Have you ever wanted to be a super hero after reading a comic book or seeing a movie about them? Many game developers and designers have attempted to tap into this daydream with varying degrees of success, but Sucker Punch hits the target with panache and finesse with the inFAMOUS series, exclusive to the Playstation 3. If you’ve never heard of it, this is the review for you as I’ll attempt to cover everything inFAMOUS so far, from the original to inFAMOUS 2 and the downloadable standalone title, inFAMOUS: Festival of Blood.

inFAMOUS

inFAMOUS is a third-person action title about a reluctant hero, Cole McGrath, who gains the ability to control electricity in a freak accident that also brands him as a terrorist. The first game takes place in Empire City, a fictional New York City divided into three islands. The game revolves around free-roaming through the city, following storyline missions and side quests as you develop your powers and decide if you’re going to be a do-gooder or the kind of hero citizens fear. There are a number of “karmic” choices to be made as well as several ways to level up your powers, encouraging multiple playthroughs.

Positives

+ inFAMOUS’s sense of character is spot-on, evoking exactly what you’d hope for in terms of a comic book video game’s style. The game sports graphic novel cutscenes, decent voice acting, and a rocking soundtrack, all of which contribute to the overall feeling that you’re really playing through a comic book. Beyond all of that, no character or storyline element here is black and white; everything has real depth to it, from Cole’s origins to the true nature of the game’s lead villain.

One of the comic book cut-scenes in inFAMOUS 2, the style of which shows up in all three games.

+ The controls are very crisp, from climbing buildings to fighting bad guys. They’re quite sensitive, which could lead to frustration for gamers new to precision action, but on the whole I found them to be exactly what I wanted. I definitely had some great, fluid moments when it came to controls, especially during some of my city exploration while zipping across power lines and gliding from building to building.

+ The game’s attention to detail is phenomenal. There’s this level of nuance, both in appearance and mechanical design, that just feels right, such as in the beginning of the game where you’re told to look up and then look left, thereby setting inverted or standard camera controls by what you intuitively did and not by some default setting. In terms of visuals, there’s a great deal of character detail: When you choose to be good or evil, you can absolutely see the subtle differences in Cole’s appearance.

Negatives

– The karmic choices in the original inFAMOUS feel rigid, almost forced, and don’t add much to the game mechanically. There are 15 good and 15 evil side missions as well as small storyline ramifications for each path, but this style of choice leads to the same problem as any story-based game in that there still has to be some level of convergence where the paths overlap. In inFAMOUS, that convergence is the norm and it doesn’t ever feel like you’re really making any difference by choosing good or evil along the way. Further, there really is no grey area, making karma a pretty binary decision. Isn’t there anyone else who’s only evil sometimes?

– While character detail is amazing, environmental detail in inFAMOUS is often pretty sparse. The buildings all start to look the same pretty quickly, with only some minor differences in major landmarks like the parks, the prison, the crater, and the junk fortress. Beyond the intentionally designed locations, there definitely seems to be some copy-paste environmental design going on. As a result, exploration in inFAMOUS doesn’t feel very organic.

Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. Oh, it’s time to do iteration four of that mission where I have to repeatedly make the same karmic choice about how to dismantle bombs on the water towers? inFAMOUS flirts with boredom when you start pursuing side missions and many of the hunt-and-seek collectibles feel like they were arbitrarily just put in there to give you something to do. You’ll understand exactly what I mean if you decide to hunt down all 350 blast shards, each of which seems to be just hidden somewhere random as opposed to somewhere meaningful.

Summary

Overall, inFAMOUS does far more right than it does wrong, amounting to a very strong contender in the action game arena. It has some significant flaws like karmic rigidity and side quest repetition, but I still rank it right alongside genre favorites like Assassin’s Creed and Uncharted because of its fantastic controls, standout comic book character, and superb attention to mechanical and character detail. When I beat the game, my jaw hit the floor upon seeing the ending and I couldn’t wait to play the sequel, which brings us to…

inFAMOUS 2

When I beat inFAMOUS, I was already looking forward to the sequel. I just wanted to see what happened next, explore new locations, and try out some new powers. More of the same would have been perfect.

