Game Review: inFAMOUS

May 21, 2009

The first PlayStation 3 game from Sucker Punch, developer of the Sly Cooper series, inFAMOUS introduces an all-new electrified protagonist, and lets the player choose the path of good or evil. Blending open-world exploration, solid platforming, and explosive shooting mechanics, inFAMOUS is set to shock players with its versatile gameplay and deep adventure.

inFAMOUS begins as an electrical explosion rips through Empire City. Barely surviving, Cole McGrath awakens at ground zero to learn that the blast has given him the ability to store and discharge electricity. With news of a spreading plague, the island city is placed under quarantine, its inhabitants left to fend for themselves as mysterious gangs take over. Looking to ditch town, Cole strikes a deal with the FBI to search for the cause of the blast in exchange for his freedom.

The story is told mainly through phone conversations as Cole speaks with his handler, friends, and other contacts while on the go. Key plot points are punctuated with striking, paint-splattered comic sequences as Cole reflects on each experience. Players will also happen upon propaganda-filled TV broadcasts and collect audio files that detail much of the back story.

inFAMOUS has its cheesy comic book moments, but the twisting, intrigued-filled plot does a great job of connecting players with the lead character. Moral choices throughout the game change the story's tone, and the final revelation will have you pining for more.


Empire City consists of three separate islands, with new parts of town opening up as you complete story quests. You're free to explore unlocked portions of the island, but since Cole needs electricity to function, power outages caused by the catastrophe create pockets of hostile territory. Without electricity for you to recharge your energy, you're more vulnerable, and enemies are relentlessly aggressive. You bring life back to these areas by accessing underground substations, using Cole's body to overcharge the power grid. This also grants him new abilities.

While you can stick to the main path and rush through the game, it pays to take on side quests. Each mission you complete frees a small section of the city from regular enemy activity, and can open up clinics that serve as spawn points when you die. The content of the side-quests will vary, depending on whether you choose to play a hero or a villain. If you play the game as a good guy, you'll do stuff like escort prisoners to jail. As a bad guy, the side-quests take on a more anti-social bent; one requires you to cause a rampage to bait and kill cops. There are also numerous neutral quests, like rooftop races, or posing for photographers by showing off your superpowers. Some mission types end up feeling repetitive toward the end, but there's certainly a good amount of variety and even a few surprises.

Morality plays a big role inFAMOUS, but don't expect to labor over the consequences of your decision-- the results of your actions are usually brutally clear. The game rewards consistency over neutrality, with new powers unlocking only as you move toward heroism or infamy. Your polarity also affects which side quests you can take on, and influences how you're perceived by the general public.


Each of Empire City's three islands is massive, and whether you're car surfing in Neon, climbing the massive tower of scrap in the Warren, or scouring the historic district for collectible blast shards, there's an abundance of things to see and accomplish. You can easily spend more than 20 hours on your first run, with the morality system providing strong incentive to replay.

The shooting and platforming elements in inFAMOUS benefit from its electric tone, and work brilliantly. You can grab onto nearly anything that looks like a handhold, and quickly zip across narrow ledges. You can easily stick landings on small targets, and once Cole gains the power to grind on rails or use static thrusters to glide across gaps, crossing the city's skyline becomes easy. The only niggling issue is that you have to step back before a jump in order to reliably latch onto skinny objects like lampposts.

Combat is equally fast and free. Cole can shoot quick blasts at lightning pace, duck behind cover, fire while hanging from buildings, or throw charged punches. More powerful abilities let you drop on enemies from above, toss sticky grenades, or fire and redirect rocket-like projectiles. There's a lot of room to experiment, and players are rewarded with more experience for flashier stunts.

Stronger weapons require energy stored in Cole's battery cores, so if you toss out a few grenades, or go into sniper mode, you'll need to find a nearby lamp post or fuse box to juice up. Recharging speeds up health recovery too, so it's important to keep an eye out for sources of power. If an enemy is down but not out, you can choose to restrain him or drain the life out of him for power, and Cole can act as a human defibrillator to heal wounded civilians.

Your karma rating has a big impact on combat as various upgrades are only available on one path or the other. The good path gets overload burst, while evil nets you arc lightning, and many standard moves can be augmented with drastically different properties. A blast from a hero's megawatt hammer can cause enemies to drift through the skies while a villain's grenades will split into clusters, spreading destruction over a wider area.


Cole's electrical abilities play a key role in many of the game's quests. He reads the mind of a dead woman, tracks people by following residual images from where they've passed , and acts as a third rail to power a train full of hostages and bring it to safety. There are only a handful of boss fights, but each of them is satisfying and requires quick reflexes to stay alive.

Every element of the game feels tight and polished, and it's a load of fun whether you're grinding and floating above the landscape or wreaking destruction with explosives.

inFAMOUS looks great for an open-world game. Building surfaces are finely detailed, showing lots of depth with brick, steel girders, and cracked paint. The engine holds up well no matter how many explosions and effects are thrown at it, and the lighting is impressive too. However, there's definitely some blur and pop-in from a distance, and sometimes you'll run into an out-of-place pedestrian or a car without a driver. Music dynamically rises and falls as you explore Empire City, and face off with its various gangs, and Cole's personality is cemented by the voice actor's gruff, cocky delivery.

Thanks to its fluid, genre-crossing gameplay and action-packed scenarios, inFAMOUS has established itself as an electrifying new addition to the PS3 library. Let's hope we'll be seeing more of Cole and Empire City in the near future.

Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 3.