Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Infamous review


    Before I begin, I should point out something. The game is technically inFamous, which aside from being bad spelling is actually a way of illustrating the game's duality. The lower-case "in" is meant to show that being an evil bastard is entirely optional. Therefore, the game could also be called Famous and be correct.

    With that useless factoid out of the way, I'll address a game which I felt was one of the first truly original superhero properties made for video games. I know this is a crap statement because Mario, Samus, Link, and the Belmont clan are all superheroes of one stripe or another. Hell, give Mario a feather and he'll sprout a cape to deal with the armies of evil better than anyone but Supes himself.

    However, Infamous is a game where you take on the tropes of a comic book hero/villain and run wild. Cole MacGrath, shaven-headed Caucasian male like so many other video game heroes, is hit by a plot Maguffin which gives him superpowers. It also destroys most of a thinly-disguised analog for New York City (Empire City), and creates the sort of anarchy where a superhero might prove useful.

The travel around the city is fascinating to look at as well as fun to do.
    What strikes me about Infamous is, really, why haven't more games ripped it off? There are more Assassins' Creed knock-offs than I can count and Batman: Arkham Asylum is the go-to source for a thousand plagiarists. Strangely, though, there's not that many games where you have the option of creating your own superhero before sending him on quest to clean up the city. You'd think gamers would eat this up with a spoon.

    I have decided this is a lack of confidence in the game's material. Infamous is a spectacular video game but a great deal of time is spent developing its so-called "Karma system" where you can choose to be an upstanding hero who everyone loves or an evil bastard who slaughters his way around the city. This is a bit like Web of Shadows where the game offers an evil option for playing Spiderman.

    Spiderman.
The sense of power you get from being Cole is a major key to the game's success.
    Are game developers so conditioned to believe the worst of gamers they assume we all want to play sociopathic nihilists who tear up the city? Well, okay, given the success of Grand Theft Auto this isn't an entirely unreasonable assumption but it strikes me as strange the only other original properties for superheroes I can think of are Saints Row IV, Crackdown, and Prototype. All three of which you are assumed to be playing an unrepentant psychopath.
   
    Really, it's a testament to this game's writers they manage to create a coherent narrative for the protagonist even when he's apparently the sort of guy who can simultaneously want to help or kill everyone. Naturally, I gravitated to a more heroic personality type and got a warm fuzzy feeling in the cockles of my heart as I repaired the city one generator at a time.

    I think part of why this game is so memorable is that it strikes a careful balance between believability and comic book zaniness. The game has a grim and serious tone for most of its story, deliberately invoking 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina parallels but in a respectful way. It also throws in gonzo elements like a trash golem, secret societies, villains from a place which would be spoiling to mention, and general weirdness which only happens in Marvel or DC.

    The thing is, the latter are treated perfectly seriously and lack any tongue-in-cheek to their presentation. When a giant robot made of junk and powered by the rage of a deranged psychic attacks you, that's actually kind of scary.

The use of pre-rendered comic book cutscenes is more enjoyable than anywhere but Max Payne.
    So, kudos developers, you've reconstructed the comic book.

    The gameplay of Infamous is fun, too. Cole MacGrath's powers lie somewhere in the spectrum between Electro and Magneto so you're simultaneously vulnerable but capable of doing spectacular things. There's enough variety in gameplay that you'll spend hours fully mastering your powers and getting a sense for everything there is to do with them. This will include healing, restraining, killing, psychometry, riding power lines, and God knows what else.

    Did I have any complaints? Yeah, I did. Of the games' seven or so characters, there's three women. One is the obligatory love-interest, one is a psychotic femme fatale in love with you, and the other is a FBI agent who turns out to be completely evil. This wouldn't bother me so much if not for the love-interest invoking SEVERAL comic book tropes I'm less than fond of. It says something I much preferred Zeke and he's a stereotypical Southern Elvis-wannabe. Okay, actually, that sounds awesome so I'll just say I wish Trish had a personality which wasn't equivalent to that or a wet dishrag.

    So, in conclusion, if you still have a Playstation 3, you should pick up your copy of Infamous and probably its sequel.

10/10

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