Other than last year’s ground-breaking LittleBigPlanet, there’s been a surprising trend in big hitters of late to buck invention. Most would take that as criticism – after all, alongside social gaming, innovation seems to be the buzzword of the generation. But as demonstrated by previous PS3-exclusives like Naughty Dog’s Uncharted and Guerrilla’s Killzone 2, where the notion of sacrificing originality in favour of polishing tried and tested formulae was met with critical success, a stellar gaming experience needn’t necessarily be one filled with totally new ideas.
inFamous is a continuation of such a thesis. In principle it’s unreservedly imitative; its lead character Cole McGrath is a contemporary, moody hero whose powers – the ability to scale buildings and shoot lightning from his fingertips – seem more a curse than a blessing. “Glad it’s good for something,” our hero mutters after being asked to provide juice for the TV. Its narrative too is fairly standard comic book fare, with a sudden and inexplicable explosion gifting Cole (and others) with superhuman abilities, while criminal gangs run rife across a city abruptly cut off from the rest of humanity. And, lest we forget, the game’s progression structure is ripped straight out of the “Open World for Dummies” handbook, with the three islands that make up Empire City each handily separated by channels of water (Cole’s newfound adversity to H2O and reliance on power provides ample excuse for Sucker Punch to continuously drip-feed new areas) and filled with an abundance of missions, side-quests and collectibles.
Yet remarkably, inFamous – as a whole – feels entirely unique. It’s perhaps largely due to Sucker Punch’s ability in creating an outstanding animation system that subtly adapts to the environment, but also because of the game’s suitably atmospheric setting.
Much like Cole, the streets of Empire City are mean and moody, a land at odds with Liberty City’s prospect of opportunity, filled instead with anguish, death and deprivation. The subsequent government threats of annihilation further cast an unnerving callousness over the entire scenario, while nonchalant news anchors dish out spirit-raising propaganda from behind boarded-up hi-fi stores. It’s this bleakness that immediately sets inFamous apart from those of which it is inspired. At first it can be more off-putting than refreshing; the happy-go-lucky cartoon-tinted streets of Crackdown’s Pacific City a dazzling contrast to inFamous’s morosity – even when the sun comes out in Empire City, the sullenness remains. But that doesn’t mean that Empire City is devoid of soul.
The city itself is meticulously crafted, with each of its buildings and features – lamp posts, traffic lights, window frames etc. – all coming together to create one cohesive playing field for Cole to elegantly clamber across, or rather, up. The game’s Assassin’s Creed-influenced parkour fuses with the multi-storey delight of Crackdown to create a vertical concrete playground that never manages to feel clumsy or laborious. Indeed, navigating the environment can feel a little too easy at times, with the subtle magnetism between Cole and nearby objects often a little too over-enthusiastic to help you on your way. Regardless, it’s the finest example of parkour yet seen.
Contrary to many open world titles, that aptitude also extends to the combat. “I’m sending something better than a gun,” comments one particular character partway through the game. And it’s true. Not only a climber, Cole is also a skilled marksman, grenadier and seemingly master of the Force, who gradually learns new abilities via some wonderfully retro sewer sections. Each of Cole’s powers are mapped perfectly to the controller and handle much like that of any other third-person shooter: L1 brings up a targeting reticule, while the face buttons each act as different ‘weapons’. Pistols, rocket launchers, grenade launchers, sniper rifles; they’re all here, albeit disguised as unique electrical alternatives.
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