Picture this: you’re a mere bike messenger in the fictional metropolis of Empire City, and you’ve been tasked with delivering a package. Unfortunately, the special delivery explodes in nuke-like fashion, leaving you as the only survivor in a six-block radius -- much of which now comprises a crater. You awaken a fortnight later to a post-Katrina New Orleans redux: the city has been quarantined, resulting in mass chaos, and in the power vacuum that follows (most of the cops have been killed), local gangs battle for control of the city. Oh, and by the way, you have electricity-based super powers.
Thus begins inFamous, the upcoming PlayStation 3-exclusive, third-person, open-world action title from Sucker Punch, (in)famous for their Sly Cooper games on the PlayStation 2. As Cole McGrath, the aforementioned bike messenger, you struggle to come to grips with your newfound abilities, and you head off into the now-lawless Empire City in an effort to figure out what exactly happened, and why you’ve been turned into a human analog of Zeus.
I played two missions from the game at a Sony press event during New York Comic Con, and although it’s only at the pre-alpha stage right now, it’s looking mighty fine. Read on for my impressions of inFamous.
[Editor’s note: Very special thanks to Jonathan Cooper over at Gamervision for recording the audio that helped me put this preview together. -Samit]
Game director Nate Fox looked on as I played through the game, providing commentary, advice, and explanations. The first mission is a tutorial that has you practicing your lightning bolt aim on mannequins atop a building -- you’re in the rooftop pad of Zeke, a fellow bike messenger that mooches off your powers (and is somewhat jealous of them). Zeke, lazy-ass that he is, wants you to recharge the car batteries that are powering his appliances, including his TV. Once it’s back on, it plays a video from a masked figure -- according to Nate, in the post-blast environment, citizens have taken to hijacking TV broadcasts to let people know about things such as government food drops.
So you head toward the location of the next one while Zeke follows on his bike. Just like Alex Mercer, the protagonist of Prototype -- a game that often gets confused with inFamous -- Cole also has free running abilities; he can scamper up high buildings easily, and then jump off them with impunity. The climbing is very well-designed: it doesn’t take any of the control out of your hands, like Prince of Persia does, but I never had a problem grabbing onto something I wanted to climb; it just works, so you feel like a badass.
Since your powers are electricity-based, electricity is your lifeblood. You can’t generate it yourself, though; you have to draw it from power sources, which include cars and streetlights. Clicking L3 will show all the sources in the immediate area on your mini-map, and once you find one, pressing L2 will draw power and charge you up. This will also recharge your health much more quickly, so if you’re about to die, look for some electricity!
Upon getting to the food drop, you find a large gathering of starving citizens, and they’re looking skyward. It seems that the pallet of sustenance got stuck on a high billboard, so it’s your job to go get it down. I climbed up a pole and then blasted away some rusted metal, which allowed the food to resume its descent. Unfortunately, once it reached the ground, a gang showed up, presumably looking to abscond with the rations and leave the famished denizens to die.
From high above, I leaped down and performed an electricity-tinged smash into the ground, sending a shockwave out in all directions. The face buttons are used for basic melee combat, like kicking people in the nuts, but why mess with that when you can light up your enemies’ lives with, uh, lightning? L1 locks on; R1 fires a ball of electricity, while, R2 fires a Ghostbusters-like stream of energy. Nate explained that the developers modeled the stream accurately, so it’ll arc over things like metal fences in impressive fashion. Later on in the game, you’ll also gain the ability to throw electric grenades, which explode in a flash, clearing out enemies in their blast radius.
The game also has a simple cover system, since your electric powers don’t give you any extra resistance to things like bullets. By ducking behind slabs of concrete and the like, and firing off blasts of electricity, I was able to subdue the gang members. But then I was presented with a decision: should I leave the ravenously hungry people to enjoy the food, or make off with it for me and Zeke? Here’s where the Fallout-like karma system of inFamous comes into play.
You don’t start out with a good rep, since early on, a video that circulated around the local TV stations showed the package exploding in your hands -- Empire City blames you for the attack, and your girlfriend, Trish, leaves you to work as a guerrilla medic. But it’s through decisions like these that you can alter the course of the story. If you choose the selfish option, you’ll see manifestations of the city’s hatred for you in things like wanted posters with your mug on them (in addition, residents will pelt you with stones when they see you).
After finishing the mission, I saw one of the game’s comic-inspired 2D cut-scenes, which look fantastic. Nate told me that Sucker Punch took after works like Batman: No Man’s Land, for its dog-eat-dog world, and DMZ, for its “urban grit.” In a later mission, I came across an injured man; Trish happened to be helping him. In a cut-scene, she berated me -- blaming me for the blast and her sister’s death as a result of it -- and then I told my side of the story. She begrudgingly told me that if I wanted to help, I should check out what’s going on with the water fountains in the park.
Upon turning the valve at one of the fountains, which had stopped working, my face was sprayed with an inky black goo -- my vision was clouded, the camera went crazy, my powers had evaporated, and I stumbled around. Trish was startled, but she said she had something that could help, so I followed her. It was then that a disembodied female voice entered my head, telling me that Trish would never love me again, but that she (the voice) always would. I also began hallucinating, seeing gigantic versions of the Reapers (one of the gangs). Needless to say, I was freaked out myself.
By the time we made it to Trish’s stash, I collapsed; when I came to, she sprayed me and said I’d be on my own the next time. I found another water main and turned it off, getting the black ooze in my face again; this time, though, the effects were lessened -- perhaps Trish’s repellent prevented the full effects from setting in. I had my powers back, so I headed into a tunnel full of Reapers and burning vehicles. Frying the cars helped a lot, since they exploded and killed some enemies, but I couldn’t make it past the hallucinations when they reappeared further into the tunnel -- and this time, they could hurt me.
That’s where the demo ended -- perhaps I could’ve progressed further, if not for my ineptitude. Visually, inFamous looks striking: unlike the dull, drab Liberty City of GTA IV, there’s a lot of bloom in inFamous, which makes everything shine (it’s not excessive, though). There are still some aspects of the game that need tweaking, like the camera, but Nate assured me that all those kinks would be ironed out in time for the game’s release sometime this year. After getting my hands on the current version of it, I can definitely say that it’s high on my list of anticipated titles in 2009. Check out the gameplay video above to see some combat and platforming.