I’ve had Infamous for a while but never managed to complete it, partly because I found it a challenge to play in significant doses. However I’ve picked it up again and thought I’d write a little about it whilst taking a break.
The standout game mechanism for me is the karma system where the player’s actions dictates whether they are good or evil. Do you take the selfish or selfless option when civilians are in trouble? Do you heal injured civilians or suck power from them to your own gain? Your choices do more than just affect an arbitrary level as civilians will react to you differently depending on whether you are good or evil. Become a hero and everyone will adore you, prey on the city and you’ll be despised and stoned by the passers by.
Personally I opted to go down the “good” route but not out of some goody two shoes ideal but rather I felt dealing with the bad guys was burden enough! I imagine that if I have a second playthrough, which to be honest is likely, that I’ll go down the evil route. This of course creates fairly new gameplay with slightly different side missions & powers, giving a real incentive to play the game again. Very clever idea!
Ah yes, powers. Throughout the game you unlock a range of electrical powers from your basic zap to grenades, rocket launchers and more powerful melee combat. Regardless of your playing style, there is bound to be something to suit you and powers are upgradable allowing you to improve your preferred power. Despite the range they are fairly easy to use and browsing the power up menu shows you how to complete them. A nice touch is that when a power is unlocked you get a brief clip of how to use it. The remaining section of that quest will then encourage you to utilise the power and gain some experience of it.
Rather than ammo the powers require finding a near by electrical source, for example street lights or generators, and draining it. The amount of juice that you can load up is increased by finding shards hidden throughout the open world. This makes quite a nice combination both in terms of context & story as well as the gameplay allowing for strategic reloading. It also makes an excellent use of the open world, even better than Crackdown and the orbs. In addition there are various satellite dishes containing voice clips, which combined with the character’s climbing ability it makes exploring the world a compelling side activity.
Unfortunately exploring the world, or just looking to get back to the nearest save point or mission start, can be very hazardous with enemies dotted around. Often this is just a few that you can react to and take out but sometimes you can find yourself pinned down by rocket launchers, turret fire or just 20 guys on you from all directions, including above. On a few occasions I have been left royally pissed off after a rocket caught me mid air and immediately upon landing half dead, about half a dozen enemies lay into me whilst getting back up… and suddenly I’m dead. This can also happen during missions, even when doing tricky platforming elements. I was pretty annoyed when a rocket launcher dude from out of my view distance caught me mid jump during a mission, causing a restart. There are further issues with the rocket launcher enemies, in particular their blatant inability to comprehend that the rocket launcher is not a close range weapon. I find it a little absurd that the enemies will quite happily fire a rocket from point blank.
Infamous, as with many modern titles, includes a health regen system and a low health effect which in this case is greyscale. I’m not a fan of regen in general, however in a more open environment where someone can surprise you from any angle I do appreciate the need. However whilst the low health effect adds to the intensity, it does more to just impede you. Identifying an enemy from a civilian becomes near impossible. I don’t understand why games like to make it night on unplayable when near death, increasing the likelihood of dying. Perhaps it is because I don’t like having to run away and hide in games. When I see my health drop I feel motivated to push harder, however the game is trying to get me to retreat and take cover. This is just wrong, at least in my opinion.
I don’t mean to complain about challenge or dying, but I see it as though there are two causes of death in games; avoidable and unavoidable. The avoidable ones are either through player stupidity, mistake or just lack of skill. The unavoidable ones are usually a result of irrational or illogical AI, poor balancing of types & quantity of enemies, lack of direction in level design along with the evil that is pre-emptive firing. When I die through avoidable means I can get annoyed and frustrated, but that is my own fault but when its unavoidable the game takes the blame and sadly Infamous seems guilty of all four common causes unavoidable deaths.
The last key aspect of the game that I’d like to discuss is the plot and characters. Perhaps I’ve just not been paying enough attention in the early stages or forgotten key elements but it feels as though I’m meant to know and care about who the random bad guys are, but I don’t. The background seems to be missing so when I meet a boss and it is pitched to me as some epic battle of destiny, I’m left pondering “and this person is?…” Normally plots and characters don’t bother me as I’m more interested in the action and shooty bits with everything else a wrapper & context to what I’m doing but there’s something about Infamous that I can’t put my finger on. Perhaps it is that some of the key dialog is going on while I’m dodging rockets. How am I expected to follow what is going on if you are shooting me at the same time? Especially when using the usual boring tone of voice.
It would be a shame to end this article on a negative tone as this is a good game with some interesting ideas so I’ll finish on the UI. The HUD and menus are all nice and clear but what I really like is the radar. Pressing the R3 button gives out the locations of electricity sources, shards and the voice clips. It is a massive aid to exploring the open world so that you aren’t just aimlessly wandering around trying to find the collectibles or a power source if you desperately need some juice. Its a fine example of the solid gameplay systems in Infamous.
Completion: ~70% complete