A bike courier in the fictional ‘Empire City’, Cole’s story begins by delivering a package. Upon arrival at his destination, he is instructed to open the parcel, revealing a device which immediately triggers a massive explosion leading to the destruction of much of Empire City – Cole the only survivor in the immediate blast radius.
The entire city is locked down, completely isolated from the outside world, save for a warped news broadcast and the occasional food drop.
When Cole awakens, he is greeted with the realisation that the blast has changed him, Cole is able to manipulate electricity. And his power is growing..
In a city under quarantine and in a state of disarray, chaos ensues, gangs form and plagued citizens begin to appear. In a city seemingly lost to the world, Cole may be the only chance they’ve got.
Quickly we learn that Cole’s powers are in their infancy. You begin with a struggle to learn what you’re truly capable of. Its a tutorial of sorts that is more of a realisation for both the player – and the character of Cole – than it is a babysitting of the game’s controls and actions. Its an innovative introduction to the inFamous world but its not long before you’re in the thick of the action.
inFamous is about as open-world as it gets. Essentially everything you can see can be explored. No rooftop is off limits, no invisible walls bar you from areas. Certain sections of the city are locked out early on in the game, but they’re as a result of this massive blast that’s devastated the city.
In a clever way, these are unlocked not by unexplained circumstances or after a certain time/mission frame – but rather, you unlock them. They are part of game progress. Lowering a bridge, reconnecting power and such. Once each borough is unlocked though, there’s nowhere you can’t reach.
The city itself is daunting to begin with, quite large – and even only starting on one of the three possible areas, you have a tremendous feeling of scale. You are but a small speck of a character, a tiny person in a huge, crumbing world. Thankfully, Cole is adept at free-running and urban exploration – and incredibly fit. So you race through streets like the T1000 and scale the side of a building in moments.
Power cables networked between buildings offer you fast ways to connect between rooftops and elevated train tracks provide even quicker shortcuts around the city, especially later when you unlock the ‘grind’ abilities.
The one limit you have, the one Achilles Heel and the Kryptonite of Cole’s world is naturally, water. Certain death meets a fall into the blue water surrounding Empire City’s islands.
There’s a tremendous amount of planning that’s gone into the creation of the city. It actually functions. Even in its devastated, broken down state, people still roam the streets going about their business, searching for food in garbage cans or racing to their destinations in beat-up cars. Trains eventually operate in the city and in itself, feels like this was once a well-oiled machine of civilisation. Now struggling to stay afloat on the cusp of disaster.
Of course, this city would be nothing without stuff to do.
Story Missions are displayed within the inFamous game world by glowing blue lights dotted around the landscape. Simply walking into them triggers your mission and usually sets about a cut scene story component.
Story missions range from tracking your foes, to protecting friends – and also incorporate rejuvenating the city, fixing infrastructure, and most importantly, bringing power back to Empire City.
See, Cole can’t actually produce electricity. He can only manipulate it. So when you venture around the city, now crippled by the explosion, you will encounter much of it in complete darkness, void of lights, power supply and any electricity. This affects Cole’s abilities to function greatly.
Suddenly, your vision dims and blurs. He feels drained. And there’s nowhere to recharge when you need healing, or your powers need a fresh boost.
An entire city at your fingertips.. but do you rescue it, or doom it?
Missions take you into underground infrastructure, and you work to restore power around the city regularly by zapping power substations back to life. A happy Cole is an electrified Cole.
While the blue halos are what drive you to new areas, unlocks and game progress, there’s also yellow lights in abundance throughout Empire City too.
Side Missions are equally as important to your time in Empire City. Each of the three regions within Empire City; the Neon District, the Warren and the Historic District – are subdivided into small sections of control where it’s gang factions terrorise the populace and pillage the area. These side missions offer you the chance to take back control over these small sub-sections of each district and make the area safe again for Empire City’s honest residents.
Scattered throughout the city are Blast Shards; Energy-charged chunks of shrapnel left over from the explosion of the Ray Sphere. These Shards are the ‘collectibles’ of inFamous. Unlike some game collectibles though, Shards in inFamous serve a very important purpose. They are used to create Battery Cores, which provide additional energy to Cole.
While you start the game with a satisfying 12 Battery Core spots, you soon realise that usage of your stronger powers drains one of these Battery Cores with each application. Essentially meaning you’ll require a recharge with ever 12 power usages.
Fortunately, Shards show up on your mini-map by pulse-checking for electrical sources.. but the last few can be hard to find!
