Monday, June 6, 2011

Infamous - A Strong Start For Sucker Punch's Newest IP

After the launch of the PlayStation 3, Sucker Punch, Naughty Dog, and Insomniac began developing more mature titles. 2009 saw the release of Infamous (written as inFAMOUS) from Sucker Punch. It contrasted from their popular Sly Cooper series of games in that it was an open world game and went more for a comic book motif. This new IP proved to be popular, spawning a sequel scheduled for release tomorrow. That said, Infamous is a fun game, no matter how many times it has been played.

The story is centered on a courier named Cole MacGrath, who gets caught in a mysterious explosion within Empire City. He manages to survive the blast, collapsing from various electrocutions. With time, he recovers, discovering that he has now obtained the ability to control electricity. He gets used to his powers, and at first uses them to solve common problems. However, within two weeks, he becomes a part of a grand scheme involving the quarantined Empire City as well as a device known as the Ray Sphere, which gave him his powers. As the story goes on, everyone Cole knows gets involved one way or another, changing his life forever.

The story's execution sounds purposefully comic book-like, which means that it has done its job well. The game's relatively small cast of characters is fleshed out pretty well, with some unexpected twists in the first playthrough of the game. Alliances are formed and broken, friendships are tested, and Cole must learn to cope with the sudden changes occurring around him. It is actually possible to become emotionally invested in the characters, making the bigger twists that much more surprising and dramatic. For a comic book brand of story, it pulls it off with a large degree of success. In a way, it feels like an interactive comic book, which is a nice change of pace.

The three islands of Empire City can be traversed in a few different ways, all of them integrated perfectly into the game. When not running on the ground, Cole can grind on power lines connecting buildings together or ride the train tracks. If you really need big distance quickly, it is also possible to glide in the air using electricity. Getting through the city to complete the various missions also shows off a small parkour element in the game which handles near flawlessly. However, climbing up the sides of buildings can sometimes be a pain. Since Cole gravitates to the nearest climbable object, he can occasionally be away from the object you really want to continue jumping off of, which can make collecting some objects annoying, but this doesn't happen too often and doesn't really bog down the experience in any significant way.

The main way that Cole gains new powers is by restoring power to parts of the city through underground sub-stations, which also serve as a training ground for each newly acquired skill. All of them function very well, and come in handy shortly after they are introduced, giving the player an incentive to mix things up and rotate through their abilities on the fly for some impressive feats of gaming. Upgrading powers requires XP, which be earned easily by completing missions and defeating enemies. However, some of these upgrades are restricted based on the current state of Cole's Karma meter.

In keeping with a theme of exploring the line between good and evil, Infamous has a Karma system in place, which increases or decreases depending on Cole's actions. While the game does prevent one from taking the side of neutral Karma, some of the choices Cole makes in the game's Karma moments feel more black and white, with no real gray area in between. It is still easy to get over this, as both good and evil sides play differently from each other, with good powers focused on protection and evil powers focused more on destruction. Completing Karma-specific missions also prevents you from completing another side, so you're either going for a positive or negative overall outcome.

Empire City is very large, but with good incentives for exploring the beautifully detailed world. If enough Blast Shards are collected, Cole gains more energy to work with to use his powers, which is always good to have, and Dead Drops can be collected from satellite dishes to offer more insight on the events leading up to the blast at the very beginning of the game. While exploring, there are also some instances of pop-up graphics. While this is actually expected with newer open world games, there are actually some hilarious moments where injured pedestrians seem to disappear off the face of the earth, although it happens rarely. There is also the occasional glitch where the enemies will continue their falling animation and get stuck between two surfaces, or times when enemies are down, but in a frozen falling animation. However, most of these glitches are easily remedied and don't prove to be much of a hindrance.

The performances of the characters are also done well, but the voice acting is just ok. The lines are delivered well, but Cole's voice sounds a bit gravely for a superhero. But like most games, I just rolled with the voices even if they were average. Even with that, the characters are still fleshed out well, which makes up for it a bit.

Sucker Punch has introduced a great new IP exclusively for PlayStation, and it was a blast. It's worth it to play the game twice to see how the different powers work, as well as to see the subtle changes in the cutscenes and how each campaign ends. If you are a PlayStation 3 owner, I would highly recommend a full purchase. It will be interesting to see how the sequel will continue the narrative, as well as carry the character of Cole MacGrath to the point where he can accomplish the enormous task before him.

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