Instead, inFAMOUS 2 makes inFAMOUS look like a tech demo. Seriously, it does. Everything inFAMOUS did right, inFAMOUS 2 does better. Everything inFAMOUS did wrong, inFAMOUS 2 fixes or outright removes. It’s really hard to believe that so much changed between these two games in just two years between releases (May of 2009 to June of 2011). Rather than go over what was positive and negative, rehashing many of the strengths of the previous game, I’m going to go over what changed, using inFAMOUS as a baseline reference point.

Positive Changes

+ At the beginning of the game, you lose most of your powers for storyline reasons I won’t go into. Rather than being a detriment and making you think, “Oh maaaan, I have to earn all of those again?” it sets the stage for a completely new palette of electrical mayhem. Instead of giving you one set of powers that you can tweak by being good or evil, inFAMOUS 2 gives you types of powers, such as standard bolts, grenade powers, rocket powers, and support powers, and lets you learn several of each type. From there, you get to equip what you like, allowing for far more customization than the original inFAMOUS ever did. The options get even more diverse when, about half to two thirds of the way through the game, you get the choice to add fire powers or ice powers to your arsenal. These choices aren’t just aesthetic, either: There’s meaningful selection to be made here and rarely will you ever find yourself with one unbalanced, obvious answer to what you should be using.

One of my favorite new powers: The one where you can blast off of anything conductive (cars, trash cans, etc.) and launch yourself high into the air.

+ I thought the controls were great in the original inFAMOUS but the controls have actually been improved for inFAMOUS 2. Aiming and fighting is similar, with the welcome addition of a melee combo system, but traveling just feels so much better. Where I’d sometimes find myself saying, “No, that’s not what I meant to do!” in the original, inFAMOUS 2 has a far more intelligent computer assistance system that really makes travel in particular that much more intuitive. I should be clear that part of that is due to…

+ Organic environmental design. With New Marais, a not-so-subtle take on post-Katrina New Orleans, every building feels intentional and every area has its own personality. Gone is the cookie cutter approach to environmental construction, replaced with a vibrant, colorful, and meaningfully designed city. The urban, flooded, and industrial areas are all totally unique and there’s this subconscious flow between all of them, making fast travel that much more pleasant. Whereas travel in inFAMOUS was sometimes a chore, I could spend (and have spent) hours just exploring New Marais because exploration itself is so much fun. Just wait until you get the advanced travel powers in the latter parts of the game.

+ With an environmental redesign came a mechanical redesign, as well. Karmic choices are still a little binary, as they are in most karma-like games (I’m looking at you, Mass Effect), but they feel more natural in inFAMOUS 2. Instead of “Press 1 to be evil,” you get supporting characters Nix and Kuo acting as the devil and angel on your shoulder. Most karmic choices, therefore, are meaningful changes in the storyline and, as a result, they just feel more like they belong.

+ Oh, there’s also User-Generated Content (UGC) and the accompanying tools to create it, meaning there is a potentially unlimited number of additional missions in inFAMOUS 2. Awesome, right?

Still Needs Fixing…

Repetition, again. The game tries very hard to mix things up and, for the most part, it does. Blast shards are spaced meaningfully, rather than arbitrarily, and the storyline missions are almost entirely different from one another. Some of the side missions still feel like filler, throwing the same kinds of bad guys at you in the same ways, with minor differences like fighting two of a major enemy instead of one, or five instead of two, etc.

– It’s not a recurring complaint from inFAMOUS but finding new UGC that’s actually good can sometimes be challenging or annoying. This is, however, something that’s in ongoing development at Sucker Punch, as facilitating high quality UGC seems to be one of their top priorities.

Summary

Having played inFAMOUS and inFAMOUS 2 in relatively close succession, I was blown away at just how much had improved in the sequel. inFAMOUS 2 doesn’t get rid of any of the magic of inFAMOUS, a common flaw in sequels, but instead manages to make every change a real improvement in the formula for success. If you like action games or comic books and you have a PS3, you owe it to yourself to play this game and its predecessor.

