Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Rise From the Ashes

I don't often write about a game before it's released as I feel like there's way too much of that already (and then a game gets a measly one-off review and is never heard about again, in most cases), but I felt compelled to write about InFamous.

With all due respect to the fine folks at Sucker Punch, there is no way your game is going to live up to the game I've envisioned it being in my head. Let's start with the concept:

You're a regular guy inexplicably given superpowers during a cataclysm that decimates the better part of a metropolitan city, leaving the remnants a quarantined, lawless dive. Think hurricane Katrina with less water and more electricity. We've seen more than our fair share of post-apocalyptic cities in videogames over the years, so at face value, the thought of another one does little to stir the imagination. But this isn't a Big Brother/1984 rip-off like Final Fantasy VII, Crackdown, Madworld, or the Fallout series. From what I gather, there is no organization in charge. This is pure anarchy. Generally speaking, having super-powers makes one either a crime fighter or an outlaw. Here, however, there is no established order. You don't revolve around civilization. Civilization revolves around you. That makes you the shape of things to come. A heavy burden indeed.

It's not a "god game," though. Unlike a strategy game like Civilization or Black & White, here, you play a particular role. You're a person. As such, you have needs. You'll have loved ones who you'll want to protect, which may be at odds with performing your duties at establishing order amidst the chaos. I've heard of scenarios where you'll have to decide whether to horde rations of food for yourself and your girlfriend, or distribute it equally amongst the citizens. This sort of situation really appeals to me in this current wintry economic climate. If this were happening to me in real life, I don't know that I'd have the will to resist skimming a little off the surface for myself and my loved ones. InFamous, at its core, could prove to be amongst the greatest tests of mankind's true nature.

I know that's a ballsy statement to make, and I'm aware that there have been lots of games to give you these binary good/evil choices, but I often find myself less drawn into their scenarios and don't play the way I would if I were encountering such situations in real life. In Fallout 3, for example, it was fun to occasionally kill a random wayfarer and take his loot. I'd argue that murdering civilians was the highlight of an GTA game. Fable 2 started strong, but after its opening hour they sort of dropped the ball on storytelling and it became rather silly with its silent protagonist, lack of memorable NPCs, and I think most people would agree that the game was at its most fun when you'd mischievously break the rules and say, murder your family. None of those games were representative of me as those games didn't make me care about the people in it. The best example I can think of so far where a game gave me moral choices and I cared about those choices beyond whatever stat boosts they'd garner me, was Mass Effect. I liked that universe and I liked my crew. I wanted to do good by them. But again, Mass Effect had an established order. You could only effect the status quo so much by either saving the galaxy, or saving the galaxy and putting humans in charge. Oh kay then...

InFamous also makes being evil tempting for all the right reasons. In a lot of games, I'll be a dick, simply because I can. Because it's funny and the world lacks character, so it feels like playing army men. But in InFamous, the concept of being evil is tempting because you could quite possibly rule this place as a dictator. Well, maybe. I'm not sure if the game will go that far or not, but I sure hope it does. Sure, murdering civilians in GTA is fun for awhile, but ineffective in the long run. The idea of having a whole city move to your whim is certainly a compelling notion. Or maybe not even a dictator, per se, but even just a high class criminal who people will not want to mess with would prove to be an enviable enough role. Either way, being evil seems like it would net rewards and I really hope the game doesn't cop out the way Bioshock did and give you at least as many rewards for supposedly altruistic choices.

Early previews have suggested that Cole is somehow responsible for the cataclysm that destroys the city, yet gives him super-powers. This has me extremely intrigued as I like the idea of a superhero who has the deaths of thousands on his conscience. I can't help but revel in the irony that his accidentally massacre is also what leads to him having powers and could shape him into a hero. For anyone who's watched Battlestar Galactica and found themselves oddly compelled to root for Gaius Baltar, InFamous may be just the game we've been waiting for. I just hope against hope that they don't cop out here and have some stupid revelation that it wasn't you after all. Or worse, was some already "evil" dude they could use as a scapegoat.

While the premise has me really intrigued, I'm also quite confident the game will be a heck of a lot of fun to play as it looks to control quite a bit like Sly Cooper (my favorite 3D platformer series), and the art style seems to really "get" the whole superhero thing. It's a bit goofy, but it's serious kind of goofy, like X-men. The powers are silly, but the situations feel grounded. I'm particularly intrigued by Cole's electric powers. A lot of people felt like having only one kind of power might limit the game, as something like Bioshock gave you such things as fire and ice to play with as well, but from what I gather, there will be a lot of variety to his electric powers. Plus, superheroes always have just one power (plus the standard heightened dexterity and jumping), so it's in keeping with the concept. And the fact that Cole's electric powers prevent him from using guns in a masterstroke. I think I speak for a lot of gamers when I say that I'm starting to get a little weary of guns these days.

While I have ridiculously high hopes for this game, there are still some things I'm a bit skeptical of. Notably, the script. Given that Sly Cooper's writing and characters were some of the best I've ever seen, I remain hopeful. Though, based on what I've seen so far of Cole, he looks and sounds a bit bland. And his sidekick buddy Zeek looks a little too goofy. Murray the hippo worked in Sly Cooper, but I'm worried a character like that might feel a bit too silly and forced in this setting. We've seen surprisingly little of the characters so far, but it remains one area where I only have good faith to go on. So here's hoping.

Even if InFamous can't possibly live up to its full potential (or perhaps will, and blow all of our minds) it will at the very least be one of the most compelling premises I've seen for a game in a long, long time. And that, my friends, has me very excited, indeed.
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