|Genre||Genre-breaking sandbox zapper|
|Buy from Amazon|
The whole “play the first hour of a video game and determine from that whether I’d keep playing” concept has its flaws, it’s certainly not perfect. Some great first hours fall short over time, and others give a bad first impression that they (sometimes) unknowingly recover from later on. But other times the first impression is right on, Infamous is one of those games.
I had a great time with the first 60 minutes of Infamous, the gameplay was fast-paced and just felt.. right. Plus, I’m always looking for sandbox games that pull off the action genre better than Grand Theft Auto IV (ugh). The Saboteur had similar first hour pedigree, and was also a great success in the end, so I had quite high hopes for Infamous.
You can probably tell by my praise that I enjoyed the game, so if you care to read on why I enjoyed it, well, here you go. My full review of Infamous for the PlayStation 3.
For an open world game, Infamous breaks down many of the genre’s trappings. You can’t drive cars, you never use a gun, and you’re the most well known guy in the tri-island area. Cole can’t walk anywhere in Empire City without being recognized, photographed, and thanked for everything he’s done for its citizens (if you’re familiar with the game, you can probably guess that I was playing a “good karma” character). It’s a fun change of pace to blending in and disappearing among the crowd. But hey, Cole has superpowers: lightning crackles from his fingertips, he can’t hide anywhere.
In most sandbox games, the city you inhabit is as much as a character as anyone else: San Andreas was open and ripe for exploration, Paris was dark and wanted to be set free, and Empire City in Infamous despairs and reeks of teetering into total anarchy. There are literally people laying in the street helpless to their situation, I don’t know what they’re doing there, but it’s just one of the curious things that the city has to offer.
Broken up into three distinct islands, it’s obvious that Infamous will slowly let your proceed to the next area of the city when it’s well-ready for you to go on. Annoyingly enough, almost the first half of the game is spent on the first island killing just one type of bad guy, the Reapers. I asked Nate if you ever fight anyone but these drug-induced, red sweatshirt-wearing jerks, and he unassuringly couldn’t remember. Turns out in the second island you fight hobos (haha, yes, really) and the third island features some sort of cultists or something, I honestly never really understood where they came from. (I was also personally hoping to battle with Wall Street hedge fund managers, which would make for a nice set of gangs, bums, and suits as bad guys, too bad.)
Since Cole can’t drive a car without shorting it out, the only efficient way around town is using your powers. Like any good video game superhero, Cole receives his perks one at a time when the time is right, but by mid-game you can float around and “electric grind” on train tracks and powerlines, making moving from one place to another kind of a fun task. Fast travel would have been useful, especially near the end of the game when you’re island hopping, but there’s nothing more exhilarating in Infamous than grinding a powerline across the ocean where a bridge used to be.
The rest of Cole’s powers also make fighting an honest joy. Since guns will explode in his hands, Cole resorts to shooting lightning bolts out of his palms, a fair trade-off if you ask me. He can also toss electricity bombs, shoot missiles, bring up an electric shield, and snipe enemies in the head with his fingertips. Everything is powered off an electricity meter that is pretty easy to refill when near a proper source, so “running out of ammo” is never really an issue.
What makes combat so fun is the unexpected and explosive nature to the city. Most battles seem to randomly start in the middle of the street, so chaos ensues with cars blowing up, pedestrians running in your crossfire, and bombs going off all over. There’s no rapid-fire option to your lightning, so shooting away with manual clicks gives combat an extra layer of hecticness. Most of the times I died, I went down in a blaze of glory in my own bombs and missiles (kind of annoying that electricity bombs hurt the superhero that shoots electricity, but whatever).
One unique thing Infamous pulled in its first hour is automatically increase my difficulty to hard. I almost never play a new game on hard, but decided to leave it on this setting and found it to be just about right. I kind of wish more games would give you the confidence of increasing the difficulty automatically because most of the time we pick at the beginning and never adjust after that. There were a few times during the game where I felt like toning it down, but never even went into the menu to check it out.
I liked how quickly the storytelling advanced during the game’s opening, but by the end, it almost felt like speeding through the script had hurt the game. Story twists were tossed in after the final boss was slain (I called it though) and characters came and went without so much as an introduction or goodbye. The characters that were ever-present were obnoxious and any pathos they tried to generate felt false. Most of the people I felt I might have invested in only ever appeared as voices, kind of a weird situation.
Like The Saboteur, Infamous offers many little side missions to distract you, but while Saboteur had hundreds of dots scattered about the map that could mean anything, Infamous features about 80 mini-missions that help “clean” the map out of bad guys. Whenever you finish one of these quests, the city map is brought up and the enemy is supposedly cleared out of there for good. It’s really satisfying seeing their territory whittle away, but the game doesn’t seem to always respect this when it comes to enemy placement. Either way, I liked this system well enough to complete every mission in the game.
The game does have a few other downers, however. Whenever you’re forced to learn a new power, Cole has to trudge through the sewers for about 15 minutes in half-training, half-stretch-the-game-out mode. Reminds me of The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass and climbing the same tower half a dozen times. Enemies will constantly take pot-shots at you from the roofs of building where hitting them back can be very tough, so most of the time you're ignoring these deadly bad guys shooting people on the street, doesn't feel right. And finally, the final boss is just a train wreck of design issues. It’s absolute chaos that rewards random luck over skill and precision. Bleh, not a great way to finish the game.
Infamous stumbles a bit when it comes to story and boss execution, but the gameplay is great and that’s pretty much all I care about in the end. Thanks to Nate for suggesting I play this next in my PS3 game queue, and thanks to Sucker Punch for making a fun and atypical open world action game.