Still not convinced? We’ve got one more inFAMOUS game to cover and it’s a real gem that came almost completely out of the blue.

inFAMOUS: Festival of Blood

Released in October 2011 as a Halloween-esque game, Festival of Blood is a $15 download-only, standalone title on the Playstation Network. It follows the story of Pyre Night, a festival in New Marais centered around banishing vampires from the city, and revolves around the fictional side story of Cole becoming a vampire. Gone are the karmic decisions from the two canon games, replaced with straightforward vampiric combat and missions. Also gone are many of your electrical powers, replaced with amazingly cool vampire powers. Here are some of the perks and downsides to this standalone game.

Positives

+ The new power set is very cool, capped off with the ability to turn into a swarm of bats so you can literally fly around the city. You also now have dual resources in the form of electrical charges for your lightning powers and blood to use your vampiric powers. I thought I would sorely miss all of my hard-earned abilities from inFAMOUS 2, but I was very much mistaken. These powers stand out on their own and I’m baffled at how they ended up so well-designed in just a few short months of development.

+ This isn’t just inFAMOUS 2 in a Halloween costume, but rather its own (short) game built on the inFAMOUS 2 engine. New Marais is structurally still there, but it’s wearing totally new clothes. All of the NPCs are different and so are all of the enemies. Between the setting and new character established by this side storyline, Festival of Blood is definitely a world apart from vanilla inFAMOUS or inFAMOUS 2.

+ The core missions in Festival of Blood are about three hours long, but there’s a diverse package crammed into that time and the game feels just right in terms of length and what it offers. Even in that short time span, there are still some fantastic “Wow!” moments, such as when you get to hunt Firstborns and have to use vampire sense (which is like x-ray vision for blood) to do so.

+ Festival of Blood includes the same UGC tools as inFAMOUS 2, meaning you can build your own world of missions in this alternate, vampire setting if you so desire. That strikes me as something Sucker Punch really didn’t have to do, but a huge community bonus for anyone who wants to spend even more time in the inFAMOUS universe.

+ You don’t have to own inFAMOUS or inFAMOUS 2 in order to play Festival of Blood. It isn’t inFAMOUS 2 DLC, but rather it is its own, separate game. I think that’s pretty amazing in and of itself.

Negatives

– The length feels appropriate for the content that’s offered, but I can’t help but wish that Festival of Blood was longer. The world is so well-built, from the aesthetics to the new enemies and powers, that I wish there was more of it. That’s really what the inclusion of UGC is for, but I would have liked to see more of the official, polished stuff from Sucker Punch.

Summary

If you’re on the fence about inFAMOUS or if you’ve already played the first two games and find yourself craving more, Festival of Blood is a great standalone experience. It feels exactly like you’d expect it to, in that it plays just like inFAMOUS 2 but with vampires, but it manages to do enough differently to keep your attention from beginning to end. My only real complaint here is that there wasn’t more here to sink my teeth into.

Conclusion

inFAMOUS is a third-person action game by Sucker Punch for the PS3 that puts you in the shoes of electrical super hero Cole McGrath. It has some issues with bland, drab, and repetitive environments and side missions, but virtually everything that made it an enjoyable experience was dramatically expanded upon in inFAMOUS 2. Introducing an array of new powers, a believable, well-designed playground of a city to explore, and user-generated content, inFAMOUS 2 stands out as one of the best free-roaming action games in the Playstation 3’s library. For new players and familiar veterans of the inFAMOUS series, Festival of Blood delivers a standalone, downloadable experience that takes the successful inFAMOUS formula and adds a dash of vampires to bring you a brisk, fresh take on the inFAMOUS universe. All in all, inFAMOUS has made itself one of the breakout franchises on the Playstation 3 and a must-play for action gamers and comic book enthusiasts.

Jake purchased each of these games independently, beating all of them on normal difficulty. He played inFAMOUS and inFAMOUS 2 as good, as well as most of inFAMOUS as evil on a harder difficulty. inFAMOUS, inFAMOUS 2, and inFAMOUS: Festival of Blood are all developed by Sucker Punch for the Sony Playstation 3 and are available now in both physical form (1 & 2) from retailers and digital form (all) via the Playstation Network.

From time to time, Jake also writes tech reviews for Digital Reviews Network.

Advertisements