Who doesn’t love being a super hero? The powers, the gadgets, the spandex, the babes! In comic book form (or more recently, in film) they wield incredible powers and cut a swath of destruction through the puny henchmen of whatever super villan of the week appears on the radar. So how come being a super hero in a GAME is so difficult to pull off? Other than Batman: Arkham Asylum I can’t think of a game that truly makes you feel like the savior of a city. Infamous, even more so than Batman, captures this feeling due to its great sense of scale and strong main character. The fact that the universe of Infamous is an original IP lets the game build the hero, villains, and setting in such a way almost perfectly suited to gaming.
A quick note: Infamous is an older game, and is now part of the PS3 greatest hits library. As such, much like Tophat was touting in his XBLA Roundup, you can get it for cheaper than a normal retail game. As the holiday season bends the old wallet over and doesn’t even lube, a $30 game you may have missed when it came out originally could be a nice option instead of something full price.
Infamous begins, literally, with a bang. You play as Cole McGrath (THAT IS MY LAST NAME TOO LOL!!!111) a bike messenger who is delivering a seemingly normal package in Empire City when said package blows up. This is not your Grandma’s parcel bomb (seriously, what’s up with your grandma? Mail bombs? Don’t ask her about the past, some things are better left unknown) though, as it takes out a huge chunk of the city and leaves Cole in a coma. When Cole awakens, his world has changed. Whatever was in the bomb Cole was carrying not only decimated the city, but also left in a quarantine state by the government due to a now rampant plague. While some citizens are dying, others are mutating, gaining funky villany powers such as teleportation and telekinesis. A few people, such as number one bad guy Kessler are now seemingly almost invincible, who can now tele, levitate, shoot energy bombs, and other such things. So where does this leave Cole? Thankfully for the player, Cole finds himself with a bevy of powers related to electricity. Using those powers, Cole takes to an open world sandboxy game in the Grand Theft Auto vein, only silly vehicles aren’t for driving now, they are for blowing up.
At first this seems like it’s not an ideal situation, as Cole is so super charged that any electrical device he touches kind of blows up. In fact the first “mission” of the game is Cole helping his friend Zeke, whose rooftop sanctuary Cole how shares, get a new gun, since Cole touching his old one sort of fired off all the bullets while they were still inside the weapon. Driving cars is also out. Also, while you can run through puddles without issue, taking a dunk in any of water around Empire City (it’s fictional but definitely has a New York feel) will cause Cole to start taking heavy damage almost instantly. While it isn’t quite an instant death in most cases, it’s generally a bad idea to get Cole wet. He’s sort of like a gremlin. Like the electrical one that spent most of the second movie in a phone. Gremlins 2 rocked. It also deserves mention that the game establishes that even before the giant mail bomb went off, Cole was a bit of a parkour artist. This lets you climb pretty much EVERYTHING in the game, Assassins Creed style. The climbing isn’t nearly as touchy as AC though, and Cole will fluidly jump and climb with a few button presses. The animations are smooth, which is good, because this game is very very vertical, with objectives on ground, on top of skyscrapers, or even on moving objects (both grounded and aerial).
So ok, where is the AWESOME? Well, being able to manipulate electricity as you see fit has some advantages. Of course, now Cole can shoot lightning from his hand, damaging and stunning enemies. Being able to fall from any height and then using an electrical “cushion” to not be injured, check. Vortexes of energy that send cars flying, or once it’s upgraded, flying and exploding, check. Other combat abilities reveal themselves throughout, such as sniping, electrical sticky grenades, lightning fists for up close action, or my personal favorite, calling down lightning bolts from the freaking sky. The lightning from sky power is one of the cooler things I’ve used in any game ever. The horizon darkens, thunder ominously booms, and then whatever unfortunate things or people are in front of you just get absolutely obliterated. Cars fly and explode, as do people, light bulbs burst, it is a total swath of destruction. The game wisely makes this cost a ton of energy so it can’t be used all the time, but it can be used enough to make it memorable.
Speaking of energy, one of my favorite parts of Infamous is how you gain it. Cole may be able to manipulate electricity, but he can’t create anything more than a weak blast from scratch. So he needs to be charged up, much like a battery. So Cole literally drains electricity from nearby objects. Large neon signs or lamp posts offer a ton, where a car can serve as a quick jolt to get off that one last blast. Since Empire City just underwent its own mini apocalypse, some of the city doesn’t even have power. When Cole enters these areas, he actually starts to get a little fuzzy and move a little slower, as the total lack of any nearby electrical energy actually messes with him. It’s a nice touch, and one that serves the game well by making Cole not overpowered. Even with all his nifty abilities, Cole never feels invincible. I never felt the game was giving me things too easy, even near the end when Cole was fully upgraded.
