inFamous: It’s Not Crackdown but…

The above post title pretty much sums up how I feel when playing through inFamous.

I loved the feeling of freedom that Crackdown cultivated. I loved its comic book style. I loved how the story didn’t matter and was simply an excuse to move forwards. I loved how you could do it in any order you liked. I loved how it didn’t take itself too seriously and so ended up being quite charming.


None of the above statements apply to inFamous – or at least not to the same extent – and when you’re as blatantly in love with Realtime Worlds’ adventure as I am, it’s immediately on the back foot. But despite this, I still really enjoy it. Is it something the game does right or is it just that the free-roaming city-’em-up is a genre that can’t fail to be brilliant and addictive in my eyes?

It’s probably a bit of both. inFamous also goes for a comic style, but it’s far more gritty and tries to do it more literally with story scenes presented as animated comic book panels. The story is complete nonsense, and I challenge anyone to recall the details. It takes itself kind of seriously here, trying to tell a forgettable conspiracy story with another gruff-voiced protagonist, and it does sometimes get in the way when you take time out from collecting agility orbs blast shards to spend some time wondering around in a daze because you got hit by mind-controlling tar – yes, really – again. The developers of Crackdown realised that running around with super powers, exploring the rooftops and mowing down largely helpless, dumb enemies was where the fun was coming from, whereas Sucker Punch has made enemies who are actually capable of fighting back against a powered-up Cole.

Fair enough, this isn’t an attempt to remake Crackdown, but that game’s a clear inspiration. Crackdown’s sense of humour was exemplified by its achievements, which went a long way to convincing a lot of the system’s doubters that well-designed rewards that often came out of cool stuff that you wanted to do anyway – climbing the Agency Tower and jumping off is the most obvious example – could become an important part in of the game in themselves. inFamous’s trophies, similarly, are indicative of the way you go through the game: beat this boss, clear this area, unlock some powers…

Even the trumpeted morality system is incredibly binary, not really forcing difficult decisions on the player or bringing about any real consequences. It’s mostly quite heavy-handed, and the only ones that actually offer a morality option are the designated ones: on the second island a side quest tasks you with saving a guy’s brother who has been dressed up as an enemy, and the only way to complete it is to save him. Where’s the evil option to execute him for collaborating? That’s just one example.

I’m sounding incredibly down on the game, I know, and I’ve got my work cut out to make this sound positive because I really do like the game a lot. The fact is that when you’re not bogged down in story the fun of charging around a city without limitation is still there, and when a mission doesn’t take you underground, away from the best part, and instead has you climbing some of the tallest buildings in the game, which are usually far more complex than Crackdown’s fairly basic geometry – although generally less impressive in scale and with a far more limited draw distance (check out this video to remind yourself just how far you could see in Realtime Worlds’ game), as each of the islands is more firmly segregated – it’s got the same feeling of barely constrained freedom.

Sucker Punch has also leveraged its experience from the Sly Cooper series to make the precision jumps very intuitive, as the game will make slight corrections to your trajectory if you’re heading, say, a little to the left of that climbable drain pipe or are going to overshoot the power line. Cole isn’t as agile as a powered-up agent from Crackdown, but this is done just right to keep the platforming effortless and allow you to feel unencumbered even despite the arguably smaller scale and certainly smaller jumps.

I know I should let it speak for itself and I know that it’s not Crackdown, but it’s such a clear inspiration here. Rest assured that inFamous is an excellent game in its own right and is thoroughly recommended. Just think of it as a way to keep you going until Crackdown 2, which must surely be announced at E3. This has to mean something, right?

Multiplayer Shouldn’t Be a Necessity

I adored BioShock, and while it lost some of its lustre and great ideas once it reached a certain point, one thing that I couldn’t criticise it on was the lack of multiplayer. It was never an issue as the actual FPS mechanics weren’t anything special, and it was the isolation and the experience of exploring this strange world on your own that really drove me forwards.

It reminds me of Metroid Prime, where a fantastic sort-of FPS that was about exploring a strange new world by yourself was met with criticism for its lack of multiplayer. And sure enough, where Metroid Prime 2 came with a half-baked multiplayer, BioShock 2 is set to come with its own effort.

Back when Metroid did it, I can remember making the argument that multiplayer is completely at odds with what makes both Metroid Prime and the Metroid series as a whole great. The games, up until then, were all about being isolated on a hostile alien world, exploring while hunting and being hunted, and even when it moved into the first-person perspective those were still the ideas that carried it. It was never a shooter, in other words, and therefore didn’t need deathmatch, and that description pretty much entirely applies to BioShock as well.

Just look at where Metroid has ended up. Hunters and Prime 3 aren’t bad, but Samus and her bounty hunter friends don’t feel like Metroid to me.

I hate this need to clamour for the bullet point on the back of the box. It’s disrespectful to the effort that goes into crafting a rewarding single player, and while I could understand it if, say, a Call of Duty came without multiplayer, it’s wrong to say that every game needs it. Complaining that a story-led FPS doesn’t come with multiplayer is devaluing a great work in order to appeal to people who don’t appreciate the work that went into the game anyway, like criticising Schindler’s List for not having enough action scenes.

I don’t like to sound like a pretentious twat, which I think is somewhere that this argument comes dangerously close to taking me, but I really think there’s a point here. Starbreeze makes fantastic first-person adventures and has had a great reputation for this since the first Riddick game on the Xbox, and both subsequent releases in this vein, The Darkness and Assault on Dark Athena, have had, respectively, shockingly bad and mediocre multiplayer modes that nobody plays anyway. The people who appreciate the games have no interest in the multiplayer, and the people who would whine about the exclusion have games that they’d rather play in Call of Duty and Halo. Developers should save the money and make an even better story.

To me, this is another example of why games aren’t taken seriously, and it doesn’t help when the gaming media is often guilty of marking games down for not coming with multiplayer, continuing to mix up objective consumer advice and a review, because they’re not the same thing. Games are art, are they? Well then we’d better mark down Hamlet for not having any musical numbers.