiguous role. How would you deal with these new powers, and would they be too much to contain? Could you deal with the aggrivation, or would you follow a much darker path? Early this year I reviewed Spider-Man: Web of Shadows. It was a failed attempt to push Spidey in new directions offering the same dilemma: fight or flight, help or hindrance? Though WoS suffered from too many issues to make it worth recommending, better answers are offered to these questions in the recent PlayStation 3 exclusive Infamous. This open-world adventure shines mainly due to its pacing, beautifully rendered comic-book style cut-scenes, and the carefully rationed reveal of new powers. The implementation of Karma moments pretty much ensure that if you liked playing through the game once, you'll go a second time to see how the other half lives.
It may not be as visceral as Prototype, but as a complete gaming experience it's superbly crafted.
As the upstart superhero Cole, your world is a strange one. You actually delivered the bomb that ravaged Empire City, and were granted powers over electricity as a result. From that point on, it's up to you. Do you save the medical clinic or those hostages? Do you worry about the poisoned water supply? Do you even care about those hulking enemies mowing down police? I chose to follow the good path, and it was a tough ride. As Cole's powers develop, and man do they get beastly, you'll have to worry about friendly fire. Lobbing a shock grenade into a crowd of enemies will ensure their quick demise, but it may hurt your Karma meter. Depending on your alliance, different powers become available (others are based on earned experience points). While this sort of story progression, karma, staged power implementation, and the open-world format are nothing new, they're combined in a skillful manner that's easy to understand. I lamented the short jump distance, only to later unlock the ability to hover. Controls are intuitive and precise. Initially, you're rather limited, but as the story progresses you'll develop a varied arsenal.
Unfortunately, like other open-world games the side missions are quite repetitive. Escort prisoners to a police station, defuse bombs on a building, tail the enemy to find where they hide a package, and so on. These are important if you want to earn the overload power that requires completion of specific good missions (on the good playthrough of course) or more experience points, but speed runners can just skip most of them and go for the main ones that usually involve heading to the sewers to restore power, defeating a boss, or doing some other deed to save the city (or wreck it as evil Cole). Keeping Cole from his cause are a number of annoyances. Why can enemies snipe you from so far away with pinpoint accuracy, yet you have to be in their faces to even hit them? And why does he take damage like a hemophiliac? Even with defense maxed out, Cole gets killed rather quickly. Wouldn't his electricity be able to disintegrate projectiles coming at him? How about that jump stickiness? It's great that his jump auto-tracks on skinny wires and other tricky jumps, but it's not so great that there's no ability to quick fall. Everything Cole can stick will be stuck to. Not helpful when trying to run away from a hail of bullets while on the side of a building.
Of course, there's the typical open-world glitches. Enemies get stuck in buildings, sometimes during missions to force a restart. I've also had my healing ability glitch numerous times. To earn good Karma and quick experience, you can heal civilians laying about the city. Sometimes Cole with seize up and twitch for a few seconds instead of bending over and healing. You'll randomly see spazzing citizens as well. The worst glitch I encountered was a frozen black screen after hitting an enemy with a grenade at close range. Though even with these bugs, Infamous remains a truly amazing experience. You become immersed in Cole's adventure as the city develops a life of its own. Passerbys will make comments, take pictures, help you take out enemies, and interact with each other. But open-world games aren't quite there yet. They are stil far too linear and, in the case of Infamous, not truly "open." Cole only has access to the parts of the city he's allowed to at any given part of the story. A better idea might have been to amp up enemy difficulty in restricted areas to discourage wandering off course (or encourage it for those of us who like punishment), or having missions be discovered instead of automatically placed on the map. These are minor grievances though.
The thing about Infamous is that is starts out rather average, yet it quickly grows on you. It may not be as visceral as Prototype, but as a complete gaming experience it's superbly crafted. If you own a PlayStation 3, then do yourself a favor and pick this one up. There aren't too many exclusives that can help sell the system, but along with Metal Gear Solid 4 and Valkyria Chronicles (and special mention for Disgaea 3 and Cross Edge), this is yet another reason to own Sony's underdog.