Sunday, June 7, 2009


I haven't quite finished inFAMOUS yet. I've got one or two story missions left. But that doesn't matter. Short of Sucker Punch Productions arriving at my door and delivering a real sucker punch, there's nothing they could possibly do at this point that would ruin this game. Besides, I have the utmost confidence that they'll deliver a most satisfying ending. [Since writing the draft of this review, I have finished it, and the ending is most satisfying.]

You see, inFAMOUS is completely competent, polished, and playable in every way. There is no part of the game, from plot to platforming, that I do not feel was executed nearly without flaw. Sucker Punch missed no nuance of design, nor included a single bogus feature.

Let's start with the writing. I haven't seen better in this generation. For the first time in a very long time, I actually give a shit about the characters. I completely empathize with the player character, Cole MacGrath. I like the love interest. I could be friends with the best friend character. I totally buy the spooks and the cops and the government response and the quarantine. The betrayals hurt. At no point does the story ring untrue. At no point do I want to murder my allies.

As a game that makes a big deal of the Good vs. Evil karma mechanic, I really appreciate the nuance of the choices in inFAMOUS. While many of the choices are first grade ethics, others are not so clear cut.

For instance, in the beginning of the game, you're publicly accused of setting off the bomb that destroys New YorkEmpire City. As a result, the people of the city throw rocks and bottles at you, curse your name, tell you to clear out. After the first couple of rocks, I really wanted to murder the peons. I wanted to lay waste to them not to witness the destruction (as in GTA:IV), but because I was genuinely angry at them.

The gameplay of missions that make up the story is equally excellent. The missions are all different, with everything from infiltration to defense against onslaughts. Interspersed with missions in the city proper are a number of missions that take place in the sewers as you restore electricity to various portions of the city. These missions serve as short indoor platformer levels, and are some of the most fun in the game. They're also the levels in which you're granted new powers.

As you restore power to each area of the city, you unlock new powers. These powers can then be upgraded with XP (or, in the case of one power, by completing karma-aligned side quests). Surprisingly, not one of these powers is a dud. I wind up using all of them pretty regularly, although some quickly become mainstays.

My only real complaint about Cole's powers is that the basic lightning doesn't really look or behave like lightning. Instead of a continuous arc, each press of the button releases a split-second zap of electricity. The zap behaves more like a laser than a bolt of electricity, striking the precise point at which you're aiming and appearing as nothing more than a momentary blue flash. It actually has lightning graphics, but due to the camera angle, you see almost never see anything but the flash. It's boring, but it doesn't suck, so you'll use it constantly--to the detriment of your trigger finger's health, by the way.

Cole's other main ability, besides electricity, is to climb anything. In fact, the only viable tactic when fighting more than a couple of baddies is to seek the high ground. A cluster of gangbangers will tear you apart at close range, but they're easy pickings if you sit on top of a building and rain lightning down on them like Zeus.

One side effect of the climb anything mechanic is that building models have an unprecedented level of detail. Details that would be baked into the texture in any other game, such as window sashes and seams between cinder blocks, are actually modeled as part of the mesh. It's all of this detail that lets Cole grab onto the side of a building and scale it without looking like Spider-Man.

Sucker Punch has also provided Empire City with a liberal sprinkling of high-tension power lines. These make convenient walkways between distant buildings at the beginning of the game. Shortly into the game, however, Cole gains the ability to grind along them at a terrific clip. Since it's so easy to get between buildings, traveling the rooftops of Empire City is quite fluid and fun.

One of my few minor complaints about inFAMOUS, however, comes from the platforming mechanics. So as to make the running the rooftops a viable means of locomotion, Sucker Punch added a sort of assistance to your landings. So, if you're trying to make a jump, and you're going to miss by inches, the game will subtly alter your trajectory so that you don't miss it. It starts this process just as soon as figures out what you might be jumping for, so the result is usually just that things feel natural and you look like a total badass.

Except when multiple grab points are close at hand. Say you want to jump off a building and fall straight down to the sidewalk. You can't. Unless you jump several feet away from the building, Cole will catch every ledge and cranny on the way down. Want to jump past a cable to the open bed of a truck? Make sure you're at least three feet from the cable, not looking at it, and don't push the stick toward it at all. And pray.

While the graphics aren't stunning overall, the lighting is. Sucker Punch went with a deferred shading rendering model, which lets them light the entire game dynamically. This is utterly vital in producing convincing lightning effects. Your lightning bolts flash bright blue as they arc across the room, casting crackly, fuzzy shadows from everything. Frequently in the sewer levels, the only light will be the crackling arcs of electricity around Cole's hands. These cast the best shadows I've ever seen in a game.

Despite its lack of defects, inFAMOUS is not a particularly original game. Cole electrical powers are exactly the electrical powers you'd think of--I actually bet you can guess all of his offensive powers right now. The major plot elements are bland: terrorist attack, biological warfare. The world design is obvious, with separate islands, each controlled by its own gang. The enemies are boring gang members in campy uniforms, and they only have maybe three or four types of weapons between them.

But the point isn't that inFAMOUS is groundbreaking in its ambition. What makes inFAMOUS great is that it succeeds perfectly at everything it does attempt.

If you have a PS3, and even the slightest bit of mature taste, you'll go buy inFAMOUS right fucking now.

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