Inside Pulse 12

Review: Infamous (Sony PS3)

Infamous
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Sucker Punch
Genre: Sandbox
Release Date: 05/26/2009

Each generation of gaming has their own genre that seems to define it. In the 8-Bit era, it was Platformers and Shoot ‘Em Ups. The 16-Bit era was the evolution of RPG’s and Fighting Games. The 32-Bit era seemed to be all about 3-D action games and platformers. Last generation was the golden age of the first person shooter and the dawning of a genre we now called Sandbox, which are basically a mix of action games and action RPG’s. I have to admit most Sandbox games like Grand Theft Auto or Saint’s Row have never been my thing as I don’t really enjoy realistic violence or hookers in my video games. I mean, if I want to have sex with a hooker on a TV screen, I’ll just go to Prague.

This is what made Infamous so appealing to me. As a Sandbox game with a little more fantasy/sci-fi elements, I was intrigued. I liked the idea of a super-hero style sandbox game ala Spiderman 2, and the morality aspects of Infamous reminded me of The Suffering, which is still one of the best Survival Horror games I have ever played. I did think that the main character of Infamous sported a horrible character design and thus looked like a tool, but it could be worse. He could have been designed by Rob Liefield.

The last two PS3 game I have reviewed were Cross Edge and Sacred 2: Fallen Angel. I spent a lot of my time comparing Infamous to Sacred 2 as both have pretty large and detailed worlds rife with sub-quests, with S2 being more of an RPG and Infamous being more of a 3-D action title.

Although Infamous has received mostly rave reviews across the board, I am somewhat known as a very critical reviewer. I’m also not really a fan of Sandbox/3-D action games in general, preferring 2-D fighters, shoot ’em ups and RPG’s. Still, I like stepping outside my comfort zone and trying new things once in a while, hence the reason I’m doing this review. How does the game hold up after I became Empire City’s knight in shining armour?

Let’s Review

1. Story

I will say this, if you are expecting an epic or even intelligent story to come from Infamous, you will probably be disappointed. Every aspect of the plot is cliche and easily cribbed from something else. Characters are exceptionally two dimension, even your protagonist who narrates the entire game. None of the characters are even remotely likeable, and when you are near the climax of the game and have to choose between letting your girlfriend die or a horde of doctors perish, you have no emotional reaction to Trish biting it because she hasn’t developed at all through the progression of the game. In fact, she’s kind of a twat.

The entire game reads and plays like it’s out of an old Milestone comic book. There’s a Big Bang that kills everyone within a mile or so radius save for one mane, Cole. Cole survives the blast but finds himself with freaky super powers based on electricity. From there Cole gets wrapped into a double government conspiracy with the feds hiding what happened in Empire City while you work with a Federal Agent to try and fix things as well as save her husband John. You then spend the whole game running a lot of the same missions such as platforming levels in a sewer, stealth missions spying on gang members, killing gang members, racing past satellites, saving hostages, and the like. Many of the quests are exactly the same but in different areas, although some quests are really unique and fun like participating in a parade against gang violence or posing for pictures. The majority of the quests will blur together since they are the same few repeated over and over, but they still manage to be fun. The quests are very rem

The ending of Infamous is what really kills this game for me as it is so bad I literally had to pause the game and say, “This is the stupidest plot I’ve had to sit through this year and I’ve reviewed Art of Murder 2 and The Path!” I’ll try not to spoil the game but the main “bad guy” who is flooding the town with evil mind warping tar and gang violence is a man named Kessler who has come back in time for a specific reason involving your main character. Now, knowing this reason makes the last battle in the game utterly worthless because supposedly Kessler is doing this as one big suicide act in an attempt to change his future for the better by being extra evil. When you find out who Kessler is and why he’s doing this, you can’t help but think of a big time paradox and that this is the stupidest reason for becoming a supervillain EVER.

I’m still a bit put out by how Sucker Punch didn’t even try to flesh out any of the supporting cast or try anything actually original or innovative with the plot. You can actually make out when and where they took specific pieces of the plot from other games, movies or TV shows. Hell, in the Neon District the Sasha based hallucination aspect looks and feels exactly like it was plagiarized from The Suffering. You know exactly where the plot is going right after the first boss battle and it’s just a shame that the writers didn’t decide to try something new or original or even creative with Empire City’s cast and characters. What’s here is serviceable, but it’s also cliched and shallow. Nowhere near the substance or quality of storytelling I want from a game.

