Sony hosted an off-site preview for its slate of upcoming games including inFamous -- Sucker Punch Productions’ open-world, action-adventure superhero-title. Nate Fox was on hand to give me a demo, introducing himself as, “Nate Fox, like the small animal that eats chickens. I’m the game director at infamous, so I’m responsible for this mess.” After playing through the demo, I can guarantee you that he’s joking.
Gamers take the reins of Cole McGrath, a former bike messenger, two weeks after he wakes up as the only survivor at the epicenter of an explosion that wipes out six blocks and thousands of denizens of Empire City. On the upside, Cole discovers that he now has superpowers from controlling electricity. On the downside, Empire City has gone to hell. A plague sets in following the explosion and leads to a federal quarantine on Empire City. Some good old-fashioned rioting kills off most of the local cops. Fox described Empire City's conditions saying, “In the power vacuum that follows, some of the gangs decide ‘We’re going to take what we want’ and form up militias. Looting is an important aspect to any video game these days, it’s very next-gen. It’s in what is effectively a social powder keg where people are effectively losing hope where people have yet to abandon their stores and jobs and homes where Cole can express himself.”
That’s Fox’s way of saying that your decisions in the game will have an affect on the world and how the people of Empire City -- who already wonder why you’re the guy who survived the blast that kicked off this mess -- view you. “We give the players the choice to save the city or destroy it.”
Fox counted graphic novels DMZ and Batman’s No Man’s Land among the heavy influences for the game, but that’s as close as things get to classic comic-book superheroism. There aren't any Spandex, big yellow belts, or plastic nipples on the body armor. Avoiding the existing comic-book mythologies also served a practical purpose -- Sucker Punch had to be able to deliver a game. “There are a lot of great superheroes. There aren’t a lot of great superhero games. And part of that is because you have to feel a lot of sympathy for someone who tries to make a game around an existing power set. Like the ability to cut through steel or anything, how do you make a video game out of that? It’s really hard because you want to make good on your promise to the player. So we asked, ‘What’s a power set that you can deliver on that works well in a video game? Let’s make the character around that. Video games are interactive, not narrative. So we wanted the powers to be fresh and alive in the space. So we built the game from the ground up around Cole’s power set.”
Basically, Sucker Punch went deep on the concept of electricity. Metal objects like light poles can conduct shocks. Cole delivers deadly shocks to anyone standing in water, but he boils himself to death if he falls on himself. He can defibrillate fallen enemies and heal them, or he can drain a victim’s bioelectric impulses, including wandering innocents, to restore his internal battery. Just so you know, killing off hapless pedestrians isn’t the best PR move.
When I asked Fox about the existence of other super-powered enemies built into the world he succinctly replied, “We would be jackasses not to put in super powered enemies. It’s part of the genre. You can’t make a superpowered game without superpowered, iconic villains, that you will remember months after you play the game.” I got to see a few hints of these characters in the form of a disembodied female voice looking to control Cole, as well as a mini-boss battle against a group of vagrants that somehow gained telekinetic powers following the blast.
Cole’s electric power set grows and evolves as he levels up. He initially starts with the ability to produce crude electric blasts and a secondary ability to climb just about any surface in the world with the skill of a mountaineer. “If you’re a superhero and can’t climb to the top of a building,” says Fox, “you’re not much of a super hero.”
The overall effect is kind of a cross between Grand Theft Auto IV, City of Heroes, and noir graphic novels. The game controls are straightforward when it comes to combat and traversing the world. After getting a taste for playing Cole, I’m definitely looking forward to picking up the game and seeing just how far Sucker Punch can take Cole’s power set and how much havoc I can wreak in Empire City.