Chipping off the Backlog Episode 1 – inFamous

Hi there! I’m FauxLeisha. Welcome (or welcome back) to my blog series Chipping off the Backlog, where I write about my journey to complete all the games in my gaming backlog! If you want my story, read the whole post. If you just want to read my review of this episode’s game, skip down to “The Review”

My Story

When the 7th generation of consoles was new, I only had one friend that owned a Playstation 3. Out of all the exclusives for it, his favorite was inFamous. He loved it so much he made sure to get the collector’s edition of the sequel when it came out. When I finally got myself a PS3, I kept my friend’s love of inFamous in mind when I was looking for games for it. For whatever reason, I saw inFamous frequently in stores but didn’t buy it. It wasn’t until last October, when a local Family Video was selling their PS3 and Xbox 360 games for cheap that I finally bought inFamous, as well as a few others.

As you can see, inFamous hasn’t been in my backlog for that long (7 months for those keeping track). However, it’s one of the games that I hadn’t played at all. I feel this was partially due to my obsession with competitive Tekken in my local scene, which hit an all-time high in the fall of last year. Obsession with fighting games will do that to your single player games!  I decided that inFamous would be the first game I play off my backlog, due to me thinking “you know, I always wanted to see how the good guy vs bad guy choices worked in this game.”

The Review

In the mid to late 2000’s, one of the game industry’s biggest trends was games that had the player choose to be a Hero or a Villain. Games like Shadow the Hedgehog, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, and Spider-Man Web of Shadows were all about you making either good choices or bad choices and seeing how they affect the story. Personally, I never saw the “Be a Hero or Be a Villain” narrative as more than a gimmick, usually amounting to nothing more than a different ending or tacking on some cheap replay value.

Despite my feelings about this trend, Sucker Punch Production’s inFamous always managed to catch my attention. Part of that was the game being one of the first true killer apps for the PlayStation 3, another was how many held it in high regard as one of the best action / adventure games of its time. I figured that with that much love for the game, it likely did the “Be a Hero or Be a Villain” narrative better than the games that turned me off from said narrative. I had no idea inFamous would not only do that, but also turned out to be a game truly made me feel like a super powered being that could do almost anything.  

Decisions, Decisions

On paper, inFamous handles the “Be a Hero or Be a Villain” narrative the same way as most other games: at points the game puts you at a “Karma Decision” where you must make a good choice or a bad choice, and throughout the world there are both good missions and evil missions to complete. In execution, inFamous presents this narrative in a way that feels like it actually matters to the player. For one thing, Karma Decisions aren’t just you picking an option on screen, you have to actually act on the choice you want to make. As for the side missions, you have to make the effort to go to said missions, you can’t just select one or change what you’re doing on the fly. This is a game not just about making decisions, but also you acting on those decisions. It makes you feel like you’re actually working to be the hero or the villain.

The story of inFamous is also a key reason of why the “Be a Hero or Be a Villain” narrative works well here. You play as Cole McGrath, a man caught in an explosion that gave him electricity based superpowers. Said explosion destroyed parts of his home town of Empire City, leading to crime and disease taking over. It’s revealed early on that Cole was partially responsible for the explosion, even if he wasn’t aware at the time, and now the citizens of Empire City and his friends either hate or fear him. With this narrative setup, it makes sense for Cole to walk either the hero’s path or the villain’s path. He can either try to fix his mistake by helping the people that hate and fear him, or become the menace everyone says he is in retaliation for their hate and fear. It’s like if you read Amazing Spider-Man #1, where J. Jonah Jameson began writing articles that painted Spider-Man to be a menace, but then you got to decide whether Peter Parker kept trying to do good as Spider-Man, or if he went with his thought of “Must I become the menace everyone says I am?”

Part of why inFamous’ story works with the “Be a Hero or Be a Villain” narrative so well is due to how it’s told. There are a few spots where exposition is given, though the story is mostly told through character conversations and interactions. The characters move the story, rather than vice versa. Not only does the storytelling feel organic, but it also leaves room for things to change based on your decisions. I haven’t completed a villain play through yet, I’ve only completed a hero one as of this writing, but it was interesting to see just how different everything played out based on what Cole says and does. The cast of inFamous is also extremely memorable, full of characters that I grew to love and care about (or in some cases hate their guts) via how I got to know them.

Take Cover! No, Not Comic Book Cover

One thing I didn’t anticipate about inFamous is that combat is set up like a cover-based shooter rather than a traditional superhero game.  As someone who hasn’t played cover-based shooters that much, combat initially threw me off and took some time to get used to. I knew the basics –  try to get to high ground and hide behind cover, your health regenerates after a while if you don’t take damage for a bit, etc – but at first combat didn’t feel very fun. It doesn’t help that at first you only have one attack that’s good for hitting enemies from a far distance. And I do mean a far distance, because enemies are heavily armed, and with how little damage you can take at the start it’s not a good idea to run at them head on.  This was especially annoying when I tried to move around the city and enemies are constantly shooting at me with automatic and semi-automatic weapons, amongst other things.

With enough practice, I got better at playing in a cover-based combat style, and as I played through the game, I obtained other powers for combat and claimed territory.  Every time you complete a story mission where you restore power to part of the city, you unlock a new power for Cole, which often comes in handy for fighting large groups of enemies. Whenever you complete a side mission, you claim the local section of the town as territory, and enemies won’t return there. Missions and combat also reward you with experience points, which you can use to strengthen your powers. It was a slow start for me to get into inFamous’ combat, but taking on the missions helped make combat more manageable and removed a lot of the enemies that impeded my progress while moving around town. Traveling around with new powers and fewer enemies shooting at me let me enjoy the fruits of my labor, and kept making me want to push forward.