Story Rating: Mediocre

2. Graphics

Although the character models of the game are well generic, bland, or just plain ugly for this generation of gaming, there is one area when the models look amazing and that’s when you actually get close ups or in cut scenes. Take the first boss battle against Sasha. Both Cole and Sasha are pretty lame looking. Uninspired character designs across the board with no real detail or rendering. When you get into the quick time event aspect where you button mash and point an analog stick towards part of her body to rip things off. Then, and only then, do both Cole and Sasha look quite impressive, with a lot of detail on their facial features. Otherwise the residents of Empire City are really nondescript and look a pit underwhelming compared to what else we’ve seen on the PS3.

Empire City is huge and there’s a lot of detail to the specific buildings and locations, but after a while you begin to notice that it’s populated by the same set of buildings over and over again in each region. This means things can get a bit dull at time, especially the sewers , but then there are a few specific locations, like the Reaper’s base or the waterfront that stand out all the more because of it.

Infamous suffers from some clipping issues and there are times when you should be able to walk or climb through an area but for some reason the game won’t register it. This gets annoying, but thankfully it is also a rarity. I also hated the weird slowdown whenever you pass or fail a mission. It’s purposely in there but if you finish a mission WHILE you’re being shot at by several gangbangers, this will really tick you off.

There are some great lighting effects in the game, which makes sense considering the game was all about lightning based powers. This is one area where the game really shines. Okay, I just re-read that sentence and that pun was not intended.

Once again, we see that Infamous is pretty generic in a lot of ways without any real innovation or an attempt to take things to the next level. There are a few neat things visually, and the game looks very nice at certain points, even if it is only at 720i, but at no point was I ever blown away by the visuals.

Graphics Rating: Good

3. Sound

I wasn’t at all impressed with the voice acting in Infamous. Again, things are fairly generic. Out of all the cast, Zeke is the only one with any emotion or intonation to his voice. Sadly, he’s also the most annoying character. Trish and Cole are most monotone and even when Cole delivers lines of surprise or anger, it’s still very flat and sounds like he’s either phoning it in or shouldn’t have chosen acting for his primary profession.

When there is music, it’s again pretty uninspired and generic. Nothing here is badly done, it’s just that the score is largely forgettable and you’re never going to see gamers clamouring for a CD of the soundtrack.

Sound effects are where Infamous really shines. Each electrical power has its own noise, which I really appreciated. You also have different explosions based on what is blowing up and a you can have say, four different weapons and your own powers going off at once and you can make out each own individually. That’s a nice touch.

Again, Infamous is merely middle of the road here, but at least it doesn’t do anything badly.

Sound Rating: Mediocre

4. Control and Gameplay

In a lot of ways, this is where Infamous shines. However, there are also a lot of red flags within the gameplay that smack of broken inconsistency.

Let’s start with the aiming system. I’d have preferred to be able to aim from either a third person or first person point of view. Instead Infamous shuts the camera directly behind Cole and moves him over to a corner of the screen. This is pretty annoying to me as I would like to be able to see what is on both sides of me which is more akin to real life when you have two working eyeballs. Sucker Punch attempts to make up for this by letting you click the R3 button to switch from left side to right side, but this sometimes can severely interfere with the camera and also looks rather stupid on screen. The fact Cole can’t seem to see what happens on half of his body without a button press is just downright sloppy.

Now, aside from that aspect, the controls are fairly solid. There isn’t any lag between pressing a button and using a power, although sometimes you catch yourself wanting to use a particular power but hitting the wrong button instead. I’m so used to using X or Square as my main attack buttons in a game, but in Infamous, it is R1. This meant I was accidentally throwing grenades or using Shockwave on occasion. That’s my own fault though.

I loved the different powers in the game and how they each had their own effect. It was great sticking a grenade to a bad guy or using an EMP to blow three cars on top of a guy with a rocket launcher. There are, however, some issues I discovered that made no sense. For example, there will be bad guys on a truck with a machine gun and protective sheilding. You eventually get a power that is supposed electrocute anyone touching conductive, like a fence or water. However, this doesn’t seem to work with vehicles or people carrying metal weapons. What is up with that?

I was also impressed with the subtle nuances, like how you can fry people who are standing in water. There was one point where, due to the fairly mediocre appearance of low lighted areas, I thought I was standing in broken rubble and it turned out to be a puddle which then killed anyone who walked by me. Whoops. Shocky shocky.

For the most part the actual aiming and use of Cole is quite solid and very well done. Even though the other aspects of Infamous we’ve looked at so far are humdrum and banal, the gameplay of Infamous is what makes the game so hard to put down.

I did notice that if you have several people lying on the ground together the game finds it exceptionally hard to lock on and at times it will stall or make Cole jerk back and forth for an extended period of time while it tries to figure out what to do. As such there are times when you will accidentally Bio Leech or Arc Restraint a bystander instead of the downed gang member. Whoops.

