Reviewed: June 30, 2009
Released: May 26, 2009
When I heard that Sucker Punch was coming out with a new game I had all these grand visions of a next-gen Sly Cooper. How wrong could I be and how far has Sucker Punch deviated from the expected norm with their latest release for the PS3, Infamous. Sadly, the game arrives in the midst of the biggest storm of open-world sandbox titles video gamers have seen in a decade. With games like Red Faction: Guerrilla, Prototype, and DLC expansions for Saints Row 2 and GTA4 all vying for their own slice of the market pie Infamous manages to bring one noteworthy trait to the party – PS3 exclusivity.
And even though it’s easy for me to say that Infamous is the best PS3 game released to date – yes, it’s even better than Uncharted but for entirely different reasons – it’s even more important to realize that Infamous is one of the best open-world sandbox titles to release on any system ever. I know…bold words, and probably fighting words for many, but it’s the truth.
The first obstacle to overcome, at least for me, was my own preconceptions with the whole anti-hero, open-world gameplay I had just experienced with Prototype, and while comparisons between the two games are inevitable, and not just because they share the same release window, these are two very different games despite their similar exterior and story premise. I would encourage anyone who still isn’t convinced after reading my review to go download and play the Infamous demo, which is only a small taste of the gaming goodness you will experience in the full-blown game.
Infamous opens with a nuclear-style blast decimating most of Empire City. The EMP pulse has left millions without power, the streets are in shambles and sinister gang factions rule the city. Police are all but gone and panicked citizens are left dying in the streets. At the center of the blast crater we meet Cole, the hero (or anti-hero) of our story. After a bit of in-game tutorial and the first of several slick comic-book style cutscenes we get up to speed with the situation of the city and the electrical super-powers of our character. Cole is not alone in his adventures. His portly sidekick Zeke will accompany him on several missions, although he is more comic relief than anything else. You also have a strained relationship with your girlfriend, Trish as well as a government lady giving you orders over your headset for much of the game.
Infamous relies on three unique ideas for gameplay; first is a vast array of electrical abilities that manifest in unqiue and thrilling superpowers. Then we have Cole’s crazy climbing skills that allow him to stick to just about any ledge, pole, windowsill, or any other piece of architecture in a city so complex it boggles the mind. The fact that the city is now reduced to rubble makes the challenge of navigating it that much more intriguing…and fun. The third gameplay device is that of Karma. We’ve seen it before in other games like KOTOR where you struggle between the dark and light side of the Force, but in Infamous you have to make some tough decisions at every turn along the way, and these decisions will impact your Karma in a blue positive way or a red negative way. The end results not only affect your selection of superpowers but also the way Cole look and the response he gets from people on the street.
A good example is a set of 15 missions spread across all three islands that are either evil or good. If you do one the other is locked out, so there is no riding the fence, at least within a certain mission. You can subtly tweak your Karma by performing random good or evil acts like healing wounded citizens or sucking them dry for bio-energy. Personally, I played the evil side of the spectrum because I had heard it was more fun and you had less stress trying not to inflict collateral damage during main missions. I’m now working my way through the game being “good” and while different, it’s not nearly as much fun.
For gamers who don’t plan on playing through twice I’d definitely recommend the evil route. Of course, if you don’t care about earning the ultimate good or evil Trophy at the end of the game you can always try playing the game making real-time moral decisions based on how you would really react. Many of the scenarios are quite thought provoking despite Cole’s awkward voiceovers stating the obvious ramifications of your acts. You’ll also get to pick posters to either celebrate your heroic deeds or strike fear into the hearts of men. These subtle morality issues really help create a totally immersive experience unlike anything I have ever played in a game.
It will take less than an hour to get comfortable with the controls and then you’ll be leaping across rooftops, sliding on power lines, and scaling the remnants of skyscrapers with ease. There are some Mirror’s Edge moments, especially in the Satellite Uplink mini-games where speed is important as you travel dozens of blocks in mere seconds. Other mini-games and sub-missions include scaling buildings to deactivate monitoring devices, tracking down medical supplies to unlock a spawn point on the map, posing for action photos, and so many others. These, along with the main story missions along with random acts of kindness (or badness) will give you positive or negative Karma and experience that can be used to purchase new powers and upgrade existing ones.
A quite brilliant and realistic twist to the game is that the city is mostly without power when the game starts, so you will periodically have to go down into the sewers and locate power substations and re-energize the city. Doing so will not only give you more outlets for absorbing electricity, you also get a fancy new superpower each time you activate a new substation. Restoring power to the city is vital since you are in constant need of recharging for both your abilities and your overall health.