Unfortunately no amount of practice, upgrades, or territory claimed helped me deal with one of inFamous’ biggest problems: its frame rate, specifically its lack of consistency. I don’t mind games running at less than 60 frame per second, as long as it’s consistent, but that’s definitely not the case here. The game mostly runs at 30 FPS, raising to 60 when it can, then dropping back down to 30 during combat, sometimes lower when things got hectic. The of consistency never threw me off during a fight, but it always pulled me out of the action, and was a constant bother throughout the entire game.

With Great Power

If there’s one thing inFamous gets right, it’s truly making you feel like a superpowered being, thanks to the powers and abilities it gives you. The powers you obtain range from grenades and the ability to zoom in for accuracy to being able to hover for a short time. The balance of powers used for combat and powers that help with moving around the city gives you the feeling that you can do anything, even outside of enemy encounters. It especially helps that new powers are given to you just frequently enough to keep you engaged, and they almost always complete change how you fight or how you travel.

Force Feedback plays a big role here in making you feel empowered. Your controller shaking during the use of your powers, shaking more intensely as you use the stronger ones or simply have electricity flow through you, creates an amazing feeling of immersion. I felt like I was the one using the electricity powers to fight enemies and solve puzzles.

inFamous also features the most clever use of SixAxis motion controls I’ve come across. The team at Sucker Punch obviously realized how clunky and awkward the SixAxis / Dualshock 3’s motion controls were, so they used it for controlling a power that doesn’t allow for a lot of accuracy. I won’t say what the power is, but when you use it and move it around with motion controls, you’ll see how the clunkiness of the motion controls actually makes the power feel greater since even you can just barely control it. I know that kind of sounds stupid on paper, but when you actually obtain and use said power, you’ll see what I mean.

Ascend Tall Buildings (Just Not in a Single Bound)

I’ve played a lot of platformers and action games over the years, but I’ve never played one based around Parkour prior to inFamous. And man oh man, inFamous got me into that, big time. Cole has a lot of parkour skills: he can climb up buildings, move across ledges, and walk on wires no problem. I loved the challenge of seeing objectives high up on a building, or seeing one on a building that’s far away, and figuring out how to get to get there with what Cole can do. It especially helps that the controls make parkour feel super smooth, since if you hold the analog stick in the direction of something Cole can grab onto, he’ll grab onto it automatically if he’s close enough. It significantly reduces how often you have to press buttons to move around or make sure you actually grab onto something, allowing you to focus simply on moving forward and moving fast.

Most of my favorite missions and side missions in the game were the parkour based ones, such as moving across rooftops to deactivate a series of satellite uplinks within a short time. I also loved collecting Blast Shards, items which increase how much electricity you can hold, as they were often put in weird spots that made me think outside the box on how to get them. Almost every time I saw one, I stopped what I was doing and went for it, simply because I always had fun figuring out how to get them.

The parkour was my favorite part of the game, and always kept me engaged, but even with that there was one problem I couldn’t get around: the lack of any indication of an objective or enemy’s altitude. Your map and mini-map will show you were objectives, items, and enemies are, but not how high or low they are compared to you. It made looking for missions and keeping track of enemies during a fight a constant headache, especially when the action got intense and there were a lot of things to keep track of. If I can make another Spider-Man comparison, the games based off the Tobey Maguire movies got around this with an altitude meter for objectives and having a pointer on screen show what direction and what height something was at, so why can’t we have something like that here? I don’t think one more bar or a set of arrows would have negatively affected the heads up display, especially since there’s no health bar in the traditional sense.

Review Conclusion

I jumped into inFamous expecting a game that would maybe do the “Be a Hero or Be a Villain” narrative better than most other games. What I ended experiencing was a game that not only handled that narrative exceptionally well, but also made you feel superhuman with the powers it offers and smooth parkour gameplay. The narrative and how it has you work for your choices make decisions feel like your decisions, and the way the powers are presented to you make you feel as if you’re the one with the powers. The parkour based gameplay gives the player a unique way to move around its world, and pull them into the quest to complete side missions and find every item. It does have its problems with frame rate and lack of an altitude indicator, but those problems can be brushed aside in the big picture. inFamous is more than just a story about its protagonist choosing to be a hero or a villain, it’s a game that makes the player feel like they can become the hero or the villain while having the powers to do so.

Buy

Between how it handles the “Be a Hero or Be a Villain” narrative and the gameplay that backs it up, inFamous is an experience any fan of superheroes or action / adventure games needs to play. If you want to play all the classics of the 7th generation of consoles, inFamous is without a doubt amongst those.

My Conclusion

If the review didn’t make it obvious, I absolutely fell in love with inFamous. Seriously! It ended up being one of the most awesome gaming experiences I’ve ever had, which I did not anticipate happening. I haven’t had a single player game pull me in to keep playing more and more in a long time, and inFamous did just that. I can clearly see why my friend loved this game, why it was one of the first killer apps for the Playstation 3, and why it’s considered one of the best games of its generation. It’s now not only one of my favorite PS3 games, but a potential candidate for one of my absolute favorite games of all time. While I likely won’t do so right away, I plan on finishing the pure Evil playthrough I started just to see all the changes in the story, and going back to my original file to get 100% completion so that I can enjoy the game’s awesome parkour with all the powers I unlocked. inFamous was one heck of a start to me chipping off my gaming backlog, and it gets me really excited to play more of what I haven’t played or finished yet.

That’s it for this one folks, join me next time for next game I finish: the Sonic fangame turned original IP, Freedom Planet! See you then

inFamous and all related images (c) Sucker Punch Productions / Sony Computer Entertainment

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