VIDEO: The trailer for inFamous
Video games are capable of transporting players to new worlds. The potential of a virtual space is limited only by its designers' imaginations. Why, then, are so many designers' imaginations limited to dreary, urban settings? inFamous, the latest big PlayStation 3 exclusive, is pitched as a crackling superhero yarn set in a vibrant, open world, but it plunges players into an environment as mundane as real life.
|inFamous | For PlayStation 3 | Rated T for Teen | Published by Sony Computer Entertainment | Developed by Sucker Punch|
The city, in this case, is a blandscape called Empire City. Its neighborhoods have flashy names like "the Neon," which may be intended ironically. No one street is distinguishable from another, and even after 15 to 20 hours of play it's still impossible to navigate by sight alone. Every building is gray; every drab borough identical. We've fallen a long way from the days of walking mushrooms and giant green pipes.
The realism of the setting is probably intended as a counterpoint to the fantastic nature of the storyline. You play as Cole McGrath, a courier caught at ground zero of a massive explosion. The blast, an apparent terrorist attack, grants Cole the power to manipulate electricity. As the game progresses, his list of abilities grows. Cole can shoot electric current from his hands, hover on a static field, and eventually summon a devastating lightning storm from the sky.
Sounds cool, but most of these powers are only cosmetically different from the typical action-game tropes. There's a grenade, a heat-seeking missile, and so on. Most aren't terribly fun to play around with, or even useful. And there are so many of them that by the end it's hard even to remember which button does what. Good thing it doesn't matter! The strategy you'll use to win your first battle is the one that'll work for the rest of the game, some decent boss fights excepted.
The combat is a grind, and so are the missions. inFamous follows the familiar template of open-world games. Marked on Cole's map are various trigger points, some of which advance the story and some of which are side objectives. The side missions offer some variety: some have Cole destroying surveillance equipment on a building, others send him racing across rooftops against a time limit. The problem is that having introduced a mission type, inFamous gets to work ramming it into the ground, repeating it without variation. Fortunately, the individual missions are brief and provide ample reward.
Cole has the Spider-Man-like ability to climb up the sides of buildings and will grab any available handhold or foothold, even if it means being sucked to it magnetically. This approach eliminates the biggest gripe players have with games of this type: the slightly misjudged jump that drops your character to his doom. But it creates a new problem — Cole will spin and grab onto anything nearby, whether you want him to or not. Climbing up is not an issue; climbing down is. This is a platformer that does the platforming for you.
And though the storyline is hokum, at crucial junctures Cole faces "karma moments" — the choice to act heroically or villainously, with consequences for the plot. These dilemmas are silly and contrived, yet they're meant to impose a moral burden on the player. Most are simplistic: should Cole protect citizens, or let the bad guys kill them and then steal their stuff? The game rewards making all good or all evil decisions by withholding its most powerful abilities until Cole reaches one end of the spectrum. Once you've made your first choice, there's never again a question about which action to take. That defeats the purpose. Karma moments should have been like the city: shades of gray.