Make no mistake about it. Being a super hero is cool - well at least it should be. By the end of Sony and Sucker Punch's PS3 exclusive inFamous you'll be a bad-ass all-action hero that can compete with the best in the business, but a slow start and some incredibly dull and repetitive missions mean the game's heroic potential is fulfilled far too late on. Despite all the tools required for the job, Sony's latest mascot isn't quite yet ready for the big time.
For those who haven't been following inFamous over the past few years, you play Cole, a guy who finds himself in the crater left behind after a major explosion rips apart Empire City. Amazingly he survives, but the blast has left its mark on him. Cole suddenly finds himself with the power to control electricity, a city to explore (albeit one that's without electricity - bummer!) and a populace to defend from the newly formed enemy menace. The problem, however, is that the entire city thinks you're responsible for setting off the bomb that reduced it to rubble, so the people hate your guts and believe you to be a terrorist.
It's up to Cole to decide what path he's going to take in this new world. He can choose the path of righteousness, helping people out often to the detriment of his own health, or he can take the path of evil, doing deeds to help himself rather than for the good of the city. This is all controlled by a karma system, with good and bad deeds each awarding you with XP. The game hands out new abilities and upgrades based on your superhero level, as either a goody two shoes or death-dealing bully, so trying to be something in the middle simply isn't an option - you're going to want to pick a path and go all the way with it.
These moral choices in video games are hardly a new thing, but we'd hoped what would be on offer here wouldn't be a simple case of making a very obvious choice between good and bad; sadly that's more or less exactly the case in inFamous. Throughout the game you're presented with Karmic moments in which you're told to do one thing to be good or do another to be evil, and very rarely is there much of a grey area. You can do other things, like heal injured citizens and capture enemies alive to earn good XP, or drain fallen enemies to earn evil XP, but for the most part there's no sense that you've truly carved out your own path.
This karma system aside, the rest of the game is fairly traditional for an open-world action game, heavy on action but also quite repetitive. To begin with Cole is powerful, but not exactly what we'd call super. He can leap off tall buildings and not get scratched, climb more or less anything without risk of falling to his death, fire off electric bolts as if he's got a pistol with infinite ammo and send off a repulsion blast that sends nearby enemies and objects flying. Nice enough, but not exactly stuff to compete with Spider-man, Superman and the like. This is where inFamous will frustrate; it's not until much later on, when you've built up enough powers and upgrades, that you'll finally feel pretty cool.
When you've got the ability to glide, use a sniper-like electric blast, devastate large areas with a fully charged smash to the ground, grind electrified cables and rails like Sonic the Hedgehog and fire off amazingly powerful explosive charges at a whim, you'll feel like a bad-ass. It's just a shame there's a lot of tedium involved to get to that stage and that the game rarely gives you a truly exciting mission to use those powers in. Among the biggest offenders are the regular underground missions that task you with restoring power to each of the city's districts. These are dull in the extreme and seem to exist only to extend the game's run-time while offering a different environment - albeit one that's dark, linear and uninspired.
When the missions work, though, they really are quite spectacular. One side mission we encountered after working through a good chunk of the story saw Cole stepping in to sort out a street war between rival enemy factions, the Reapers and Dustmen. For the first time in the game Cole felt like a real super hero, blowing up gas station pumps and sending cars flying into enemies while the two factions went at each other with their own superhuman abilities. Moments like this are what inFamous should have been all about, but for far too much of the campaign you're doing mundane tasks.
Missions tend to involve you taking out a group of enemies, escorting someone or something to a certain location, or destroying something. In games like GTA 4 this mild tedium was joined by a cast of superb characters and a truly engaging storyline, but here you've really only got Cole, his friend Zeke, ex-girlfriend Trish, FBI agent Moya and voice of survival Dallas, who appears on TV broadcasts across the city. The storyline is interesting enough to keep you playing, in no small part due to the superb comic-book cutscenes, but GTA 4 with super powers this is not.
A lack of things to do certainly isn't a complaint that can be levelled at inFamous, with a lengthy campaign (which is worth playing through as good and evil) being padded out with plenty of side missions. These come in various guises, with those from standard NPCs earning you XP and permanently ridding the zone of the enemies, while missions handed out from the police have the added benefit of counting towards a total that eventually unlocks some new abilities. Running through the city and getting pelted by enemies soon loses its appeal, so you're definitely going to want to complete a good handful of these missions in order to make your time in the game world less frustrating.
Beyond the missions there are loads of things to collect too, with a definite Crackdown orb vibe to proceedings. Early on traversing the rooftops isn't a great deal of fun, but once you can rail and cable grind, and glide the game world is infinitely more rewarding to mess about in. If messing about is really your thing you might want to consider going evil, too, as being good means you can't unleash hell on innocents without consequences. We were drawn to the good side on our first run through, but evil offers more instant gratification.
For a PS3 exclusive inFamous doesn't dazzle as much as we expected it to, but it's still a fine looking game, especially when the action really kicks off. Cole isn't the most charismatic character we've ever seen, but he's likable enough, and the devastated city has been created with an obvious amount of love and attention. Pop-up, detail pop-in, aliasing and frame rate problems hurt the visuals to a degree, but these issues aren't exclusive to inFamous, having blighted even the best open world games. Our biggest disappointment is that Sucker Punch wasn't able to, or didn't choose to, replicate the comic book cutscenes with the in-game visuals - a gritty cel-shaded style would have fitted perfectly. The audio work is superb though, with a brilliant soundtrack and great surrounds.
inFamous might not be the triple-A exclusive we wanted it to be, but it's still a fine game and well worth adding to your PS3 collection. Had the first half of the game matched the far more entertaining later sections (where the super powers really come into their own) and the story been a bit more engaging throughout we'd be looking at one of the best open-world action games of all time. As we said, being a super hero isn't as easy as it sounds, but if Sucker Punch gets another chance it may well be able to create one of the very best.