I'll admit it, I was skeptical. Sucker Punch, the creativity-fueled folks behind the excellent Sly Cooper series, were trading in their fan favorite franchise's cartoony charisma and charm for a dreary, more realistic IP. Sure, inFAMOUS looked cool, pre-release, but between it not being a new Sly game, and it having to share the spotlight with the similar looking Prototype--which, by the way, makes a more memorable first impression--I was definitely worried about this PS3 exclusive. Well, Sony and Sucker Punch proved me wrong. Way wrong. Not only is inFAMOUS leaps and bounds better than I expected, it's currently neck-and-neck with Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars for my favorite game of the year so far.
What fooled me about inFAMOUS was its pre-release marketing--everything was all about the electricity-based super powers. The thing is, with all the crazy-cool stuff you can pull off in videogames, a guy who shoots bolts of lightning from his palms didn't sound all that impressive to me. I mean, didn't we just do that in BioShock, not to mention countless other games? So when the inFAMOUS hype machine started touting a new game based on electrical powers, I was pretty underwhelmed. As it turns out, main character Cole's abilities are much cooler to wield than your typical electricity-spewing hero's, but it's some of the other goodies packed into this title that give it a real jolt.
Based on their Sly Cooper pedigree, it should have been obvious Sucker Punch would've incorporated some gravity-defying climbing into their PS3 debut, but their pre-release internal press didn't focus on this aspect; again, it was all about juicing baddies with bolts of lightning. But the climbing is a huge piece of this puzzle. inFAMOUS takes place in a massive fictional NYC-like metropolis, and Cole possesses the combined acrobatic prowess of Lara Croft, Altair, and the Prince of Persia, so the city is pretty much your personal jungle gym. Even better, Cole controls beautifully, so whether you're scaling a skyscraper or just skipping from rooftop to rooftop, you'll have a blast traversing the town however you like. Additionally, the game is forgiving enough that missing a daring dive or a seemingly impossible jump is rare; the game wants you to have fun, not be frustrated, so it absolutely encourages you to jump, scurry, and climb with reckless abandon.
inFAMOUS also weaves a damn fine narrative yarn. Forget about all those licensed comic book-based games; Cole's tale towers over those of dedicated titles starring members of Marvel's and D.C.'s cape-and-cowl rosters. The story begins with a literal blast, wiping out much of the city and imbuing Cole with his newfound blessing (or curse). You see, karma plays a huge role in Cole's story, and no, I'm not talking a few lame “good or evil” cutscenes or the obligatory different endings. Which path you choose to tread determines how the city's populace reacts to you and what powers you can attain and upgrade. Act like an a-hole by, say, frying an innocent bystander because he looked at you funny, and prepare to be hated. But assist the civilians, obviously helpless and devastated by what's happened—another nice touch—and they'll love you, even posting signs with your mug on them.
While this type of feedback is rewarding and adds realism, it's how your powers are affected that really increase the immersion. You'll shoot blue lightning if you're “good”, red if you're “bad”, but that's just the tip of the morality-shaping iceberg. You see, the more destructive powers will only be accessible to you if you're evil, and those with more precision, if you take the moral high ground. Additionally, what path you take is not always black and white. For example, when fighting massive golems constructed of metallic junk, I found it much easier to take a shotgun approach to bringing them crashing to the ground; this brought the metal menaces down much quicker but also resulted in several civilian casualties. The game is packed with moments like this, truly making you think before taking action, and sometimes leaving you regretful of your decision. I can't remember the last time a title gave me this much reason to dive in for a second playthrough—first time good, second time oh so evil!
After giving the karma-steered story and acrobatic antics their props, I'll say the electricity-based powers also deliver. Again, depending on your karma level, you'll have access to different powers, but whether you're a do-gooder or a Sith Lord-wannabe, there's no shortage of slick zapping skills. From chained attacks and grenade-like bursts, to precision jolts and street-clearing blasts, you'll want to experiment with all of Cole's shocking abilities. The electro theme also stretches far beyond barbecuing bad guys; you can use your hands to shock a dying person's heart, siphon juice from cars, telephone poles and anything else that's humming, restrain enemies with lightning-like cuffs, and, coolest of all, grind on power lines and train tracks.
inFAMOUS is packed with main missions and side quests, and despite its open-world format it has a much more intimate feel than most sandbox games. If I had to nitpick, I'd say the story—as good as it is—didn't totally payoff in the end for me. It starts real strong, but doesn't quite deliver on its potential. I also would have liked to see even more story for Cole's best friend Zeke and main squeeze Trish. There are some surprising twists involving these two characters and I won't spoil them for you, but when the NPC's are this engaging, you want more. inFAMOUS is a great game on so many levels, offering not just a fantastic current-gen experience, but one that PS3 owners can call their own. Coupled with Killzone 2 from earlier this year, Sony continues to build a strong case for their fledgling console with the arrival of inFAMOUS. Sucker Punch, I'm sorry I ever doubted you.