I’ve been struggling to write this for awhile now. It’s very easy to talk about something that’s bad; the bile flows easily from my mind and into text, and soon I have an over abundance of complaining to work with (see: Bionic Commando). When confronted by a truly good game — one where the enjoyment is mainly derived from actually playing it — I’m kinda at a loss as to how I should discuss it.
So I’ll try to keep this short, simple, and electric pun-free.
inFAMOUS literally starts off with a bang: after hitting start on the unassuming title screen, the blast that sets the games’ events in motion immediately occurs. It’s a novel way to start things off, and it does a good job of getting you right into the thick of things and interested in what’s going on — even if you didn’t know a whole lot about the game before starting. You play as Cole, a bike messenger before the blast, and after walking out of the blast crater you learn of your newly gained power over electricity. What follows is a rather substantial trek through the now quarantined city as you assist the citizens (or not), tap into the city’s power grid to unlock new abilities, and generally wreck up the place (even if you’re good!) — all the while searching for the ‘Ray Sphere’, which is what got you into this situation to begin with.
While having control over electricity may initially seem somewhat limiting in the variety of attacks available, there is a steady progression of unique abilities — both utility and combat — to unlock as you play, as well as both a good-only and evil-only power. In addition, the secondary effects of many of the powers differ depending on whether you play as good or evil: Good powers generally have more precision, keep enemies aloft longer, and conserve energy; Evil powers are all about excessive firepower, adding additional collateral damage, and the like.
Speaking of Good and Evil, there are many “morality” moments in the game. Don’t fool yourself into thinking these are deep choices that will have you second guessing your decisions; they merely boil down to being a decent human being or King Douche of Douchelldorf. The evil choices are always intentionally excessive or over the top, and really, why shouldn’t they be? They’re simply there to help fast-track you to Hero or Infamous status, and nothing more. However, the game does do a good job of making you feel bad when you pick the evil choices, and rightly so (you fucking jerk). I would go a bit more in depth about how morality systems just do not work in games (as we currently know them), but that’s probably better suited for somewhere else and by someone smarter than myself.
The game is challenging, but not frustratingly so — something many of the games I’ve recently played fail to understand. Checkpoints come often and death is usually a mere inconvenience; you get to keep any XP or Blast Shards you got before you died. Any time you feel stuck, approaching the situation from a different angle or changing up your attacks will get you through. Epic sized battles that seem difficult early on become a veritable ballet of destruction that is both entertaining to watch and fun to play once you’ve gotten the hang of the powers available to you. Jumping and climbing has also been simplified to remove any of the frustrations that usually come with platforming. The game has a ‘sticky’ effect when jumping to objects, similar to how the Sly games handled, and even prevents you from having to start from the bottom when falling from certain high places during a couple missions by popping you back to the nearest checkpoint. Overall, the game feels like it was made for the kind of players that don’t like to feel restricted: you can abandon missions at any point while keeping all the XP you got during it (!) and the game regularly (and invisibly!) auto-saves, for all those people who don’t always have time to wait around for the next checkpoint.
Similarly refreshing is the varied encounters throughout the game. There are 3 different groups you’ll fight, each with a variety of enemy types. Conduits — enemies that also gained powers from the Ray Sphere — are also present in these groups, giving you a super-powered opponent to tangle with from time to time. While not on a mission, random encounters can occur pretty much anywhere, which range from ambushes in alleyways to brawls between two of the groups in the streets. This means you merely have to walk in a direction and you’ll find something to do; something other open world games don’t do enough of.
Rounding out the overall experience is a very good soundtrack that non other than Amon Tobin worked on. Tobin previously worked on one of my favorite game soundtracks ever (Chaos Theory), and his unique style fits well here.
There’s a saying: “Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” Whether or not they intended it, I feel that Sucker Punch — creators of the vastly under appreciated Sly Cooper series — have managed to make a game that embodies this with inFAMOUS. Even the story of the game seems to allude to this; regardless of whether you’re a Hero or Infamous, you’ve still got a difficult road ahead of you.
But hey, the journey was so good that I experienced it 3 times. And thats probably the highest praise I can give.