There have been plenty of open world games and Grand Theft Auto knock-offs in the past few years. Of these, Crackdown was one of the most interesting. In that game, you played as a souped-up cop with special abilities. You could pick up and throw cars, leap buildings in a single bound, and engage in other amazing feats. For what looked like a cash-in title, it was pretty original and a lot of fun. The big problem? There was no story. At all. You were given objectives to complete, but they in no way tied to a story. Despite this flaw, Crackdown was universally praised, and people were very excited to hear a sequel was in the works at this year's E3 convention.
But while Microsoft was busy trumpeting the follow-up, a game slipped into stores that, if you'll pardon the pun, may have stolen all of Crackdown's thunder. That game is Infamous. It's the same basic idea: You're a super-powered being in an open world environment overrun with crime. But now, instead of playing one of several super-cops, you're always playing as one man, and you follow his story from beginning to end. As the game starts, you're Cole, a lowly courier. Unexpectedly, a package you're carrying explodes, destroying several city blocks and thousands of lives. Amazingly, you're unhurt, and as you escape the wreckage, you discover that you've developed the power to control electricity. In the weeks that follow the explosion, chaos descends on Empire City, forcing the U.S. government to quarantine the three islands that make it up. Now your powers have grown and you've decided to set some things back to rights, and also discover the truth behind the explosion.
What a difference a little story makes. From the opening moments of Infamous, you're immediately drawn in to this world. Cole is an interesting protagonist, and his development is made that much more interesting by a Good/Evil decision system worked into the game. At several points, you'll be faced with a decision where you can choose to be selfless and help others (at times harming yourself in the process) or selfish and let the other people be damned. As you go through the game, the cumulative effects of these actions appear in the way people treat you. If you're good, people will applaud you, take photos of you, and sometimes even come to your assistance when fighting bad guys. If you're evil, your visage will change, people will be frightened of you, and sometimes even throw stones at you. In addition, being good or evil confers certain bonuses to your powers.
Speaking of powers, you have a ton. You start with a basic shock attack, which you will use all the way through the game, as it takes up no energy to use (which makes no sense, but I digress). As you get further on in the game, you develop more powers, such as energy grenades, energy missiles, the ability to hover in the air, and all the way up to a devastating lightning strike attack that descends from the heavens. As you take down enemies and complete missions, you gain experience points that you can redeem to beef up your powers, with additional bonuses gained depending on your good or bad orientation. Generally speaking, if you're good, the bonuses make your attacks more precise, and help you regain health and/or energy. If you're evil, your attacks become more broad and supercharged. While you can get through the game using only three or four powers, some of the secondary abilities can be quite useful if utilized well, and you can chain attacks using different powers for unexpected results.
Empire City, the game's setting, is split into three different islands, and virtually everything in the game can be scaled. Cole is a little like Spider-Man. He can't stick to walls, but if there's even the slightest amount of purchase on a ledge, he'll latch onto it. This is especially useful since Cole can't drive cars (an in-game dialogue exchange explains that any car he gets into explodes), so leaping from rooftop to rooftop is the most efficient way to get around. Each island features tougher enemies and other hazards designed to slow Cole down, but the effective use of your powers should make mincemeat of any opposition.
That isn't to say that the enemies are all pushovers. By the time you hit the third island, even the generic thugs can be tough, especially when armed with heavier weapons. There are several classes of villains, from snipers and machine gunners to "Conduits" who have their own special abilities. There are three boss characters who offer genuine challenges. Get used to dying, because it's going to happen several times throughout the course of the game. You can switch the difficulty on the fly if things are looking too tough for you.
In addition to the main plot, there are several side quests and collectible items for you to find as you make your way around Empire City. The side quests feel more varied than they do in most open world games, but ultimately there are only so many types and they do get tiring by the end. Each time you complete a side quest, a small section of the island becomes cleared of enemies permanently (except when necessary for a main quest), making it easier to navigate without being attacked. There are also 15 good and bad side missions. Completing them not only adds points to your Good/Evil meter, but when you complete five, ten, and the fifteenth, you can unlock additional powers. The main quests are astonishingly varied and creative. Some of them are truly epic in scope. I was never bored while playing the main quests, that is for sure.
Infamous contains no multiplayer options. I know a lot of people live or die by multiplayer, but I'm not one of them. I'll take a perfectly executed single player game over a large scale multiplayer game any day. But it is worth nothing for those multiplayer fiends.
For the cutscenes, Infamous employs a graphic novel style that doesn't require the use of the character models from the game itself. They're not terribly done, but they did take me out of the game a little each time they popped up. The game itself looks impressive. Each island has its own distinctive look, and each has enough unique areas that you're never lost while you navigate. If you do feel turned around, you can always go to the overview map by hitting select. Damage is reflected by blood splashes at the sides of the screen, and as you take more damage, the game turns gray and slows down. If you can't recharge quickly or avoid taking more damage, you're done for. On a technical level, I did notice some jaggies and sometimes enemies small details were hard to make out, even on a 65" screen, but given the size and scope of Empire City, these are minor complaints. Overall, Infamous is a good looking game.
The sound in Infamous packs a lot of punch. Making excellent use of the surrounds, you can hear bullets whiz by you (or into you), and your powers pack a satisfying punch. You can hear Cole crackling with electricity, and some of the bigger moments in the game really get the sub going. There is a good amount of voice acting throughout the game. Cole sounds sort of like Solid Snake and has by far the best performance. The supporting characters range from interesting (the villains) to silly (Cole's best friend, Zeke). Still, you quickly get accustomed to everyone.
Infamous is a well-realized game. An open world title with a developed story that sucks you in and utilizing a Good/Evil system that makes you feel like you're part of a larger community. Cole's powers are impressive and a ton of fun to use. The whole thing is impressively packaged, with good graphics and fantastic sound. It's been a while since I've played a game as consistently interesting and enjoyable as Infamous.