The upgrades in the game are related to the powerless sections of the city. Cole, wisely, wants to restore power to help himself and ostensibly Empire City ( a morality system is in play here that could color those actions, I’ll get to that). To do so, the underground transformers that have blown themselves out need to be restarted. So in a nice break up to the pace of the open world style game in the city proper, Cole takes to the sewers for some linear platforming type levels. The sewers are visually impressive, especially the lightning effects and Cole’s blueish (or reddish, if you go evil) glow on the walls. These sewer levels also serve as a tutorial for whatever power Cole will gain from restoring power to that section. For example, the sewer level that grants the ability to snipe with your lightning bolts will have enemies at long-range that must be taken out. It’s a smart and effective way to acclimate the player to the powers without it feeling shoe horned or taking you out of the experience.
So while all of the above is indeed fun, there is one stand out reason to play Infamous. Cole’s travel abilities. Pretty quickly, Cole gains the power to “grind” power lines and railways, enabling him to use the electricity in them to propel himself at high speeds. This is fun by itself, but never have I felt so HEROIC as doing this on a mission. Slight spoiler, but a number of missions in the game will task you with destroying armored buses decked out with chain guns (don’t ask). Approaching these on foot is understandably bad (again, chain guns) but Cole’s ability to climb anything and not take fall damage come in handy. Tracking a bus from the rooftops, speeding along power lines, and finding the perfect spot to jump off of and land on it is incredibly thrilling. Citizens will gasp in awe as you fall from above and cause some havoc on the evil bus that was only moments ago killing them. Unless you’ve been killing them too, you evil bastard.
So the morality system ties in to the story of Infamous pretty closely. The game will present you with clearly defined choices throughout, with a “good” choice and a “bad choice”. Most of these are pretty easy. When Cole gains control of a government food crate, does he share it with all the citizens of Empire city gathered around, or does he scare the shit out of them with lightning bolts and keep it all for himself, friend Zeke, and on again off again love interest Trish. Trish is cool, but she holds Cole responsible for her sister’s death, considering he was carrying the package that blew up most of the city. Relationships are tough! These decisions will greatly influence Cole’s morality meter, which also changes how some of his powers work. For example, the game energy grenade Cole can throw can go in one of two directions. A “good” Cole throws grenades that will actually put enemies in electrical shackles when they blow up, leaving them for the police to come clean up, alive. Evil Cole’s grenades actually just break up into MORE grenades, so basically everything just blows the hell up even more. Sounds pretty evil to me! The game pretty overtly encourages you to go one way or the other and not to straddle the line. Each side has its own ultimate power that only unlocks when you reach full hero or renegade status. Be a saint, be a douchebag, just don’t be normal. It actually makes sense for Cole to make such a choice, as he is not a classic super hero type. He’s a gravelly voiced bald bike messenger who finds himself suddenly himself with super powers. It’s a jarring experience, and not everybody would come out on the other side as a good guy. It’s a fun choice to make. I’ve played through the game twice and done both sides and they are equally fun and rewarding, while being different enough to make them both worth playing.
The story itself I won’t say much about, because like any good comic book style yarn, it’s over the top and extremely enjoyable if you go in blind. Basically, Cole starts by trying to take out the gangs that have taken over various sections of the city, but is quickly drawn in to some government conspiracy style stuff about what the bomb he was carrying actually was, what the gang leaders are trying to accomplish, and possibly even a bigger threat looming not just for Empire City, but for the world! The ending has a nice twist and sets up very very well for Infamous 2, which is of course due to come out in 2011.
So in summary, play Infamous. Play it for the awesome electrical powers, play it for the solid voice work by Cole, and REALLY play it for the thunderstorm power. When Cole stands atop a just activated transformer and a gang suddenly attacks, they have no god damn idea that the Magneto of electricity is standing on a limitless source of power. If you don’t smile as they all pile in and the sky starts to darken, I can’t help you.
Filed under: Games Tagged: | Alden, Batman Arkham Asylum, Cole MacGrath, Cole McGrath, electrical powers, Elrood, Empire City, First Sons, grand theft auto, greatest hits, Infamous, Kessler, Magneto, Playstation 3, rail grinding, Ray Sphere, Sucker Punch, Trish, Zeke