If you’re like me, the name Sucker Punch conjures up a lot of good memories. The developer is responsible for both Rocket: Robot on Wheels (an underappreciated gem) and the Sly Cooper series (three gems that did get the appreciation they deserved); the influence of the latter, in addition to modern-day comic books, can definitely be felt in inFamous.
As is typical of origin stories, Cole MacGrath gets his powers from a freak accident; some friends accept him, others abandon him, and he has to figure out where he belongs in his new world—and who to trust. The game takes place entirely in the three distinct sections of Empire City, the fictional city that was ravaged by the bomb that gave Cole his ability to generate and control electricity. Though two of the sections have to be unlocked by progressing through the story, each section is large enough and has enough to do that I never felt limited. Navigating these large environments is also very easy and satisfying. Much like Sly Cooper, Cole can scale pretty much any surface he sees and run (and eventually grind) along electrical wires and train tracks; later in the game, he’ll get the ability to glide through the air, which means Cole will almost never need to go down to street level to travel.
Come fly the not-so-friendly skies.
An hour into the game, you’ll likely realize how important it is to have the high ground. In a superhero game, you expect to get awe-inspiring powers that—with proper use—can easily obliterate your enemies. inFamous certainly delivers that. What I didn’t expect was how vulnerable I feel when I don’t have a tactical advantage. I played through the entire game on both Hard and Easy, and the enemies weren’t slouches on either difficulty. inFamous will punish you quickly and repeatedly for running headlong into a group of enemies; the only way to get through the game without throwing your controller into wall is to find a defensible position and use every one of Cole’s powers to its maximum efficiency to safely whittle away the enemy’s numbers. That said, the game is not unfair. Challenging, certainly, but I can only remember two instances (out of many, many battles) where I thought the situation was a bit ridiculous. As long as you can resist your urge to act like the Incredible Hulk, you’ll come out victorious.
By the time you get this shield power-up, you'll have taken so much punishment that you'll probably leap off your coach in excitement upon using it for the first time.
Or maybe I'm just really emotional.
Since we’re on the subject of powers, I should note that all of them are a blast to use and serve unique functions. For instance, Lightning Bolt is Cole’s “default” attack power that’s a good (if not always optimal) choice for every situation; the Shockwave will rarely be a finishing blow, but it’s great for taking groups enemies out of combat for a few seconds; Shock Grenades are, of course, nice for taking a chunk out of several enemies (or at least forcing them to scatter and go on the defensive); and Precision is perfect for starting a surprise attack or taking out opponents that are behind cover. The major powers (like the first three I mentioned) even have two separate upgrade paths that enforce a clear difference in combat styles between the two morality paths.
Yes, calling lightning from the sky feels just as badass as you'd expect it to.
Ah, yes, the morality paths. Good Karma is gained by choosing the selfless options, and the power upgrades emphasize precision and a balance of offense and defense. Bad Karma is gained by choosing the selfish options, and the power upgrades emphasize as much destruction as possible—typically by adding an increasing number of explosions to everything. The whole thing is hilariously black and white. Will you share the food equally or take it all for yourself? Will you reason with a man who’s reluctant to help you or shock him to death? If these choices had any sort of lasting ramifications, then there might be a reason to take them seriously. Unfortunately, the story is very linear, so the end result of either option is always exactly the same. The “choices” are little more than a thinly disguised plea to replay the game, since it’s basically impossible (unless you REALLY like grinding for experience) to get all of the powers in one playthrough. It doesn’t help that the story itself has plenty of laughably over-the-top moments (militant hobos controlling garbage golems, for instance) and the characters are stereotypes with little—if any—depth. Even if the moral choices were nuanced and well-written, the world is so difficult to take seriously that I’d still have trouble caring about the consequences of my actions.
You thought I was kidding about the hobo-golem, didn't you?
At its core, inFamous is a superhero story reminiscent of modern-day Marvel and DC comics, with all the good and bad elements that comparison implies. I don’t read Green Lantern to experience deep, thought-provoking narrative. I read it because I like seeing extraordinary people doing extraordinary things; as long as the story keeps introducing new extraordinary things for these people to do, I honestly don’t care how goofy it is. inFamous stars an extraordinary person, and it certainly allows you to do extraordinary things, but tries a little too hard to put the focus on the goofy story. Make no mistake, inFamous is an incredibly entertaining game that I played twice not because I felt obligated to for this review, but because I wanted to. You just shouldn’t expect it to be the next Watchmen.