A superhero's power is his defining feature. Wolverine can regenerate, Superman can fly, Bruce Banner becomes The Hulk, and Dr Manhattan can engage in threesomes whilst solving the riddle of fuel-free power. Their powers define their lives, their struggles, and the villians they'll inevitably encounter. In Infamous, Cole McGrath was once but a lowly bike courier, but when a mysterious explosion, set off by a package he was delivering, levels Empire City, unleashing an army of bandits and freaks, Cole somehow inherits the ability to harness electricity.
With coils of electricity crackling along his fingertips, Cole has a choice. Should he rescue Empire City from the turmoil of gang-warfare and villainous freaks vying for control, in the process becoming a poster-boy for superpowered individuals? Or should he rid Empire City of competition, sacrificing innocents in the struggle in pursuit of ever greater power? In Infamous, the choice is yours.
When Cole is blamed for the destruction of Empire City, he and his best friend, Zeke, flee, only to be apprehended by the FBI. Agent Moya, whose husband and fellow agent John, disappeared before the blast, tasks Cole with finding him and uncovering the mystery of the 'Ray Sphere'. To do so, Cole must defeat the violent and well-armed gangs plaguing Pacific City, and face certain superpowered individuals plucking the proverbial strings.
What sets Infamous apart from a linear superhero story is the concept of 'choice', injected into pivotal moments of the story. Early on, the recently quarantined Empire City receives a vital food-drop, and nearby residents, including Cole, Zeke and girlfriend Trish, descend on the scene to salvage what they can. Only the food-drop is tangled in the lofty arms of an Empire City monument. Cole, so agile he'd turn Nathan Drake green with envy, ascends the monument and severs the food-drop to the churning crowd below.
Here, Cole is presented with a choice. Share the food-drop's precious cargo with the residents of Empire City by protecting them from the oncoming and very hungry bandits? Or defeat the bandits, but claim the food-drop for yourself and Zeke? Such choices litter the story of Infamous, and provide points to your morality meter, which can either veer towards the good or bad ends of the spectrum. Rescuing civilians set upon by bandits rewards your morality meter, whilst reckless violence at the cost of civilian lives depletes it. A 'good' Cole crackles with white-hot electricity, whilst a 'bad' Cole smolders with bristling red barbs of lightning.
Infamous is a joy to play. In the beginning, Cole is rather weak, able only to shoot bolts from his hands and drain power from electrical devices, like cars or generators. But as the game progresses, Cole grows stronger and stronger. He develops the ability to unleash powerful shock-waves, or hurl explosive globs of electricity. He can even summon a bolt of lightning from the troubled skies. For the majority of the game, you're forced to deal with troops of gun-toting mercenaries, but now and again you'll encounter superpowered lieutenants or even towering giants formed from trash and scrap-metal.
His superpowers also bolster his traversal abilities, too. Cole is capable of climbing entire buildings in Crackdown fashion, but unlike the Agent of Microsoft's console, he can't leap entire buildings in a single bound. Instead, the latticework of power-cables, telephone wires and train-tracks strung across Empire City act as an impromptu means of travel, as Cole grinds across the chasm between buildings. He can even glide for brief periods of time when airborne, extending your jump range. Cole has a wonderfully 'sticky' feel as you jumps from ledge to ledge, girder to girder, so you're never too afraid to risk a death-defying leap.
While it's not so much a problem as it is a disappointment, the abilities Cole develops throughout the game never truly surprise you. His standard ability to shoot bolts of electricity is essentially a pistol, the shock-wave a shotgun, shock-rocket an RPG, and even the lightning-bolt is just an air strike. While the execution is solid and spectacular to witness, it's a shame developers Sucker Punch didn't explore any truly superhuman avenues of destruction.
Cole McGrath, Superhero
No aspect of Infamous is more indebted to the realms of Marvel and DC than its cut-scenes. Instead of traditional cinemas, pivotal scenes are instead related via comic-book panels, stylised with motion and crackling effects. It's very impressive, the art grubby but detailed, and it helps elevate the uninspired story and dialogue from simple exposition to an anticipated event.
Like a lot of new IPs, Infamous feels like a promising beginning to what could be something special. It reminds me of Assassin's Creed, in that its promise and initial appeal is so strong it resonates throughout the experience, despite the waning quality and lack of variety. Cole isn't a particularly compelling character, but as a gameplay device he's wonderful to control and interact with. Alongside Crackdown, it's the best example of a translating the superhero genre onto consoles. If only Cole could repair his scorched voice-box and fix that gravelly monologue of his.
- An open-world sandbox to muck around in
- Great visuals and animation
- Rewarding combat and climbing mechanics
- Real-time cutscenes are stiff and lifeless
- Boss-fights are underwhelming
- Boring to constantly fight standard soldiers
The Short Version: Infamous is a great game simply brimming with potential that often overflows into wonderful combat encounters, the tactile and responsive climbing mechanics, and the well-designed and thought out sandbox of Empire City. However, the overall game lacks a sense of polish, from the bad cutscenes to the gradually boring layout of missions and progression. But if you're in the mood for some open-world fun with an electrically-charged superhero (or villain), then Infamous is just for you.