Finally there is the morality system, which is one of the worst I’ve ever seen in a video game. The concept of a good/evil meter is something that is neither new or original. It’s been done in games ranging from Neverwinter Nights to The Suffering and yet never have I seen it done so poorly before Infamous. Occasionally you will have missions featuring a morality choice and a voice over from Cole pondering what to do. However, the voice acting is bland and hard to take seriously and the script is so ham fisted and laughable it often takes you right out of the game. The inner monologue is so skewed towards the good choice you have to wonder why anyone would ever take one of the bad options. It’s still great that these choices are available but damned if Infamous couldn’t have used a better writing staff.

Then there is the problem with how the game reads the morality choices. There were several times when I did the good option and was told I am now more evil. There were also times where I acted like a complete sociopath and was told that I am now more heroic due to my actions. The entire system is so messed up I laughed my ass off when I was told I am now more evil for an action I took and then was rewarded by going from Guardian (The first stage of the hero meter) to Champion (The second). How does that happen? What a broken pathetic system. I was also told I am more evil for saving a clinic from a gang or helping downed police officers in a crossfire situation even though I never used lethal force or hurt innocent bystanders. I think I could fill several sheets with all the hilarious nonsense caused by the morality system and the game’s own inability to follow it properly.

Last there is the climbing system, which really felt stolen from the Spider-Man games for the PS2. I got to tell you, while it was fun jumping all around and climbing on buildings or riding the rails, trying to get down from things was a cast iron bitch. Cole always automatically grabs the first thing he can meaning a free fall drop is often impossible even when you want to do one desperately. “Oh, I’m going to drop into this alley to avoid getting shot. Oh wait. I just grabbed on to the building across from me. Now I’m a sitting duck for that gernade. Now I’m dead.” Trying to get down from things is awkward and annoying and it can get you killed from time to time.

All in all, even with some pretty noticeable and unforgiveable flaws, I felt the actual playing of Infamous held up pretty well and I had a lot of fun with it. In fact, it was quite hard to put the controller down.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Above Average

5. Replayability

With multiple difficulty levels and dozens of morality choices in the game, you can play this game several times and never have the same exact playthrough. Okay, it’ll be 95% the same as the choices have very little difference in terms of gameplay results aside from letting you use good or evil variants of powers, but the story can shift significantly, such as the aforementioned having to choose who lives and who dies towards the end of the game. Even better, there is no real straight good or evil track that you have to follow and as such you can make a good choice and then an evil choice to follow it up. This however is not advisable as you’ll never fill out your karma meter one way or another and thus never have access to higher level powers. Still, it’s an option for those looking for a challenge.

The game also features search and collect quests for the OCD’ers. You can track down drop points for added back story about the bad guys in the game or Blast Shards which increase how much power Cole can store within himself for special powers. You can track down both of these using your radar pulse option. This gives you something to do in-between taking back sections of Empire City’s districts.

Infamous offers you a lot to do and plenty of reasons to come back to the game if you end up enjoying it. Although crafting Cole is a pretty linear and limited experience, you still find things you missed or take new morality choices each time you play.

Replayability Rating: Good

6. Balance

To be honest, I didn’t notice much of a change between the difficulty levels when I tooled around with the game. In fact, I found the game to be pretty easy no matter what level I played on. However there are some definite issues in terms of comparative difficulty.

For example, I found random thugs when they attacked en masse to be harder than any of the boss fights, just due to how many there were and how poorly set up the camera was in this game. I never even died in a boss fight, but put me up against twelve gang members on each side of me and I’d probably fall.

Most of the quests were as easy as they were monotonous, but there were a few examples which again highlight the broken engine used to power Infamous. Let’s take stealth quests. There were times the courier saw me even though he was on the ground and I was on a roof hiding behind an object. What the heck? Then there was “Dinner With Sasha” where getting to the boss was harder than the actual fight. Probably the hardest thing I encountered in the game was a quest in the Neon District where you had to protect a food drop and the only reason that had any degree of difficulty was because the enemies JUST KEPT COMING, ending with three trucks with machine guns surrounding you. It wasn’t as hard as it was too bloody long.

I definitely swore a lot at the game, but it wasn’t due to it being hard or too easy. It was more Cole choosing to cling to things when I want to drop, or Cole choosing to leap back from an object into oncoming fire rather than duck behind for cover. Those are minor gameplay issues rather than balance issues.

One thing I really liked was the enemy AI and how they were smart enough to duck, hide, attack from the rooftops or even run away from a grenade. This is something we don’t see very often in gaming and I loved watching the computer try to outhink me or even flank my hiding spots. Awesome job.

