Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Sucker Punch
Release date: Available now
A trend has begun to rear its ugly head in the gaming world. Some developers have heard your cries about games being too short and have responded with stories that reach completion lengths previously only seen in Final Fantasy games. The real key is to make the gameplay interesting and involving enough to make you want to invest the considerable time and energy required to reach the end. Developer Sucker Punch has succeeded in this regard with inFamous, a multilayered thrill ride that pushes all of the right buttons.
You play as Cole, a socially invisible bicycle messenger whose most recent package explodes in his hands, a detonation so devastating that all of Empire City is quarantined. Cole miraculously survives despite being at Ground Zero, and discovers that he has acquired strange electrical powers. He can launch balls of energy from his palms, he can travel across power lines and on the third rails of commuter trains, and he can soak up energy from almost any power source. He can also scale the sides of buildings, Spider Man-style, and can survive falls that would kill an average person. With the help of his friend Zeke, Cole can either become Empire City’s hero or scourge, depending on how you want to play him.
At the heart of the story is the Ray Sphere, the device that has given Cole his abilities. It’s an experimental weapon that condenses electricity into a single source, which can then be directed at will by the user. An FBI agent named Moya recruits Cole to help her find the sphere and the evil genius who invented it. Your task is to work your way around the three islands that comprise Empire City, restoring electrical power and, in the process, unlocking more abilities to use against the city’s increasingly dangerous enemies.
inFamous is a third-person, open-world RPG that has something for almost every type of action gamer. Completing story and side missions clears sections of the city of enemies; completionists can spend 30 hours or more liberating all 84 districts. There are numerous side missions to accept if you choose, some of which are tied to either good or bad karma; completing a good-karma mission locks out the district’s corresponding bad-karma mission, and vice versa. You have the power to heal people with a touch, or drain the life energy from them. You earn experience points for both positive and negative actions, which you can spend to upgrade your powers. Completing missions involving medics unlocks medical centers, which are actually respawn points; when Cole dies, he rejoins the action at the closest med center, so it’s a good idea to accept those missions, unless you really want to schlep across the map every time you die. Empire City looks amazing, an interesting combination of parks, city streets, back alleys and obstacles. And you’re free to explore it however you want, accept or ignore side missions, fight or flee from the city’s collection of strange adversaries. If you develop good karma, pedestrians will applaud as you pass by, some will take your picture, others will even fight with you. If you choose the dark side, they will cower in fear, call you names and generally make life difficult. And each act of the story ends with a comic book-style cutscene that is very cool to watch.
As much fun to play as inFamous is, there are a few glitches. There is a good selection of side missions, but some of them are repeated much too often, especially the ones in which you race from rooftop to rooftop activating satellite uplinks or climb the sides of buildings deactivating surveillance devices. The camera sometimes drifts back to a position behind Cole instead of staying where you put it. The world map doesn’t always refresh automatically, forcing you to close and reopen it to get the most updated information. And some of the side missions are much more difficult to complete than the game’s boss battles, especially the final one, which is much too simple to win considering how long it takes to finally get there.
The PS3′s dominance of my gaming experiences continues. inFamous joins Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune and its sequel as the best games I’ve played on any platform in the last few years. It’s invigorating, imaginatively written, visually gorgeous and involving enough to keep me playing for more than 32 hours. If the inevitable sequel also includes the co-op mode that this game lacks, Sucker Punch will have delivered the rarest of sequels: the ones that surpass their predecessors.