'Infamous' is one of those games that lives up to its hype in more ways than one. Its combat system is wholly unique among games, relying on non-conventional weapons instead of traditional firearms. The ability to wield electricity in many creative and useful ways is just one of the highlights of the game. When coupled with 'Grand Theft Auto'-style open world gameplay and a solid moral pendulum, 'Infamous' is as much about freedom of choice as action and adventure.
The game opens with Cole MacGrath awakening from a blinding explosion that kills thousands in the blink of an eye, and leaves the rest of Empire City a complete disaster. The government has quarantined the city and falsified media reports in an effort to contain the true threat: an organization called the First Sons who have completed a device called the RaySphere which is capable of granting a normal human being immense and unnatural powers. Cole finds that he has the ability to absorb electricity straight into his body, and harness it as a means of attack. His body is also granted superhuman abilities, allowing him to leap off of skyscrapers without harming himself. Cole soon learns that a man named Kessler has been orchestrating events from behind the scenes in an attempt to draw him out and force a confrontation. Cole must learn Kessler's true motives while staying one step ahead of city gangs and the F.B.I., while perfecting his growing powers.
'Infamous' is largely a non-linear affair. In between main missions, Cole can undertake side missions which will not only grant him the experience points necessary to unlock new powers, but also wrest control of the city's 3 main districts from their dominant gangs. This is a vital aspect of the game, as it will force the player to choose between Good or Evil actions which will directly affect Cole's physical appearance and progression, as well as his reputation among the city's residents. A noble and compassionate player will be admired and loved by civilians, while an evil and selfish Cole may be attacked out of hatred and fear. Cole himself does not rely on firearms or melee weapons, but rather the electricity generated from his own body. Long-time action fans may find this a bit jarring at first, but the patient player will grow to greatly admire this sense of independent weaponry which allows Cole to fire lightning bolts from his hands, toss exploding shock grenades, generate energy shields and even use electric currents to hover in mid-air. Similarly, Cole can upgrade said abilities to grind along telephone wires, cables, and electrified train tracks, as well as heal injured civilians, restrain evil foes with energy binders, or suck the life out of either. There's a great freedom of character progression in the game, and each player will utilize his or her specific set of preferred abilities to get the job done. That being said, most combat takes place within city limits and with innocent civilians caught in the crossfire. Depending on the player's particular style, one can either exercise caution so as not to strike and possibly kill these innocents, or simply fire away full barrel without caring who gets hurt. Even these battles can have a direct impact on Cole's morality. Experience points can be generated in numerous ways, from finishing missions that give gigantic XP bonuses, to simply healing people on the street for incremental XP points.
The storyline is a bit of a mixed bag, and a little hard to follow, especially in the middle. Major foes like Sasha and Alden come out of nowhere, with no real explanation as to how Cole knows them or their particular histories. They merely serve as the "bosses" of the first two districts, leaving Kessler as the third and final boss, and the only one who truly matters. Nevertheless, each of the three bosses must be dispatched using very particular methods, and none of them are even remotely alike. By contrast, the Reapers, Dustmen and First Sons enemies who populate each of the three districts are all the same, relying on rifles, grenades and rocket launchers to try and take you down. The First Sons do have a few tricks up their sleeve, but the player won't notice a strong degree of differentiation here. This also goes for the side missions, which are recycled several times throughout the course of the game. I would have enjoyed it more if some degree of imagination had been put into the missions, rather than sending me on pointless errands to rid apartment buildings of surveillance cameras or some other overused concept. By contrast, the game's challenges are rewards in and of themselves. There are several things to do that maintain the game's longevity and replay value. Cole can treasure hunt around Empire City for blast shards which not only unlock more energy slots, but also grant two trophies, and the player can also seek out "dead drops," which are information relays scattered about the city which contain audio recordings of an undercover agent's infiltration into Kessler's secretive First Sons. There are also stunts that can be performed which serve mainly as bragging rights (and another trophy) that involve specific criteria to unlock, such as striking an opponent with a lightning bolt while in mid-air, then thunder-dropping onto the same enemy in one smooth motion.
Controls are surprisingly intuitive and appreciated. Navigating Cole is a very easy affair, as are performing any of his attacks by utilizing simple button combinations. The default analog stick strength is quite high, so more precise players will no doubt tune it down for finer adjustment during aiming. There is some awkwardness with controls, especially when trying to jump and perform attacks at the same time. Careful timing is needed. The game's jumping and grappling system is well done, but can become burdensome and irritating in the middle of a firefight. The game will naturally align Cole to whatever object is close by while in mid-jump. Although meant as an aid to prevent frustrating falls and make it easier for the player to use the environment to their advantage, it can truly screw up a combat situation when the player wishes to leap from one platform to the other and ends up grabbing onto something completely different, instead. I praise Sucker Punch for going down the route of convenience, but it does have its costs. The game's implementation of enemy NPCs can also be irritating. Enemies populate by quick-spawning, sometimes right before the player's eyes, and can attack from all directions. Even with the use of the shield in the latter part of the game, Cole can find himself overwhelmed with rifle shots that he doesn't have time to find cover against. More often than not, the player will be forced to run down a narrow alleyway and wait for said foes to start funneling down the line to be cooked one by one. Thankfully, most fights are not so cheap, and allow Cole to really unleash some stylish combos and attack patterns.
Graphics are also a mixed bag. Empire City is well-thought out, but it can all look a bit plain and repetitive sometimes. Each of the three districts contains the usual train track, dock area and park locations that are varied up for a bit of difference. Character models are decent, but the real flash is in pryotechnics like Cole's bio-weaponry, car explosions and other bright effects. There's a slight degree of pop-up and a lot of framerate issues, but thankfully neither of these really hamper the gameplay. The game's cutscenes are told via animated comic book panels which add a layer of depth and style onto the already intriguing story. All in all, a great effort, but something that Infamous 2 would easily top. Sound and music are fine, but nothing substantial. Most players won't even notice the music, while sound effects sound very inspired and dynamic. Cole's electricity crackles and surges with each shot, explosions sound intense, and the 5.1 mix rumbles with precise clarity.
What I liked about 'Infamous' was the focus on freedom to tackle situations any way you want, and scour the city for extras even after the game is over. I played through the game twice; the first as a benevolent, compassionate hero who stopped to heal everyone who needed my help, and second as a miserable, selfish, brutally evil bastard. I didn't notice a huge difference in the unveiling of the story between the two. The biggest contrast between the two lies in Cole's relationship with girlfriend Trish, and the end result of beating Kessler in the final act. The only other noticeable area of difference was in regards to the Good and Evil side missions. There are 15 for each side, and accomplishing a Good mission will lock out an Evil mission and vice versa. In the end though, it's roughly the same play through.
'Infamous' deserves points for putting a new spin on a well-tread genre. It's original, smart, creative, and a lot of fun to play. It has its blemishes, but they're largely the result of taking on so much in an attempt to be different. I can't fault Sucker Punch for that. I've played 'Infamous' quite a lot, and I'm still not tired of it.
REPLAY VALUE: 10/10