inFamous was a game where I essentially judged a book by its cover. I saw your typical video game protagonist; Cole is a gritty, gravelly sounding man whose main personality trait is being an uncaring dick. Your stereotypical anti-hero. I saw gameplay that seemed predictable and unexceptional; Cole uses lightning powers to fry everything that gets in his way. The morality system seemed unsurprisingly two-dimensional; do I save someone from death or take his stuff while he dies? Long story short, I was prepared to be disappointed and predisposed to dislike this game. But, despite the odds, I decided to give it a shot. It had received great reviews from strangers and friends alike.
And at first, I focused on those flaws that I had foreseen. I played the game for an hour or two, then didn't play it for weeks. But then I decided to give it a shot; I recognized that I had created a bias against it and needed to try it on its own terms. And, when I did, I turned out enjoying it immensely. inFamous is a game with surprising depth, but only if you allow it to be. It took me a while to figure that out.
A Comic Book in Video Game Form
inFamous draws you into the painfully simplistic story through an interesting framing device. Movements of the plot are portrayed in an artistic and cinematic comic book form; cutscenes shift from panel to panel, making you feel as if you are part of a sweeping graphic novel. This actually helps to give the shallow plot a rationale; the average superhero comic features a threadbare story with epic powers, so why shouldn't inFamous be allowed the same excuse? And coming to this realization helped me to enjoy the game so much more. I tend to have high standards for plot and character development in every fiction format, but realizing that that wasn't the point of inFamous helped make it all better.
Instead, inFamous is about wielding your lightning-enhanced powers in various incredible ways. Example: there is a hooded thug shooting at you from the middle of the road. You can zap him multiple times with brief bursts of lightning. You can toss a electrical grenade at his feet, blasting him into the sky and eliminating the threat. You can force out a shockwave of power, flinging a nearby car into his face. Or you can do all of the above, attaching a shock grenade to a car, hurling it at his face, then zapping the car to blow it, him, and the grenade up. Talk about overkill.
There are so many ways to utilize Cole's powers that it becomes hard to remember them all. Cole can skate on power lines across the city. He can powerslam the ground in a circular surge of destruction. He can utilize static power to hover across the air. Or he can form a shield of energy between him and his foes, protecting him from harm. The capacity for experimentation and cleverness is endless. Thus it is perfect that the game takes place in a 'sandbox'. The entirety of "Empire City" is at your fingertips, and it is a city that provides plenty of variation in things to do and places to visit. Perhaps most impressive of all, the many sidequests and main quests in the game rarely seem repetitive or recycled. Unlike most big role-playing games these days, Infamous manages to keep the game fresh for a very long time.
The Cracks in the Glorious Facade
However, nothing is perfect, and inFamous is far from being so. The sad truth is that many of my initial negative assumptions were correct. Cole is an unlikable, morose, irritating excuse for a man. I don't understand why video games continue to think that grunting, deep-voiced protagonists are good; inFamous fails completely to break from that mold. Further exacerbating the problem is the fact that every other side character in the game serve no other purpose than to be highly annoying. His best friend is a sleazy prick who creates problems for Cole. His ex-girlfriend constantly demands Cole's help self-righteously. His government controller treats him like a dick seemingly just because she can. Nobody seems to recognize that talking to a living electromagnetic bomb like that is, just maybe, a recipe for an ass-kicking. It is as if the game wants you to turn evil.
On a gameplay level, the game is mostly great, but it still has a number of niggling issues. For some reason, enemies can shoot at you over vastly longer distances than you can shoot back, and they are everywhere. Massive set piece battles are fantastically epic, but it gets incredibly frustrating when you have to deal with guys shooting at you from blocks away on top of rooftops. The difficulty in targeting enemies with your lightning powers is also present and harder than it should be; it is very hard to hit smallish targets, even if you are standing still and particularly if you are on a moving bus and train (which happens a good amount) Another thing is that Cole is remarkably fragile for a guy with superpowers. If enough baddies are around (and there often are), Cole can get killed in mere seconds. Consequently, for big fights that should be cool and frantic, you spend most of your time hiding away and sneaking around the outskirts regenerating your health. That would be fine (relatively) in a normal shooter, but in a game where you appear meant to be the all-powerful incarnation of Zeus's might, it seems out of place and annoying.
Overall, I enjoyed it, though. And my completionist tendencies had me playing it for a good long while, clearing Empire City of evil one block at a time. However, I don't particularly want to play it again, and I'm only two-thirds of the way through the game. The plot, characters, and irritating gameplay issues just don't feel worth the time. In the end, I would recommend this, but only to those who find the superhero gameplay an intriguing concept. Otherwise there is little else to draw one to the game. But it was a blast while it lasted.
+ 9 for an enjoyable, open-world superhero-esque game.
- .5 for unlikable characters.*
- .5 for a seriously underwhelming plot.*
- 1 for a number of frustrating gameplay issues.
* Given that these factors are a major drive in finishing any game or story, their absence is important to note despite the game's focus on other things. Without a vaguely interesting story or likable characters, why else would one want to completely clear Empire City?