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Infamous Review

Infamous Delivers a Solid Open-World Superhero Experience
by Andrew Reiner on Sep 22, 2009 at 01:59 PM

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Reviewed on PlayStation 3
Publisher Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer Sucker Punch Productions
Rating Teen

Infamous is a coming of age superhero story that takes comic book mastermind Stan Lee's famous Spider-Man line ''with great power there must also come great responsibility'' to heart. Like many of Lee's heroes, developer Sucker Punch has created a naturalistic character in Cole McGrath. He's a likeable young slacker, burdened with the weight of the world on his shoulders. You may not blink an eye at Cole if you saw him walking down the street, but there's enough electricity flowing through his veins to power a city. He has the power to save and the power to kill. Lee dictated how his characters would use their powers. Sucker Punch is leaving this decision up to the player; the power of choice turns Infamous into an ethically charged thriller that asks, ''at what length will you go to obtain power?''

Almost every mission in Infamous can be completed using either a good or evil approach. This morality system isn't as black and white as it sounds. Cole's evolution in power is tied to the decisions he makes. If Cole is good of heart, his lightning bolt strike restores his health. If he is evil, this same attack creates an electric explosion that can harm enemies or even civilians. The variance between the two sets of powers creates two distinct ways of playing the game: Evil brings power and destruction, whereas good brings protection and precision.

This system is flawlessly intertwined with Infamous' framework. Given how you exchange experience points for powers, Cole is continually gaining new abilities throughout the course of the adventure, making for a great sense of progression. Temptation is also a driving force. To unlock arc lightning, a power awarded only to evil players, Cole just has to dabble in the dark ways by completing five evil side missions. Five little evil acts won't tarnish a soul, right?

Cole's position in the world is fully explored within the story and mission objectives. Most plot threads resonate well, and many of the choices I had to make made me pause for a few seconds to think about how they could possibly alter the path ahead. Other decisions don't carry much weight, but help emphasize your morality. Do you let starving people raid your food supply, or do you send an electrical charge through one of them to scare off the herd? If only all of the choices were this easy to make. Sucker Punch isn't afraid to throw world-shattering Sophie's Choice style moments at the player. The plot makes some disturbing turns, and a lot of the story development is dependent on the player's input.

The narrative forms a fascinating superhero/villain origin story, but some of the plot threads are left dangling. Zeke, who is basically Cole's wingman, delivers a hilarious performance until a confusing plot point ruins his role three quarters of the way through the game. Both endings deliver a clever twist that I didn't see coming, but both seem to think about a sequel more than they do finishing the story for the good or evil path. Moreover, I don't see how the good ending justifies Cole's actions.

Regardless of digestible plot points, Infamous offers a satisfying gameplay package. The open world, which stretches across three metropolitan islands, is the perfect playground for a parkour-influenced character, who can scamper up buildings, slide across power lines, and glide over rooftops. The speed and ease to which you can scale a building is remarkable, even with Cole's animations appearing a little too bouncy for certain actions. This is how Assassin's Creed's Altair would climb a building after slamming 10 cans of Red Bull. Granted, the game cheats a bit by pulling Cole toward objects he is jumping toward, but knowing that the game has your back allows you to be overly daring in your vertical platforming. Like the Xbox 360 game Crackdown, Infamous' finely honed parkour makes the daunting side activity of collecting orbs fun.

Combat is equally as enjoyable. Launching lightning at attackers has a satisfying Sith-like quality to it. Other actions, like sniping and grenade tossing, are backed by solid targeting systems. Many of the battles bring massive destruction, and the swarms of enemies that ambush you or lay in wait push you to use the environment for strategic positioning. The end result is a nice balance between run-and-gun action and fleet-footed platforming.

Infamous empowers you with a god-like stance over a corrupted world, and lets you dictate how you lord over it. Will you be a hero of the people, or will you be their reaper? From the moment I made my first choice, I knew I had to play this game twice to see how the other decision played out. When the gameplay is this entertaining, that's a welcome invitation.

Play the role of hero or villain in a super-powered sandbox
The city's color palette is a little bland, but contrasts nicely against the vibrant electrical effects
Solid voice acting, although Cole's coarse whisper doesn't fit the character. The avant-garde industrial soundtrack isn't what you'd expect either, but fits perfectly
Intuitive controls facilitate the city navigation and electrical combat
Worth playing through twice to see how good and evil powers develop

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