Collecting Blast Shards can increase your Battery Core quotient to 24 at the conclusion of collecting all 350 Shards scattered throughout the city. A thoroughly enjoyable, but also incredibly time consuming and distracting hobby (even more so when you get to the end of the game and realise you’ve missed one or two).
They’re a great way to not only get you exploring the city, but also to keep you playing and collecting – for not only is there a Trophy reward for this progress, but also in-game increases to your on-the-run power as a result. Especially important when venturing into new districts, devoid of running electricity.
Age old conflict – Good or Evil?
The absolute gem of inFamous is its Karma system. Every action, whether it be a mission decision, side mission option, or down to how you present yourself to the people of Empire city, is reflected in your Karma ranking.
It affects absolutely everything about the way you go about your business in Empire City. People will react to you differently, you’re offered different mission paths, different people will want to know you, even your appearance changes as you’re consumed by your will, driven good or evil.
Missions can end up Good or Evil judging by your actions, but there are also Neutral results that simply grant XP bonus
The righteous path blesses you with blue lightning powers and conversely, evil bestows Cole with blazing red lightning control. Even the way your powers form and function vary based on your Karmic direction.
Never has the choice been so glaringly in your face. Its a game that truly makes use of its Karma system to the utmost. Become a Hero and throngs of people will swarm to the area as soon as they spot you. They’ll whip out cameras, the flashes will go off. “We love you Cole!” someone will shout. A woman in the crowd yells “I want your babies!”. They’ll follow you across the street, try to keep up and if enemies show up, they’ll often stand at your side and hurl stones and junk at them. “You’re doing a good thing” a man says as you walk away.
Become inFamous however, and you deal with the wrath of evil. People scream and run away when you jump into the street, someone will hurl a stone at you as you’re trying to climb to your next destination. They’ll be joined by a mob of angry people hurling junk and abuse at you. “Let’s get him!” someone in the crowd will yell and they attempt to chase after you. Your friends question your morals. Even your appearance changes. Your skin ashen and grey, the bad karma consuming you.
It is a game that simply has to be played twice. You cannot miss both directions – both paths in the moral and ethical spectrum simply have to be explored and appreciated.
Depending on your Karmic approach, your power set will vary slightly – the red powers (evil) locked to negative karmic approaches. The blue powers (good) locked to a positive karmic approach.
All of your powers have limits within the game world. As we learn in the early stages of the game, Cole can’t use guns or cars as his electricity manipulation would make ammunition explode and fry delicate automobile electronics.
So you have numerous electricity-manipulation techniques at your disposal. “Shock Grenades” for example, offer what a traditional military grenade does in effect, but its powered by a ball of controlled super-energy. Furthermore, a good karma grenade does more focus damage, an evil karma grenade does more splash damage, similar to a cluster grenade.
Most of your manipulated powers have three levels of upgrades, the experience points (XP) you earn from missions and actions the currency here, increasing damage, increasing blast radius and such. You also have a basic package of powers like precision targeting (think of an electric sniper rifle) and a shield/forcefield. Its a great system, both powerful and intuitive.
The way electricity affects both Cole and the environment is equally as impressive. Running over a tiny pool of water will electrify it, shards of electricity grappling out across the surface and zapping anything it touches including civilians and enemies. You have to be mindful of this fact sometimes too, as it is quite easy to fry a whole pack of your dearly devoted by leading them into a puddle.
The solution to this on a good play-through, is the healing trait. Essentially turning your hands into a set of defibrillator paddles, shocking an injured person back into animation. Its a hilarious and rewarding activity which never seems to get boring.
The flipside activity is the Bio-Leech. You pin the poor soul to the ground, and hammer the Square button to fight off their struggle while you plant a hand on their face and suck the life right out of them. Bio-Leeching gifts the advantage of completely refilling all of your Battery Cores, but comes at the cost of lower XP gain and obviously, bad karma. Not so bad when you’re trying to be evil, but not so good if you’re going for Hero either.
Its all a judgement call. You do what you feel is right at the time. Sometimes its good, sometimes the effects are evil. It is however, always fresh and quite unique.
Empire City, post blast is run by three major gang-related elements who have taken over respective boroughs of the city.
The first faction you encounter, The Reapers, were junkies and drug dealers before the blast, and basically run the Neon District. Hell-bent on spreading the plague they are afflicted by, they force their black tar onto the population, pumping it into the water supply and throwing it up on civilians.
As you progress through the game, you encounter The Dust Men – former homeless people and forgotten souls, outfitted with trash bags and pieces of scrap metal as armour. And the First Sons, a mysterious organisation sporting breathing apparatus and with incredibly powerful top-tier units.
