Released: May 26th, 2009
Developer: Sucker Punch Productions
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform(s): PlayStation 3
Oh It’s Good to Be Bad
Given its time of release, InFAMOUS was of the first games that pioneered the notion for feeling consequence for your actions. By combining the narrative forks in the road that lay the groundwork, along its stellar gameplay, made it one of the top exclusives for the PlayStation 3. While there is a sense of misleading agency presented to the player, whichever path you decided to take will be yours to both reap the rewards and suffer the consequences.
InFAMOUS introduces us to the typical urban setting of many open world cities, then turns it into the confined quarantined chaos that is Empire City. As Cole MacGrath, a lowly bike courier now walking lightning-rod, there’re new responsibilities to take on. As one of the biggest assets available to restore order within the city, Cole must overcome both now-everyday rioters along with citizens with newly found powers similar to Cole. The obstacles that lay in front of Cole range from bringing an end to a new found plague that has spread throughout the city mere weeks since the explosion, to shutting down a number of hostile factions looking to gain control over the population.
While this isn’t the first time we’ve seen an open world game in a city setting, the layout of Cole and his new found abilities take the ordinary and adds on great use of verticality. Being able to climb buildings that reach a dozen stories in height and high wiring between apartment buildings means that you have numerous options getting from point A to B, and trying to gain the high ground once in combat. By adding just a few of these features, InFAMOUS takes the monotony of exploring a city setting, and gives a new perspective whilst having these skills are essential tools at your disposal. My main concern is that while on the ground level, I’ve run into a multitude of sticky situations verse enemies that left me cornered in either an alleyway or cross fire more often that not. Sure, I could try to scale the side of a building to try and get out the conflict, but more often than not, I’d be either gunned down for forced to spam lightning attacks at pursing enemies in hopes of surviving.
Starting off, Cole’s abilities are fairly limited to shooting bolts out of his hands and making the city his own personal jungle gym. As you continue to restore power to the city’s grid however, the powers that are gained alongside that will go a long way to helping take out tougher enemies and speed up your navigation of the environment. Being able to shockwave RPGs off their intended paths or sliding over hanging wires are going to be key components to taking on the more powerful factions in Empire City. The downside of course is that using anything other than your default attack drains your power quickly, so be careful when spamming your sticky grenades or else you’ll be running towards the closest power box trying to recharge sooner rather than later. It’s also note worthy to mention that each new ability allows for upgrades, where the experience earned from main story missions to defeating enemies can be used to further increase your powers.
The best feature to take note of however is the Karma system, a choice based integration that can change the perception of Cole as this new superhuman weapon. These moments of choice come frequently, especially in the early stages of the story. Decisions of good karma can range from helping the police force in rounding up criminals or by running past wounded pedestrians and healing them. Conversely, by siding alongside criminals, causing copious amounts of mayhem, or deciding to rob civilians of their goods when given the option, lead to increasing your bad karma.
But the Karma system has a deeper impact beyond your actions. The narrative and relationship with characters to Cole are skewed based on the choices that you’ve been making throughout the story. Dialog between your companion Trish or best friend Zeke are altered upon whether you take choice A or B in a particular moment during the campaign. Not only do the reactions of your partners change, but so do those that live in Empire City. Just by running down sideways or alleyways, people begin to take not of your actions. Public response to your presence can range from folks stopping to take photos of you, to being scolded and even attacked depending on how deep down the rabbit hole of destruction you’ve fallen.
Included within these pivots in the story are side missions that will directly affect your karma as well. These missions are comparable to the majority of side missions that you’ll do in that upon completing them will deter any enemies from occupying the area, but will cancel out the opportunity to complete a mission of the opposing karma within that section. There is where the misleading agency of the game begins to take hold. Preferably, you should be focusing on putting all your eggs in one basket when making the choice between being established as either Hero or Infamous, as switching back and forth will ultimately prevent you from acquiring the best abilities for the respective side you wish to choose from. So while the choices are “yours to make”, you’re already forced onto one path once you’ve reached your first big decision.
A big reason for trying to keep towards one side when it comes to your karma choices tailors back to the upgrade system. As the narrative splits in two different directions based on your choices, so too do your upgrade options. On top of your options branching off, the tiers in with you can continually upgrade your powers also forces you to make the same decisions over and over again. This isn’t necessarily a negative feature as it does in a way compel you to want to make another run through for the game once you finish your first go around, but there were a number of key moments that my heart drove me towards wanting to make one choice, but my head reminded me that my progress would be better dictated if I consistently took the same side.
Luckily the choice is still yours when it comes to the side missions and collectibles which, by my own opinion, has a few too many to count. Blast shards, the items found to increase the capacity of Cole’s energy levels are littered through the entirety of the city. If you’re into attaining every item in a game as I am, the amount of shards to find in-game (350 total) is way too many for a map of this size to have to search for find every single one of them for. The only other notable collectibles are dead drops, which are well fleshed out audio logs that expand to InFAMOUS lore well.
The side missions I’d mentioned previously that exclude karma shifts are fairly rinse and repeat, with the main objectives revolving around clearing out medical clinics, destroying surveillance cameras, connecting satellite uplinks, and not much else in terms of their diversity. One issue I’d had was during my Evil play through where I was tasked with saving a group of hostages taken by Reapers, one of the three major enemy factions in the game. As this was my “bad guy” walk through, there was a real sense of juxtaposition between the character I was shaping Cole to become, and the type of task I was being handed. In the end, there were no penalties or rewards aside from a small experience boost, but it was certainly a moment that left me confused about whether or not there really is a side that I can choose to take.
Though its agency isn’t as catching as I felt it could have been, InFAMOUS’s ability to allow the player to choose their own path is one that deserves praise. There’s a sense of retribution and reward with every choice you make, and the directions that it leads the story into made me want to come back for more. Despite feeling locked into taking one path early on, the mechanics of the open world and combat abilities of Cole MacGrath kept the fire fights exciting and a city worth exploring.