Sucker Punch, the studio behind the family-friendly Sly Cooper games, has finally made its debut on PlayStation 3 with Infamous, a gritty and modern look at an everyday Joe who acquires superpowers. The comparison can be made to Spider-Man: You're a reluctant hero blessed with powers; you just have to decide how to use them. The city is yours to save ... or dominate.
You play Cole MacGrath, a delivery man who wakes up after an explosion takes the lives of everyone else within six city blocks. After two weeks, Cole recovers from the blast to discover that he has been infused with electrical powers, starting with the ability to power a light bulb.
With the explosion believed to be the work of a terrorist organization, the city is locked down, and several gangs vie for control. Cole and his friends make a break for the city gates, only to be stopped by federal agents. Cole quickly agrees to help them in exchange for escape for himself and his friends, and he begins a battle to restore order to the three islands of the city.
Cole is more heroic for doing good deeds, such as helping the remaining city police, and more infamous for evil actions, such as executing criminals after detaining them. Becoming more heroic or infamous grants Cole new powers, and while you can alternate between good and evil, you won't reach your full potential by mixing the two.
The stories don't vary much depending on which path you choose; the same general plot elements occur, but with a different flair depending on your karma. With the overall story playing out like a classic tale of good versus evil, and the great concern Cole has for his friends no matter his decisions, the heroic role is a better fit. Without spoiling too much, the story leads to a final confrontation with the super-villain Kessler, only to get a startling twist at the end that will leave you eager for another game in the series to fulfill Cole's destiny.
Electricity grants Cole a solid variety of tools to battle enemies and travel around the city in style. Standard electrical shocks from his hands dispatch gangsters quickly enough, and Cole gains new powers as time goes on, such as grenades and missiles made from electrical energy, static thrusters to slow down his falling, and charged feet to grind across power lines at high speeds as if he were on a skateboard. He can even walk up to people dying in the streets and act as human defibrillator, saving lives in his free time. Eventually he can call lightning from the sky and wreak havoc upon anyone in his way. With your ability to mold Cole however you see fit, it feels as if you genuinely define the destiny of a super-powered being.
Gameplay is a solid and smooth mix of fighting enemies and exploring the city. Traversing the city involves more than just walking down the street. Almost anything you see that you can logically grab (a pipe on a building side, window ledges, telephone poles) you can climb, all the way up to the tallest buildings if you so desire. Cole's powers allow him to soften any fall through static discharge, so no matter how far the fall, he'll be just fine. On rare occasions, the hand-holds won't react the way they should and you'll be left falling until you hit another one, but they are few and far between in the wide city area.
When enemies pop up, you can get in close and attack with electrified punches and kicks like a human Taser, or go long-range and zap enemies with an over-the-shoulder aiming system. The aim is set up to be useful from any position you might find yourself in while climbing around, so no matter what you're doing, you can fight back against would-be attackers. If you don't feel like fighting, you can simply run away. That won't stop enemies from shooting at you, and you'll likely take some damage while retreating, but unless they're some of the more vicious and dedicated enemies (such as the similarly super-powered Conduits), they won't follow you for long.
Characters and environments have sharp details and texturing, but from time to time the AI is lacking, as citizens walk into walls and cars drive themselves. Cinema scenes use a still-frame comic styling that goes from picture to picture with Cole narrating, and his gruff voice gives him an aura of toughness. Outside of cinema scenes, background music only pops up when Cole begins traveling around the city at a fast pace.
One aspect that separates this large, free-roaming game from its competition is the gameplay engine behind it. Running into turf wars between gangs with pedestrians, gunfire, and explosions littering the streets all at once causes a lot of havoc, but not once has the game had slowdown in my experience. Of all the large-scale games I have played, including Grand Theft Auto 4 and Fallout 3, this one runs most smoothly.
That combined with exhilarating gameplay and electrical powers create the compelling experience of becoming a new superhero ... or super-villain. Cole's an average guy stuck in an extraordinary situation with no easy answer, which results in a gripping story and a likable (or feared) main character. One can only hope that this gem gets the electrifying sequel it deserves.
Infamous is available on PlayStation 3 for $59.95. For this review, the author played through both the good and evil storylines to completion.
Luke Hamilton is a buyer, creative designer, and online coordinator for Video Games Etc. He can be reached at email@example.com.