Each faction within Empire City has its own unique visual style and their upper-tier units, the “Conduits” are formidable adversaries across the range. There are some fantastic fight sequences with enemies phasing in and out of cloak, firing barrages of rockets and grenades at you, and launching packs of scorpion-like robotic foes in your path.
Few have managed to tie in the sandbox environment with so much reliance on careful choice and rewarding the player for exploration. inFamous succeeds greatly on an involving and immersing plot, engaging environments, unique bosses and enemies and a highlight of Karma systems in games.
Surprisingly, for its sandbox nature, inFamous doesn’t take the immediate graphical hit that a lot of games in this genre often have to succumb to in order to maintain acceptable frame rates during intense action scenes.
Textures are high resolution, models are well detailed and particularly the differing architectural styles between districts are well created. Buildings have a myriad of footholds and grab spots for Cole to scale and then the amazing draw distance as you approach the skyline, coupled with the speed at which you tear through Empire City, with very little pop-in is unbelievably impressive.
The fact that inFamous manages to maintain a solid framerate for the entirety of the game, no matter the circumstances, number of enemies on screen, fire fights or outlook is a testament to Sucker Punch’s development skills. Adding in the fact that it looks amazing while doing so it worthy of great acknowledgement.
Feel the wrath…
It is undoubtedly one of the best looking sandbox games to date.
The city itself experiences a day/night cycle which affects lighting, but there is an absence of weather changes. You do however experience environmental changes with fog/haze.
Characters are modelled in great detail and there’s some very uniquely designed people you encounter. While the enemies are also very noteworthy with their haunting cloaks, masks and serious demeanour, especially their respective Conduit units, equally as powerful as you in some situations and more than capable of using similar electric attacks, its Cole that receives the best artistic attention.
For each play-through, good vs evil, is almost like playing a completely different main character. His appearance throughout the stories are completely capable of change. The way this has been done graphically is brilliant. Not only do evil acts prove you’re evil, but you look evil and vice versa.
Obviously the electrical effects are the show-piece and Cole’s powers (and the electrical weapons of your enemies) look very convincing and impressive. Bolts of lightning tear through the area, conducting through adjacent structures and objects, coursing though cars, puddles, people.. The immense power at your fingertips is displayed in such a way that you feel powerful with it. It looks devastating and it is.
Its quite an accomplishment to get it looking the way it does, there’s never a moment when electricity hovers or hits an invisible wall or looks unbelievable. Whether you’re firing at a car, person, electrifying a train track, or shocking someone walking around in water of a sewer system, it all looks spot on and effective.
The fact that inFamous was able to make Empire City an enormous, quickly-scalable sandbox environment, with rich graphics and special effects is a fantastic achievement.
inFamous lacks a real show-stopping musical score, but it makes up for this with some great special effects. Crackling and popping of electricity, explosions as a result; It shakes the room and pierces your ears. You’d almost believe there was a storm brewing outside when unleashing a Lightning Storm in an Empire City street.
There are some intense action scenes, particularly as you delve into new unexplored areas, devoid of power supply, thick with enemies and turret trucks when all hell literally breaks loose. Cars are exploding and flying through the air every which way, you’re zapping enemies with lightning bolts, hurling grenades into the larger packs, summoning a lightning storm to clear a path and generating a power shield to block incoming fire and regenerate battery cores. Its aural bliss while this is going on. Sounds emanating from every speaker around the room, rumbling from the subwoofer. Coupled with constant feedback from your Dualshock 3, you really feel like you’re in the midst of the action on screen.
While it misses out on some powerful musical pieces which could have further intensified some key scenes of the story, the in-game sound effects are great.
Good ol’ Australia was late to the party with this one, so I’m probably preaching to already owners of this title – but nonetheless, if you’re sitting on the fence regarding this one, there’s no reason to keep waiting.
inFamous takes the sandbox game, gives you additional option and polishes the experience. It gives us a glimpse at what a real, exclusive, open-world next-gen game is all about. Freedom, graphical prestige and fun. inFamous proves we can have it all when it comes to a sandbox title.
The Karma system is one of the best, certainly one of the most genuine experiences in these sort of games. All the way through the story you consider your decisions, weight the benefits versus the fallout and make tough choices. And you see this reflected in the way everyone in the city reacts to you. I did feel at times the system could have been a little more open – you had to be either totally hellish, or completely angelic to unlock the best powers and abilities, but I’m yet to mix and match story choices to see where this takes me fully.
It really is a struggle to fault inFamous with its multitude of option and enjoyable game play. Even the Trophy hunters who will only grab it for another Platinum will immensely enjoy the experience on both mandatory play-throughs.
Not one to miss.