You can choose to play as either a superhero or supervillain in Infamous, but only one option looks like it’s likely to be much fun.
When last we saw Infamous, it looked to be an intriguing take on the third-person action genre, with wide-open environments and an electrically-charged superpower-wielding protagonist. I got to play through it a bit, and what seemed fun then still seems fun now. The environments are enormous playgrounds, jus waiting to be explored. If you can see a structure, you can reach it and climb it — everything is in bounds. And leading man Cole MacGrath’d electrically-charged powers are a refreshing change of pace from the usual assortment of guns that usually get served up in a game of this ilk. Lobbing balls of electricity that explode like grenades? Awesome. Refilling your electrical charge by grinding across power lines and sucking generators dry? Also awesome. The game’s karma system? Well, that’s where I begin to wonder.
If you’re unfamiliar with the game’s premise, you may want to take a quick gander at my preview from the Tokyo Game Show. If you’re feeling lazy, here’s the short version: you’re the sole survivor of a blast that laid waste to a huge section of the city, but you’re stuck in a section that’s been walled off and quarantined. Various gangs are trying to do you harm simply because they have nothing better to do. Or maybe you said something about their sister. In any event, it’s a good thing that you’ve got those superpowers, because without them, you’d be toast.
Being the super-powered guy that he is, Cole has the choice of being a virtuous hero, an infamous villain, or somewhere in between. At a dozen or so different points in the game, Cole will be faced with a choice, and his decision will push his karma meter in one direction or the other. The karmic choices aren’t exactly what you’d call subtle, either. At one point, Cole gains control of a shipment of food that’s been dropped into the quarantine zone. You can either share it with the other residents, or keep it all for yourself and let them starve. Not exactly a whole lot of gray area with a choice like that.
It’s not that the good and evil paths are so blatant that concerns me, though — we’ve certainly seen more than one game go that route and still be loads of fun (Fable, I’m looking squarely in your direction). The problem lies in how karma affects your powers. Your karma meter has three levels in either direction, good or evil. Your superpowers, each of which has a good version and an evil version, also have three levels apiece. In order to access the highest level of an evil power, for example, you have to have first maxed out your evil karma. You’re not stuck to a karmic alignment — make a few virtuous choices and you’ll cancel out all those puppies you kicked early on in the game — but you can only access those powers that match your current alignment.
This should add a bit of strategy to your gameplay and how you develop Cole as a character, except the Good powers seem, well, boring. Take the grenades, for example. Level one of the evil version gets you a nice little boom. Level two gets you a bigger boom, and the grenade splits into segments which also explode. Level three gets you an even bigger blast and even more fragments. The heroic version, meanwhile, restrains your opponents, incapacitating them in a kinder, gentler, non-lethal way.
Which sounds about right for a superhero, I suppose, but it also sounds a bit dull. The folks at Sucker Punch admitted that playing through the game is far easier when you’re evil, and from the small bit I played, it seems like it would be more fun, too. Of course, if the worst thing anyone can say about Infamous is that you’re going to have too much fun force pushing bad guys off of rooftops to ever want to follow the virtuous path, developer Sucker Punch just may have a hit on its hands.
Infamous is due out for the PS3 this June.