All it takes is one try, like dropping a toaster into the bathtub. As soon as the crackle of electricity flows from Cole’s fingers like sweet elocution, you know that with its combination of looks and gameplay that developer Sucker Punch has crafted a gem. Not that their ability to create a great game should ever have been doubted.
After all, Sly Cooper was a great series, one unjustly overshadowed by Sony’s other platforming titans: Ratchet and Clank and Jak and Daxter. Even with the developer’s strong pedigree, they had never created anything outside of the Sly universe; coupled with the pitfalls that usually plague the open-world/sandbox genre it’s understandable how one may have been weary of what Infamous could come to offer.
One of my biggest grievances of the open-world formula is that most of them, while being solid in gameplay, sacrifice a likable story, character development and in many cases an understandable plot free of convolution for the do-anything, go-anywhere play style. While Infamous certainly hasn’t graduated from such problems, it does represent the furthering matriculation of the open-world genre. The first and most noticeable improvement is the fantastic comic book art which accompanies the storytelling cut-scenes. Where Dice’s Mirror’s Edge failed in its comic book styled cut scenes is exactly where Infamous triumphs. The artistry portrays a darkened world, decimated by disaster and conspiracy.
The only light is Cole who, surviving a catastrophic explosion, has become the unwilling possessor of great supernatural ability. The plot immediately harkens one’s memory to Stan Lee’s now famous words, made popular by the legendary Spiderman series, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Power and responsibility become the two over-arching themes as Cole, electricity coursing through his veins, has been single-handedly tasked with either saving or condemning his city. The plot, while sandbox game thin, offers just enough to keep the player interested in progressing through it, and I felt myself intrigued to further my understanding of the developing conspiracy and to encounter the next over-the-top villain.
The next pitfall Infamous needed to sidestep was the binary good or evil gameplay choice. While I am a fan of moral consequences in games, made famous by Bioware’s Knights of the Old Republic series, I do subscribe to the desire of many gamers in wanting a middle ground, a gray neutrality between the extremes of light and dark. Also, when faced with questions of morality in a game, I tend to suffer from “goody-goody” disease and find it difficult to play out the role of a villain. While Infamous doesn’t allow you a neutral option, it does make being evil not only easy but preferable.
To understand how Sucker Punch manages to create this feeling, imagine Cole’s persona as a love child between Spiderman and a 50’s style film noir detective. In keeping with the half of him reminiscent of Sam Spade, Cole speaks with the deep rasp of a man who’s smoked a carton of cigarettes a day since he was knee high to duck, and he approaches each moral obligation with the same warmth and attachment a rich republican feels when giving to charity for the tax write-off. Cole, whether you choose to save or destroy the city, remains relatively cold and detached from the situation evolving around him. It is this detachment that makes playing the villain easy and fun.
The gameplay is nearly flawless; Cole interacts with the environment wonderfully, able to cling and climb on nearly anything in the world. The RPG-like evolution of Cole’s powers is fun to experiment with as his power options differ depending on what moral choices the player makes. The boss battles are interesting and creative and feature some of the best villains I’ve witnessed outside of a comic. Infamous, while including basic fetch and collect missions, does manage to avoid the tedium of games like Assassin’s Creed by providing many varied tasks in which the player can partake. Also, unlike Assassin’s Creed or Mirror’s Edge, I found that it does lack the frantic running and evading that I have come to hope for in parkour inspired games. Cole’s animations for grabbing and leaping can become static and awkward, but in a game where you can grab onto almost anything, such a minor issue is easily forgettable.
In the last few years, our own non-virtual world has seen its fair share of disasters, from Tsunamis and Hurricanes to true evil. As our own world grows darker, it seems more and more difficult to embrace the traditional un-conflicted, “light is right” hero. In response, the world of Infamous is a nice artistic representation of the challenges facing our own world, and Cole does a great job of usurping the mantle of the iconic, dark, morality-torn anti-hero. Sucker Punch has crafted a wonderful new canon in the ever-crowding super hero genre. One that hopefully marks the beginning in the company’s new direction, though I’m still crossing my fingers for a new Sly Cooper addition. Also, don’t drop toasters into bathtubs; it’s bad news.
Final Score: 8.5/10