inFamous

 

Marvel Comics launched in 1961, fueled early on by an axiom: “With great power comes great responsibility.” inFamous attempts to reconfigure Marvel’s early days in videogame form, and is impressively successful in many respects. A mysterious explosion devastates Empire City and bestows superpowers on Cole, formerly a lowly bike messenger. As Cole’s powers develop—he can control electricity, survive great falls, and scale surfaces using the barest handholds—he faces decisions. Should he help citizens strengthen his city’s weak pulse, or use his new abilities to become a self-styled god?

As you consider that choice, your actions develop a “heroic” or “infamous” nature. Playing the true hero is difficult, as your powers become seriously damaging both to the gangs that infiltrate the city and to harmless civilians. Taking out random folks ain’t a good idea, karmically speaking. So driving the karma meter into the red removes any need to use powers with restraint. 

But playing evil isn’t as satisfying, in a narrative sense, as being the goody two-shoes. No matter which angle you take, you’re always going to be wiping out gangs and pushing toward the resolution of a well-crafted primary storyline. Still, for the evil side to really come to life, there should be a way to take over the gangs and crush the city in an iron grip. Instead, evil gets short shrift.

Cole is well-drawn, but Empire City is the game’s most compelling character. In spite of some cookie-cutter neighborhoods, the burg has real personality. You’ll free-run across rooftops and power lines, complete side missions that are just the right length, and see the city’s appearance change to reflect your role as savior or power-mad despot. 

Beyond the game: inFamous is by the same studio that made the often-overlooked Sly Cooper games for the PlayStation 2. Much of the same city-scaling ambition of that series comes to fruition here. If only there were an unlockable Sly Cooper costume…

Worth playing for: The massive battles between gangs, where your powers can really be unleashed.

Frustration sets in when: The game arbitrarily limits Cole’s climbing abilities in order to pen him into a space, or prevent him from exploring an area too soon. With so much freedom elsewhere, that design tactic is galling.

Final judgment: A grand adventure in the mode of Marvel’s good old days.