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Game Over Online ~ inFAMOUS Preview

inFAMOUS Preview

Published: Thursday, May 21st, 2009 at 03:29 PM
Written By: Thomas Wilde

As a demo, InFamous is weird. You lurch around from mission to mission, changing ethical parameters with no rhyme or reason, and are thrown directly into the middle of the story with very little preamble. It doesn't help that the opening level, an escort mission that involves a train full of hostages and an elevated subway track, is annoyingly designed.

On the other hand, InFamous handles this kind of gameplay - the kind of superhero parkour free-roaming action that Spider-Man 2 handled so well - better than anything I've played up to this point. Any building you see is a nest of handholds, allowing you to scale almost anything and effortlessly climb to any point. Wires and rails can be ground down, and you can fall any distance without injury as long as you break your momentum by holding R1. Travel seems effortless.

InFamous begins when an unnamed accident destroys a large part of Empire City. The initial destruction leads directly to rioting, the collapse of the local government, and finally, the rise of a plague that leads the U.S. government to quarantine the city. No one gets in or out.

Cole is caught in the initial explosion, and wakes up two weeks later in an Empire City that's fallen into anarchy. The police have died, fled, or given up, and the streets are run by gangs like the Reapers, wielding both superhuman abilities and military-grade hardware. (Really, they're not a gang anymore. They're more of a militia.)

Upon waking up, Cole discovers that the explosion's changed him, too. He's gained the ability to manipulate, drain, and feed off of electricity, wielding it as a weapon. Now Cole can fire bolts of lightning, heal himself or others, glide for short distances, and power machinery by himself, among other things. His powers work by feeding off of the local power grid, so anything near Cole that runs off electricity is also a health power-up.

The surviving populace of Empire City doesn't really trust him, though. He's just one more freak amongst freaks to a lot of them, and Cole's decisions may eventually turn him into the greatest criminal of them all.

As you progress across Empire City, the Reapers take shots at you, and how you choose to deal with them determines Cole's ethical path. That, in turn, determines the form his powers take. By completing missions and defeating enemies, you earn experience points which can be used to purchase powers, but the secondary effects those powers have can change according to Cole's current karmic state.

If you're a hero, saving people and taking enemies down but leaving them alive, Cole's personal electrical field is a bright blue. Your powers are destructive but largely nonlethal; the explosion from a "shock grenade" leaves its victims magnetized to the street, helpless but alive.

If you're a villain, killing your opponents or draining their lives to feed your power supply, Cole's field is a malevolent red. Your powers turn utterly destructive; the shock grenades fragment upon detonation, taking out a wider area and killing anyone caught in the blast radius, and a successful headshot with lightning bolts makes the victim explode.

In either case, you're an engine of destruction. Cole's electromagnetic shockwaves can throw cars out of your way or send people flying across the street. Your standard-issue power, a bolt of lightning thrown from Cole's hand, is kind of the "handgun" of InFamous. You can use it even when you're out of power, and it has a reasonable amount of punch. As you level up, you can purchase grenades, massive blasts of force, a flying shockwave that cracks the ground under Cole's feet as you land, and other powers that aren't included in the demo.

The experience point system works as sort of an ethical guideline all its own. "Good" activities that earn XP show up in blue text, such as taking enemies in alive or healing injured people you find on the street. (This gives you the option of actually fixing the people that get caught in a random crossfire, which is an odd but welcome addition to sandbox gameplay.) "Bad" actions, such as killing people to refill your power supply, are listed in red text.

The powers are almost secondary to the ease of travel, though. Cole's sheer agility is really the high point of the demo. Every building I found had windowsills, fire escapes, drainage pipes, and ledges I could leap to, grab, and pull myself up on, turning the entirety of Empire City into the world's largest jungle gym. It's amazing just how much mobility Cole has, and I found myself annoyed with incidental gang members for shooting at me, thus interrupting my bouncing around the city.

My biggest criticism of the InFamous demo is that the missions are pretty well crap. An enemy with a shotgun can knock you down and keep shooting you until you die, and the Reapers have more military-grade hardware than any street gang should really have access to. Hell, you're in a quarantined city, shut off from the world; you'd think they'd be a little less willing to spray bullets everywhere, even at the living dynamo who's beating the crap out of them. If they see you from two blocks away, they open fire, hitting more often than not.

Just the same, I find myself playing the demo over and over again, clearing the annoying train mission in order to get to the part where I get to grind the railway track around Empire City. The real fun of InFamous is in exploring the city, and on that level, it's a good sandbox game.

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