In the end, Infamous is a very easy game where simply pointing your crosshairs to the middle of the screen and run back and forth while spamming your lightning bolts can solve most of the combat situations in the game. Sure it’s more fun to lob a grenade, electrocute people in water or even use precision aiming, but you can get the job done a lot easier just by button mashing and eschewing aim. That’s really sad. Great AI, but everything else is a bit lackluster thanks to easy (and repetitive) quests.

Balance Rating: Mediocre

7. Originality

This is Infamous‘s fatal flaw. The game is decently made, and it’s a lot of fun to play, but I can’t think of anything truly original about it. I’ve played better games with morality systems. I’ve played better sandbox games. I’ve played better games with superheroes. I’ve played better 3-D action games. I’ve seen these gameplay elements and the general plot of this game several times before and I have to tell you Infamous neither excels nor is the best at any of these.

Does that mean Infamous isn’t a fun game? No, far from it. It just means Sucker Punch really didn’t offer us anything innovative or creative. Infamous is a fairly generic game that takes pieces from everything from Assassin’s Creed to The Suffering and puts them all in one game, but without the same level of quality. You’ll still have a blast playing this if you enjoy the genre, but anyone saying the game is remotely creative is either fooling themselves or lying.

Originality Rating: Dreadful

8. Addictiveness

I had a really hard time putting Infamous down. Even when I was a bit mystified by Cole walking through things he shouldn’t be able to or not being able to walk through open spaces, I still got pretty into the game. I went out of my way to collect the dead drops and blast shards. I did all the sub-quests (although none of the evil ones. Those were locked out due to me pursuing the Good aligned quests.)

As much as I feel the engine and controls really could have used a bit more fine tuning, I loved zapping the hell out of gangbangers, riding the rails or trains, hucking cars at people and more. As problematic as the game can be, there is no denying that, at the end of the day, the game is FUN. No matter how inane and Russo-tastic the story gets, it can’t take away the enjoyment of using precision to zap a suicide bomber Reaver in the nuts and watching him explode.

Addictiveness Rating: Great

9. Appeal Factor

A lot of gamers are going to have a lot of fun with Infamous. They won’t find it the best game ever, or even the best game on the PS3. Hell, they probably won’t even find it the best PS3 game of the year. It’s just one of those games you’ll enjoy for a spell and then probably trade in or play again a year later and try the other morality path. Although the majority of the quests are repetitive, the unique ones are enough fun to offset the monotony.

The morality paths, the varied electrical powers, the immense size of Empire City and the sandbox format (although more linear that games like GTA and Saint’s Row should keep the average gamer happy, at least for the Neon District. Once you hit the Warrens, you are either going to be bored with the game, or you’ll continue on to the end because you absolutely love the mechanics and style.

Nearly everyone who plays this fill find some degree of enjoyment, so it is at least worth a rental. Just remember once Kessler starts showing up to have exceptionally low expectations plot-wise and you’ll be fine.

Appeal Factor: Good

10. Miscellaneous

The only real extra you get with the game is the Gigawatts Blades download if you pre-ordered the game. You get nothing out of the ordinary or special for beating the game and there are no extras.

What Infamous boils down to is that Sucker Punch has given us a pretty game that has some pretty big issues, but still manages to be fun in spite of those issues. There are lots of different electrical based powers to have fun with and even though the story drops from intriguing to awful with the last half of the game, by that point you’re more about collecting all the items and doing that side quests anyway.

I can’t say that I would consider Infamous a keeper, but it was certainly worth playing. For my personal tastes, I’d rather play Sacred 2 over this as there is more customization, a larger world, and a more interesting story. I guess I’d rather go with the action RPG with the solid engine and more options than the gritty super hero motif.

Sucker Punch hasn’t done a bad job here. In fact they’ve made a fun little game that’s different from their usual Sly Cooper titles, and that’s commendable. The good outweighs the bad in Infamous and that’s what matters.

Miscellaneous Rating: Above Average

The Scores
Story/Modes: Mediocre
Graphics: Good
Sound: Mediocre
Control and Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Good
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Dreadful
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Above Average
FINAL SCORE: ABOVE AVERAGE GAME!

Short Attention Span Summary
Although Infamous is yet another sandbox game, but it’s the first of the genre I’ve ever really been able to get into and have fun. I can’t deny the game has clipping issues, the occasional collision detection issue, and that the introduction of time travel reduces the story from intriguing and interesting to flat out stupid. However the controls are quite solid, the game is quite fun to progress through and you’re constantly getting new powers almost to the end of the game, so there is always something new to master. Empire City is impressive in both size and design and it’s quite hard to put down the joystick even when the sub-quests start to repeat themselves. I can’t really say Infamous is worth a flat-out purchase if Sandbox or 3-D action games aren’t your genre of choice, but it’s certainly worth a rental or buying when the price drops in the coming months.