A quality story, terrific combat, and superhero pizzazz combine in one electrifying package.
In Infamous, you play as Cole, a bike delivery boy whose life changes suddenly and dramatically when one day you get a bunch of superpowers from an exploding orb. The orb has caused havok in the city, creating supervillains and a bunch of low level thugs along with it. Before long, you are fighting in the streets with hooded, gun-wielding gangsters and completing missions to keep the city's citizens safe. The story involves you tracking down the orb again and finding out exactly what happened and why. It takes a few twists and turns and introduces you to some very interesting characters. The story is told through in-game dialog and with occasional graphic novel type cut scenes. You also find a lot of background material by collecting hidden audio recordings around the city. The story eventually turns to you trying to find out why you were specifically chosen to receive all of these superpowers. It is a good story, and the ending is very satisfying. There is a huge twist at the end that you probably won't see coming
From a gameplay standpoint, Infamous isn't the most original game ever made. Like a lot of games, it rounds out its gameplay by borrowing a lot of what works from other games and then mixing them together to make a new package. It has a simple but effective role-playing system where you can spend points that you earn during missions to upgrade and purchase new abilities. It has open-ended adventuring, a huge trend in action games nowadays. It also has a lot of platforming and parkour type elements similar to Assassins Creed. The game even has bullet time and borrows sticky grenades from Halo. To be fair, it is not "best in class" when it comes to some of these elements. The open-ended city is rife with copy-and-paste, and the platforming has a few issues. Namely, your character feels like he's made out of Velcro, because he tends to stick to objects. But even though they have some flaws, the game is better off for including them.
One area where Infamous truly excels is combat. Combat is outrageously fun. You have all sorts of combat abilities that you can use in combat to electrocute enemies or blow them up along with everything else around them. The basic lightning bolt attack that you start the game with is very effective. As you gain skill points and progress through the story, you gain more abilities. They include grenades, a "thunder drop' ability that allows you to jump off of a building and land with an epic thud that blows away enemies, and a powerful "force push" ability that sends objects and enemies flying. There isn't a lot of variety in how the enemies present themselves, but battling them never stops being fun. You can be on top of a building, blow a couple of guys off with a force push, and watch them fly through the air and die landing on the ground half a mile away. Then you can "thunder drop" off the building and blow back another bunch of enemies. Then, you can kill a couple more by throwing a car at them, and take out another group by sticking a grenade to one guy and watching him unintentionally blow up his buddies as he tries to run away. The game relies tremendously on combat and with good results. Almost every mission has some combat in it.
In addition to sending bolts of energy through or blowing up everything or everyone you see, you can scale tall buildings and traverse the city by jumping along rooftops. You can also grind along rails and high voltage wires at a high speed and glide through the air. It's not the best ever implantation of this concept, but it still feels very good and it is essential to the game. The missions do a great job of using the climbing and roof-hopping mechanics for chase scenes and other missions that require you to travel a large distance in a short time. You truly feel like a comic book character with superpowers as you climb a hundred feet through the air or zoom along a rail with sparks flying from your feet. This is a prime example of that special something that stamps Infamous as a superhero game, and not just an ordinary action game.
Infamous also features a binary morality "light" or "dark" system that has become very popular in games lately. It isn't so much a "good" or "evil", because Cole is generally fighting bad guys the entire time. The "light" choices tend to involve making sacrifices to help citizens or just being extra nice, and the "dark" choices tend towards more selfish decisions. If you save or heal citizens, you earn "light" points, and if you kill citizens during combat, you rack up "dark" points. If this game had come out four years ago then this system may have been special, but there have been so many games with binary morality systems (Mass Effect, Jade Empire, Fable, Fable 2) in the past few years that the game isn't impressive in this regard. The choices don't affect the story much, and they seem kind of contrived. Like Knights of the Old Republic, the game allows access to "light" or "dark" powers based on your actions in the game. This system tends to push you towards the extremes, since you have to be either all "light" or all "dark" to get access to the best powers. This is a flaw that keeps you from role-playing Cole like you want and just doing what feels natural in any situation.
Infamous is set up like most open-ended action games nowadays. There are story missions, and then there are a bunch of side missions that you can do to earn extra skill points. The side missions are usually very short and simple and generally have goals like "kill this group of enemies" or "destroy five of these things". They suffer somewhat from copy and paste, as does the big city as a whole. There are three big districts, but you wouldn't know that just from looking at each of them. They all look exactly the same, and even within each district there isn't much variety beyond lots of gray buildings, neon signs, and trains. It's a little bit disappointing that there wasn't more attention paid to creating an interesting city, but Infamous gets away with this because the game mechanics are so much fun that doing the same mission four or five times doesn't get boring. It helps that Infamous does a great job of challenging you without punishing you. Some missions are hard, but checkpoints are generous, which means that you will hardly ever have to replay more than a minute or two of action if you fail. Every developer should design their games with this philosophy. Irritating save points that require you to play the same eight minutes over and over again can make the difference between a good one and a bad one.
Even though Infamous is technologically unimpressive for the PS3, it still has a nice presentation, thanks to a lot of great special effects. The color palette suffers from the "gray and brown" trend that has victimized games lately, but the special powers and explosions look fantastic. Shooting a group of enemies with bright blue lightning while watching it arc to other enemies and then blowing them up with a grenade can be spectacular. The sound effects that accompany each of your special abilities seem appropriately powerful. Fighting sometimes sounds like the action scenes in a big budget movie, full of electrical sparking, explosions, and other really cool effects. The soundtrack was a pleasant surprise too. It is kind of a low key, dark-sounding synthesized soundtrack that does a great job of adding to the game's somewhat dark atmosphere. The voice acting was a nice surprise too.
Infamous definitely has its minor flaws here and there. Perhaps with some more mission variety and better use of the PS3's graphical power, it would have been an excellent game of the year candidate. As it stands though, it is still an excellent action game. Besides a handful of core mechanics that make it really fun, it has the intangibles that a superhero game should have and it is ultimately worth more than the sum of its parts. If you own a PS3 and you have been holding off on experiencing this game, then I highly recommend that you stop waiting and buy it. If you don't own a PS3 and you are looking for an excuse to buy one, Infamous is one of those games that makes the console worth owning.