Cult of the Turtle

Joe Tortuga's musing on life,tech and gaming

First Impressions: inFAMOUS

February 18, 2010

The PS3 game inFAMOUS was one of three angry-man open-world games that came out about the same time. The other two, Prototype, and Red Faction: Guerrilla were also available on the Xbox 360, so I played them months ago.  Prototype was a 30 minute game, although I gave it a few hours of play.  Red Faction: Guerrilla got a couple of nights — I did clear the first area — before it’s story and boring missions made me give it up.  The failure of those two games meant I didn’t pick up inFAMOUS for my PS3 soon after getting it, which was a mistake.

I did the same thing a long time ago, my friend Jason and I planned to see several underwater horror movies.  We went to see Leviathan and Deep Star Six both of which were craptacular movies that had Jason apologizing for even suggesting them. When The Abyss came out, we’d both had enough and skipped it entirely.  On the other hand, it meant that the first time I saw The Abyss it was the extended director’s cut, which had a much clearer ending.  Still, it’s the one I’d see in the theaters if I had to do it over.

While the horrors of Leviathan and Deep Star Six were pretty obvious compared to The Abyss, I’m struggling with what makes inFAMOUS different.  I know that I want to play and finish it.  I can only list a couple of things that really annoy me about it, but I can’t list anything that’s particularly amazing about it.  I suspect that that’s the main issue at work here:  it isn’t a great game, but it is a good, solid game.

In Infamous (I’m dropping the ridiculous spelling now) you play as Cole, someone who survives a horrible accident.  You later learn that he was duped into creating the explosion that also gave him powers based on electricity.  He lives in Empire City, a metropolis which is both isolated form the the outside by a quarantine enforced by the military, but also the three islands are separated from each other.

Play involves a mix of fighting using your electricity powers, and climbing buildings, and running around rooftops.  The parkour here is less fluid than Assassin’s Creed, since you have to perform the various jumps and drops yourself, instead of just entering a climbing mode and pressing up or forward. It’s much easier than, Mirror’s Edge as Cole sticks to everything a bit too well (the first of my complaints) and is therefore much less precise, and more forgiving.  You aren’t plummeting to your death here, ever, but you might lose some progress because the stickiness over- or under- applies.

There are main and side missions, items to collect (which, I discovered show up on your radar only after over ~10 hours of playing). The characters you interact with, friends, allies and enemies talk to you on your cell phone (or in your head), giving you story as you’re moving around the open world.

There is also a binary morality system.  This would be my second, and larger complaint.   In fact, it was someone’s post on Infamous that provided part of the spark for the Transgression posts.  The argument of that poster (I have, unfortunately, lost the link) is that by giving the player specifically good and evil choices, the game condones the choices and reduces the fun of being bad (since it’s accepted).  Obviously, I disagree, since there is a larger (and in-game) world that provides for this kind of feedback.

I’m not going to talk a lot about Infamous in terms of transgression yet, as I’ve not even tried the evil options yet.  Certainly being good in the game doesn’t feel like a transgression, despite the fact I’m someone I won’t ever be.  That’s certainly not where the fun comes from, and in fact, I think Infamous would have been a much better game without the morality system altogether.  Give us a character with wants and needs (he has these, and they seem out of line of being evil), and let us follow that.  It’s obvious to me from the Assassin’s Creed games that you can have an open world game with an essentially linear plot and have it work.

Part of what does make Infamous work, however, is that Cole is uniquely suited to his environment.  The modern world is filled with electricity, and it both powers, heals, and sustains Cole. One of the challenges he has to deal with is the power being turned off, and losing that lifeline that he’s used to. The game then turns the fixing of that into a chance to give him more powers, as well as a mini tutorial on how to use the new power.  I’m well over 2/3 of the way through the game and I don’t have all the powers yet.  This seems appropriate to me (but then I didn’t see AC2 as one long tutorial, either.)

In fact, this game uses a very Zelda-like structure, minus ‘dungeons’. Go into a new ‘dark’ area, bring back the electricity, do story and side missions there, and then move on to the next area. You return when you’ve opened up some new types of missions, until the area is complete — something that is also optional.

The combat is a combination of first and third person, mainly because so much of it is ranged.  That’s the hardest part for me, and I died more often in Infamous than I did in the same amount of time in Bayonetta. Dying doesn’t have a huge penalty, merely setting you back to a nearby clinic, or the start of a mission (or for longer missions, a mission checkpoint).  Mission failure is treated like dying, so I rarely felt I was being punished by the game (there were a couple of larger monster fights that took some time to figure out how to defeat them, which resulted in repeated deaths).

I’m close to the end of this game, so I’ll be keeping it until I’m done, I think, a few more days.  Then I suspect I’ll have more to say about it, and transgression. Probably next week sometime.