I recently had the opportunity to play inFamous because of Sony’s infamous “apology package” for the infamous Great PSN Hack of 2011. But I realize I should shut up with saying “infamous” now because you’ll be hearing the word “infamous” many times in this review of inFamous.
Introduction and Story
inFamous is an open-world game structurally more similar to the likes of Spider-Man 2 rather than Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series. The player takes the role of Cole MacGrath, a bike messenger who gains electrical superpowers after the package he was delivering explodes in his hands, taking out several blocks of Empire City and forcing the federal government to quarantine the city. What follows is an entertaining story that seems harebrained and inane due to its mixed narration. inFamous constantly shifts back and forth from a third-person present narration to a first-person past style in both its gameplay and cutscenes. The mixed perspectives make the game somewhat of a confusing mess of a tale, and while this is helpful from a gameplay perspective as it minimizes cutscene time, it detracts from the game’s story as characters, motives and events are lost in the inconsistent narration.
That said, when one extrapolates the plot, value is found in the game’s twisting and fun narrative. An excellent plot-twist at the game’s conclusion nicely wraps up the tangled threads in an epic fashion. Some vaguely emotional moments, coupled with the illusion of an open-ended narrative and amusingly black-and-white moral choices, make the game’s plot more involving than it has any right to be.
inFamous’s gameplay shows its greatest strengths and weaknesses. Combat and navigation, for the most part, is gleeful and exhilarating. Cole’s massive variety of cool, lightning based powers is a joy to use, from his static thrusters, to his precision power and megawatt hammer, effortlessly raining chaos and destruction upon enemies is an absolute joy. Without a doubt, upgrading Cole’s powers by gaining experience points creates a sense of progression, and as a result, us players are left feeling like true badasses.
Unfortunately, Cole’s more useful powers are not introduced to the player until he has made significant progress through the game’s story, and as a result, early missions become more difficult than later missions. A high-powered sniper-rifle ability is given to the player about halfway through the campaign, thereby making the elimination of stationary turrets much easier. As a result, early-game missions featuring these turrets become difficult to the point of frustration. A lack of a New Game Plus feature feels like a missed opportunity, as the game would have greatly benefitted from the ability to replay the campaign with all powers unlocked.
The fundamental mission design is also problematic. While combat is exhilarating and free-running through Empire City collecting Blast Shards is undeniably fun, most missions come down to just these two elements, and, after playing Red Dead Redemption, a game in which I cannot remember doing the same thing twice, inFamous’s variety in its level design just doesn't measure up to other open-world games. That said, there are a few notable exceptions, including a mad rush across the game’s entire world to disable toxic balloons, a prison-defense scenario and some incredible boss battles reminiscent of Zelda.
inFamous’s gameplay makes it ultimately a flawed masterpiece, the mainstays of urban open-world games are missing here, such as reliable aim-assist, varied missions and vehicular navigation, but ultimately, inFamous proves that it doesn't need it.
Graphics and Audio
From an artistic perspective, inFamous is a bit of a mixed bag. Gorgeous hand-drawn cutscenes nail down the dark comic-book feel that the series tries to achieve, nonetheless, these moments of graphical brilliance are marred by a generically bleak urban world. Technically, the world is inconsistent and scattered with various graphical glitches such as textures that fail to load fast enough for the game, an occasionally stuttering frame-rate and environments that Cole can fall through. Bizarre facial and character animation leaves emotional moments adequate at best, laughable at worst.
inFamous’s audio works very well for the most part, the music drums up appropriate dramatic tension at the right moments and there is little to object to about the excellent voice acting. Sound effects are visceral and contribute greatly to the feeling of power and weight behind Cole’s powers.
inFamous is not a bad open-world game, its just an unconventional one. By focusing on intense, stylish and gleeful combat and navigation in a comic-book world, inFamous effectively eschews what we expect from open-world games to create an fresh and fun experience. In a era where games are becoming increasingly similar to each other, inFamous comes as a heroic remedy to protect creativity in open-world game-design. Recommended. 4/5