One thing I noticed during the game is that there is little progression of difficulty, or should I say the game starts off incredibly tough. Before you purchase the obvious health upgrades (or damage reducers) it is all too easy to be running down the street or climbing a building and taking bullet hits from a dozen or more rooftop snipers. You are quite literally in the midst of anarchy and for whatever reason; it’s impossible to move around unnoticed, even on the highest rooftop. And if you take the evil path, even the citizens will start to harass you, punching you or throwing rocks and cans at you as you run by.
It’s actually a testament to some exquisite balancing that you really don’t see a ramp in the difficulty. Considering the devastating powers you acquire later in the game, I was surprised how equilaterally challenging the game was from start to finish. Most of the challenge lies in staying powered-up since the more powerful abilities drain your energy meter quickly. Aside from the uber-challenging boss fights on each island, there were only a few missions that really caused me problems. Most of those were missions on timers or pursuit missions where you had to track a target while finding the optimum path across rooftops and power lines.
Death merely respawns you at the nearest unlocked medical checkpoint of which there are at least four per island, so you are never too far from your objective. And making use of the elevated train tracks and numerous power lines and fallen antennas, you can get across the entire 3-island map in about 3-5 minutes. There is even a semi-secret shortcut between the first and third island.
Infamous looks amazing, or at least as amazing as a devastated city can. Again, I was reminded of Prototype, but the level of destruction combined with the sheer amount of non-repetitive architecture and textures was mind-blowing. There is no way this game could look this good on any other system. They must have packed the Blu-ray disc to the limit. There is a bit of pop-up but only when you are rail-grinding the train tracks or flying over the city in the chopper near the end of the game. At normal speeds and altitudes the draw distance is exceptional with no glitches or draw-in. Cutscenes unfold with a flashy graphic novel style and excellent voiceovers and there is not a single load screen the entire game. The menu interface and power screens are excellent with instructions for performing the moves and a video sample of the power in action.
Additional story elements unfold as you hack in and eavesdrop on 32 Dead Drop satellite receivers hidden around the city. This is just half the collectible inventory in the game as there are also 350 energy shards scattered about the city. Collecting these will increase the size of your energy meter and give you valuable XP. Unlike most games that keep these hidden items a complete secret and force you to buy a strategy guide, Infamous reveals their locations using the mini-map. Shards appear momentary when you do an energy pulse scan, and Dead Drops appear using a circular range finder that allow you to zero in on the dish. It still takes work but it was actually quite fun and challenging to find all the dishes. I still have 18 shards left to find. Those are a bit harder since you have to be nearby before they reveal themselves on the mini-map.
While not exactly a collectible, there are also 21 stunts to perform during the game. You are given this list of stunts and even the commands necessary to perform them, but it’s still up to you to figure out when and where to pull off these increasingly difficult moves. A word of advice – do these stunts during the game since most rely on enemies and there aren’t that many around during the post-credit clean up.
The game sounds amazing using either the Dolby Digital or the DTS audio mix. There is an underlying electrical buzz to the city that makes it come alive and allows you to track down energy sources. Your various superpowers all have pleasing sound effects, but perhaps the most drop-your-controller-in-awe moment was the first time I used the Lightning Storm ability and heard the thunderclap that echoed across my 7.1 surround system. The voice work is excellent although Zeke is kind of a jerk and Trish is a real bitch. There are numerous news and underground television broadcasts that you can choose to watch or simply listen to as you move on. The citizens exhibit some awesome AI based on your chosen Karma path and will voice their admiration or disgust.
Infamous is about a 12-15 hour experience for the story mode (down a single path), and thanks to a wonderfully compelling and isolated Karma path, there is an undeniable urge to immediately replay the game and choose whatever path you didn’t take the first time through. The collectible system is also immensely addictive. I must have spent several dedicated hours just going around each island looking for those dishes and blue shards like a beachcomber with a metal detector. The Trophies are extremely well thought out and integrated into normal gameplay, although a few will encourage you to invest a few more hours of quality gaming. Even with no multiplayer, this is easily a 30-hour game that you won’t soon forget.
There are so few PS3-exclusive titles so when one does finally show up I am always excited to try it out since these seem to be the only games that take advantage of the PS3’s superior technology. Infamous takes that tech and pushes it to the limit with a game that couldn’t be reproduced on another system, at least with this amount of proficiency. The action is relentless, the story is captivating (with an epic ending that redefines the word “twist”) and it was hard to stop playing once I got into the groove.
Infamous is just the “jolt” the PS3 needed to “spark” a new battle in the ongoing system wars. It has PS3 Game of the Year written all over it and unless something truly special comes out later this year it could be my all-time favorite game of 2009 on any system. Don’t insult yourself or Sucker Punch by renting this game. Buy it now and help finance the sequel that you will inevitably be imagining as the final credits start to roll. Infamous is gaming perfection or as close as we are going to see this year.