A Tale of One City
With a hard-core addictive gameplay mechanic of unlocking the next area, completing missions, and generally running wild throughout the city with entertaining electrical superpowers, there's a lot to love about inFamous, even with a title that's impossible to properly capitalize in a single typing session. The game is not without some gripes and quibbles, however.
The first complaint comes in the form of a concept that's sweeping the "next-gen" gaming world these days. The term "open ended" has become synonymous with "better." While the finer points of complaints about life in an open-ended world will be continued in our up-coming review of Red Faction: Guerrilla, suffice it to say that inFamous, will likely offend purists both for and against the open-ended world movement. The game is too tight, too direct, and too close together to feel truly open ended. While real openness tends to require vast expanses of territory to be covered, usually by vehicles (including ones that whinny and nay), or some "fast transport" dynamic to get to multiple highly disparate locations with different art styles, at a minimum, inFamous takes place all in one large city. There are no travel distances between areas beyond the sometimes tedious act of walking through the densely packed city. Instead of multiple towns and locations to travel to, you're just traveling to opposite ends of one very large town. Further, while the side-missions are mostly optional endeavors that do appear on your map, the story missions keep the game fairly linear. While this is true of most open-ended games, there's not a great sense of deviation from the set path, just an option to do more small tasks on the way there. On the other hand, opponents of open-ended will find little to be happy about. As the world still features quite a bit of freedom of movement, optional random encounters with roaming gangs and long tedious distances to travel (while feeling your battery gauge depleting in your hands from the continuous vibration induced by grinding the train rails around the map), and certainly lacks the true linearity of a traditional on-a-rail game. All in all, though, there's an equilibrium reached between the two elements, which, for this reviewer anyway, is captivating without getting in the way.
Beyond the superpowers, the characteristic at the center of the game is the climbing ability. Shared, yet again, with its Assassin's Creed counterpart, most gameplay consists mostly of scaling the rooftops (of buildings admittedly far larger than its early historic counterpart,) leaping from roof to roof, grinding power cables across large distances, and hopping from ledge to ledge over astounding heights. There's a frequently vexing problem with this mechanic though. In order to simplify the climbing skill and reduce the frustration of frequent falls, Cole has a very strong "grab" mechanism. As though he's carrying a large electromagnet in his pants. No matter WHAT object you're remotely near while in mid-air, you'll grab onto it. While the alternative of making him insufficiently 'grabby' would be admittedly more frustrating, one grows weary of pressing the "drop" button over and over while trying to navigate downward. This becomes especially repetitious during some side quests involving navigating all four corners of the building.
On that note, we visit another common trait of open-ended games: Repetition. Repetition. While the story missions are thankfully highly varied and present an almost rail-game system, there are a few that go on far longer than they should, usually involving defending a target that's traversing the streets on rails, while wave after wave of enemy approaches. While none of the game ever feels frustratingly difficult (a boon I wish more games would offer,) there are moments of severe outrage as these waves approach without reaching the destination. I am, however, thankful for some very wise decisions made about where quick-save points are recorded throughout protracted battles. At all the points I was prone to reach for the missing "F5" quick-save key, the game seemingly knew it and after death, automatically restored me to an appropriate point mid-battle. I still see no reason for modern console games to lack a save-anywhere feature like PC games have had for ages, but if all games implemented an auto-resume system so well thought and placed, I'd hardly notice the absence of the manual save. Where the repetitious trouble begins though, is the side-quests. So many of them are re-hashes of the same quest pool over and ever again. If I heard "the Reapers/Dustmen/First Sons placed monitoring devices on my building, destory those things!" one more time before having to climb all over a building looking for that last missing blinking light I was going to have to re-build my character as evil in very short order. Worse, though, is that after one of those protracted "it's FINALLY over" story missions, a half dozen side-missions would appear in which ALL of them were shortened recreations of the story mission. On that note, we visit another common trait of open-ended games: Repetition........
The last major gripe about the game is one that's hard to miss: The environment itself. While the gameplay was very well served by the dismal urban-decay environment, it would have been nice ot have seen SOMETHING else while in the game. City block after city block; island after island, the city looks EXACTLY the same. Sure there are some overall architectural differences. The Warren has a more pronounced run-down look, an oppressive prison facility, and a notable docks section filled with piers and cargo containers, and the Historic district has a few more up-scale looking buildings and the huge blast crater where the game began, but short of that, you'd be hard pressed to tell one district from another by the screenshots. The most distinct area of the game is the sewer levels. It's pretty much the only truly different area of the game. Along with the landscape goes the bestiary. Redressing Reapers as Dustmen and First Sons for each island doesn't change the fact that you're fighting the same basic enemy throughout the entire game. While I wouldn't want too much deviation from that, and the starkly different types of Conduits (larger more ranged enemies) change up the strategy in the larger battles, being picked at by rooftop snipers you must attempt to locate again and again can get tiring after an entire game of it. While the Reapers are visually the coolest, they're also the most fun since their bright red robes make them stand out from the dismal environment. Whoever thought of the gray/brown colors for the Dustmen and First Sons, must also have 20/20 vision.
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