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Hands-On: 'inFamous'

sjohnson
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Posted April 29, 2009 - By Stephen Johnson

inFamous

If you haven’t heard of Sucker Punch Software’s inFamous, you haven’t been paying much attention to the gaming press. It was originally announced at E3 nearly two years ago, and since then, here at G4tv.com, we’ve covered the hell out of this sandbox style, open-world third-person action game for the PlayStation 3. We’ve brought you screenshot galleries. We’ve posted trailers. We’ve written a hands-on. And another hands-on. Morgan Webb checked out the game on X-Play. We’ve talked to the game’s developers.  In short, we have discussed this game at great length.

Given the amount of coverage this game has received, I’m not sure why a tour of Sucker Punch and a hands-on opportunity was provided to us game journalists last week. But Sony and Sucker Punch did provide it. Thanks, fellas! I guess the companies are just proud of their PlayStation 3 exclusive.

The aforementioned game journalists played the game under optimum conditions. Well, optimum for people to have fun and feel good about the game, but maybe not optimum for having the most in-depth gaming experience ever. See, Sucker Punch extended their hospitality by inviting the gaming press to a party at its studio --a party with copious, delicious appetizers, a cool Seattle DJ, and a bunch of stations set up with PlayStation 3s, each with inFamous on a different level. Oh, and an open bar.


But enough about my glamorous life. Here are my impressions of inFamous. The game is cool. That’s pretty trite, I realize. The loud, crowded atmosphere and aforementioned open bar might have prevented me from coming up with the most in-depth technical evaluation of the game, but it sure left a positive impression.

inFamous

The game’s controls and animation are very impressive. The thing about this title that really upped the Wow-factor was the intuitive nature of the controls. There’s nothing worse in a game than a less-than-responsive joystick – like, say, you want to take hold of a ledge and your avatar bangs his head against it instead of just grabbing on.  In the time I was playing it, inFamous never did that. The software anticipates what you “mean” when you waggle the sticks so well that it almost seems psychic.

As far as the levels I played:  There was an escort mission that involved taking prisoners from one location to another, with plenty of moral-development (or moral destructive!) opportunities present. If you want to be a nice guy, just herd them to their destination. But if you want to be a d*ck, zap ‘em with electricity to keep ‘em nice and compliant. This is an example of the game’s morality system, and it worked. Like in real life, it seems generally easier to be mean than to be nice. But niceness rewards you with a positive sense of self worth and different powers.

There were boss battle levels with a gigantic robotic enemy trying to kill you. A level where the goal is to climb the side of a huge tower, a level where the goal is to destroy a police station and get rid of the cops trying to take you out, and a level that involves crossing a crumbling, collapsing bridge while enemies try to shoot your head off.

inFamous

All of this was pretty cool and interesting stuff, but all these levels and game vignettes I tried out had one thing in common: I found myself constantly wanting to ignore them. This isn’t to say that they weren’t good or challenging or interesting or graphically impressive. They were all of these things, but the thing about inFamous that really spoke to me--that got the gears turning and blood flowing--was the pure joy of movement in the open world aspect of the game. 

It was just so damn fun to run around and leap up on ledges and climb buildings that the “plot” elements seemed superfluous. Think of the first few times you played Crackdown. You know you spent all that time just running around and seeing how high you could climb. If you’re like me, you can’t remember anything about Crackdown except the game’s vertical orientation. It was so real-feeling it actually induced vertigo. inFamous is like that. You can climb anything in the game. Everything that looks like a ledge is climbable. Every windowsill can be grasped. Cole balances on any tiny ledge. The in-game animations are so context sensitive and attuned to the game’s controls that it was sometimes almost scary. Like the game was psychic and “knew” what I was planning to do even before I did it.

There are a few truly show stopping, jaw-droppingly impressive mechanics in the open-world portion of inFamous. Because Cole thrives on electricity, he can “surf” power lines and elevated subway tracks. So a climb to the top of a tall building is usually rewarded with a surfable power-line that connects to another building, and Cole shoots down the line like Tony Hawk riding a tasty rail to the next building, picking up speed and giving off sparks.

'inFamous'

Once I “discovered” the coolness of climbing and power-line-surfing, that was all I wanted to do. While I realized that my “goal” in the demo levels was to wreck the police station or escort the prisoners, what I really yearned for as a player was the freedom the game offers.

I felt a little bad at first for largely ignoring the missions set up for us to play at the gaming event, but quickly realized that it’s almost the point, and that Sucker Punch’s karma system and open world gameplay was actually revealing something about me as a person.  If I were granted super powers in real life in a freak accident like Cole, I probably wouldn’t fight crime. Nor would I go out of my way to be a total jerk and hurt people. I’d probably act pretty much like I did in the game – ignoring the plot of the world around me in favor of the pure, self-evident joy of exploration, exertion and making my own kind of adventure—kind of like going to a party with like-minded geeks and ignoring the mission of making cogent, deep technical observations about a game. That’s just not my bag, man. And so it is with inFamous.

'inFamous'

Where the “goal” of some games is to get people to behave in a certain way, to follow along the tracks of the right kind of action and pick up your reward at the end, that’s not inFamous’s style. I’m sure the game’s mission system and plot will provide enough structure to appeal to the “But where do I go next?!” style of gamer, but the real achievement here for Sucker Punch is making players feel truly free. Free to leave the confines of your workaday life and responsibility and become the biggest, coolest, most agile badass on the planet and just run around and surf on power lines and climb skyscrapers, just for the hell of it. If this is the goal of inFamous, the game succeeds greatly. Like I said above, the game is just freakin’ cool. And you’ll feel pretty freakin’ cool playing it, whether you’re a booze-soaked Seattle party or in your living room, all by yourself.

inFamous is scheduled to release on May 26, 2009.

Hands-On: 'inFamous'
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