Review: Infamous

by Tom Ingram

Back in the day, we used to go to my cousin’s house. The four of us would crowd around the TV in his basement and play video games. This was early in the 6th generation; we were Gamecube people through and through, but my cousin had a Playstation. We played through some of the best games of that period–Jak and Daxter, Crash Bandicoot, Okage: Shadow King. It was a lot of fun. Most of the time I wasn’t even playing–I’m terrible at most games, so it would have been hour after hour of watching Crash fall headlong into a bottomless pit. Still, it was a great time even if you were just watching.

Lately I’ve been catching up on what’s been happening in the gaming world over the last few years. You see, I’ve been really busy and, while I could have made time for gaming if I really wanted, the latest generation feels like it’s missing something. So I haven’t really kept up to date, aside from regularly watching Zero Punctuation. In the last little while, I’ve had some free time, so I played Heavy Rain and am now working through Infamous. When I started the game, I was skeptical. It looked just like the rest of the games that have been coming out lately, the ones that look like a blander version of real life.

At one in the morning, hours after I started, I was jumping from rooftop to rooftop taking potshots at civilians with my electric superpowers when I realized what it is I’ve been missing all these years: fun. That’s right, F-U-N, fun. The Playstation and Xbox games aren’t good enough to be taken seriously, but they try anyway. Wii games are frustrating and dull. But Infamous takes me back to the days when games were allowed to be fun. I thought they didn’t make them like this anymore.

Infamous is a sandbox game with a twist–you can climb on absolutely anything, and falls don’t hurt you. This lets you explore the city to its fullest extent. I thought Fallout 3 had a very nice sandbox, but it takes so long to get places that as the game wears on it becomes frustrating, and you hardly ever do it anymore. But in Infamous, getting around is half the fun. By removing one of the small concessions to realism that’s present in almost all games of this type, they actually made it more entertaining than it might otherwise be. Jumping across rooftops is terrific, but if there’s a big risk of falling you’d be less inclined to do it. Most of the time, you can point yourself in the direction of a mission, push the control stick forward, and make it quickly across the city without skirting around any obstacles. That’s my idea of fun.

There is a moral choice mechanic which, as many have already said, usually involves deciding between a straightforwardly good action or a ludicrously cruel non-sequitur. You have to pick one extreme or the other, because the high-level unlockables require a certain karma rank. The system is broken, but it doesn’t affect gameplay much. I decided early on to be evil when I noticed that in the heat of battle it’s hard to tell enemies from bystanders, and I didn’t want to go to the trouble of rigorously identifying all my targets before I killed them. And it’s fun to bicycle kick pedestrians.

The game’s weakest point is its side missions, many of which make no sense. Some of them involve stealthily following a courier to see where he drops a package. If I’m going to steal the goods when he drops them anyway, why not just kick the shit out of him now? Sometimes the “Reapers” have planted surveillance devices on somebody’s building, and it’s up to you to disable them. Why? First of all, why is a gang of disorganized anarchist junkies using surveillance devices in the first place? Even if they were smart enough to think of it, what do they gain? These are just random people. I understand killing them or stealing from them, but spying on them? Is it out of some sort of sick voyeuristic urge common to all the villains of Infamous? The devices are all on the outside of the building. What are they spying on? Why do they have a big blinking red light if they’re supposed to be secret? Most importantly, how’d they get there? The reapers don’t have my mad climbing skills.

Anyway, the side missions are poorly justified and many of them are duplicates. The story missions aren’t great, either–what I’ve seen so far of the plot is mostly nonsense, and the usual caveats about video game voice-acting apply. But the missions provide a suitable outlet for what Infamous is really about: busting heads. And at that, it is wonderful. This game has restored my faith in the gaming industry. It’s an entertaining, violent romp through a postapocalyptic city that was clearly developed with the goal of creating an enjoyable experience. There’s no bullshit here. Infamous is the real thing–A throwback to the good old days when fun mattered.