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inFAMOUS
Score: 90%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: Sucker Punch
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Free-Roaming

Graphics & Sound:
inFAMOUS has a very theatrical presentation. The minute you push start, Empire City is rocked by a cataclysmic explosion. Unless you start a new game (which you will do, trust me), this is the last time you'll see the title screen. From here, you're always "in the game." Rather than paging through lifeless menus that remind you that you're playing a game, every time you return to inFAMOUS, you are immediately dropped into Cole's shoes. What seems like a minor thing reinforces the unity that runs throughout the game. Everything supports everything else.

Empire City is a living entity, or well as much as a city can be after it is ravaged by plague and cut-off from the rest of the world. The city is rotting from the inside and the visuals carry the feeling in every city street you walk on and every building you climb. The city will also change based on Cole's decisions. The more heroic Cole is, the better the city (and Cole) looks. There are, however, a few technical issues that break the illusion. I managed to find myself trapped inside the buildings on more than one occasion, while at other times, I was blocked by invisible walls.

Music pushes the theatrics even further. Readers in hurricane-prone areas will probably agree that the days following a major storm are eerie. There are a number of daily sounds that we tune out on a regular basis and it isn't until they're gone that we realize they were ever there. While by no means silent, inFAMOUS communicates this feeling with sparing use of music. Music is only used to indicate that something might be off in the area or during key moments. The rest of the time, your ears are filled with the sounds of the city - but only after you are able to revive the area. Otherwise, it's a still, creepy silence filled with echoes of gunfire.


Gameplay:
Following the explosion, Empire City is overrun by plagues and taken hostage by gangs, forcing the government to seal the city behind machine gun-lined steel barricades. In the middle of the chaos stands Cole, the lone messenger who unwittingly delivered the bomb that got the ball rolling. The explosion may have left the city in ruin, but it left Cole with the ability to manipulate electricity. After Cole is labeled a terrorist in public fashion, he's presented with two options: Redeem his name and save Empire City from itself, or crush all who stand in his way and become its despotic ruler.

This sort of multi-path storytelling isn't new and inFAMOUS doesn't push the concept. The white hat/ black hat morality won't excite players looking for the next evolution of "weighty, in-game morality," but it works exceedingly well with the comic book-style story inFAMOUS aims to present. It's possible to try and walk the line and exist somewhere in the middle, but eventually you have to choose a side. The story demands it and it is the only way to access your power's full potential.

inFAMOUS follows all of the normal conventions of open-world games. Story missions push the narrative along and unlock Cole's arsenal of powers and side-missions offer more to do. It's all standard stuff. Where inFAMOUS is most successful is in how it manages to make everything fit together. Some missions, like herding criminals to the nearest police station, may seem goofy and even a bit overused, but everything matters. Completing side-missions gives Cole a chance to define his alignment and puts a permanent end to gang activity in the area, making your job much easier. Even normally meaningless collection tasks matter.

Once the game is over, you are given full reign of the city. It's a welcome option, but not much fun. Platforming between buildings is great, especially if you're trying to round up the last few shards, but the small, random pockets of enemies aren't enough to keep you going for long. This is particularly troubling if you're trying complete stunts, since most require enemies to complete. The option to look at all stunts would be helpful. Unless you accidently unlock one, you must complete one stunt to see the next. I'm sure the Internet has already remedied the problem, but it puts a cork in the fun.


Difficulty:
inFAMOUS avoids the norm found in most superhero games. Typically, the hero is too powerful for the enemies, leading to a situation where difficulty is artificially created by introducing legions of enemies (as in last month's Wolverine), or allowing the player to plow through the game with ease. After all, Superman can't fall to just any common thug, but Cole can.

Enemies have near-infinite range; every gun seems like it is scoped and bullets hurt just as much from 15 feet away as they do 15 inches. This creates a number of difficult gameplay situations that Cole probably won't survive. Most can be tackled with strategic use of powers, but even the best strategy can't stop bullets from all sides, not to mention missile launchers (which become really popular halfway through the second island).

At times, it feels like Sucker Punch had a little too much confidence in Cole's power set, and decided to compensate with more enemies. To its credit, the game is very forgiving when it comes to restarting missions, but some situations are too overwhelming. Nothing is impossible, but it may take a few tries. There are, however, a few "tricks" you can use to make things easier - most involving creative use of enemy spawns - but I'll leave it at that.


Game Mechanics:
inFAMOUS owes more to Crackdown than Grand Theft Auto. Cole's primary skills are his powers and the ability to scale just about any structure he comes across. Empire City is very vertical, making it a platform-jumper's paradise. You'll spend just as much time jumping between buildings as you will in the streets. I'm still a bit curious as to why Cole can cling to the shallowest crease in cement, but slip off chain-link fences, but otherwise the platforming is fantastic. There's no driving (Cole would just make the car explode), but once you unlock the ability to power-grind along power wires and the elevated train tracks, you won't care.

inFAMOUS' control scheme is nearly perfect; the layout makes complete sense and only one of the button assignments feels out of place. (X) serves as the jump button and, while scaling buildings, gives Cole the ability to leap from ledge to ledge. Going up a building is easy, but there are times where you have to jump and quickly turn around. This feat takes a lot of practice if you want to get it right, which you probably will considering all the shards embedded in the sides of buildings.

It's been a long time coming, but the PS3 is finally starting to see its library fill out with blockbuster-caliber games. What inFAMOUS lacks in genre-pushing features, it makes up for with fun "just one more mission before I stop" gameplay.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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