Developer: Sucker Punch
Release Date: Q2 2009
You can't really go wrong with some "Three Amigos" references from press folks right before the demo of a game. In that '80s movie, Martin Short grossly misinterprets the meaning of the word "infamous," explaining to others that it means "more than famous" instead of its true, malicious definition.
Time will tell if Sucker Punch's forthcoming project inFAMOUS ends up being more than famous, but judging from the early sample that Brian Fleming and Nate Fox showed off, it's certainly got a chance.
This is quite a departure from Sucker Punch's previous work, the excellent (and slightly underrated) Sly Cooper series. If you remember, Sly Cooper combined a linear, kid-friendly adventure with some very intriguing platforming elements and a dash of humor.
inFAMOUS, however, looks neither funny nor kid-friendly. It's an open-world superhero game with some grit, with Brian Fleming (Sucker Punch co-founder) saying they are putting their toes right on the line between a "T" for Teen and "M" for Mature rating. Once again, time (and the ESRB) will tell.
inFAMOUS puts you in the shoes of Cole McGrath, an urban explorer who survives a chaotic blast that cripples all of fictional Empire City. The title uses comic book-style stills to help narrate the story, adding to its superhero vibe. As you can imagine, Empire City is left in total ruin, and the atmosphere carries a lot of typical post-apocalyptic fare. The only sane people left are hunted by the freaks and gangs left behind. This is where Cole comes in. While a lot of people died in the blast, he picked up some cool powers. The game's intro narrative leaves him contemplating whether he's supposed to use his powers for a higher purpose, or to just start breaking things.
"This is really the first superhero game where the powers are really built to be in a video game, instead of being dictated by narrative," said game director Nate Fox.
Cole is essentially a master of electricity. He can fire off lightning from his hands and also use a "force push" of sorts to chuck heavy items (like cars) at enemies. He has the ability to feed off anything that has a current, like neon signs or street lights. The demo we saw took place in the desolate sprawl of the Neon district, which had plenty of fizzling light sources.
"This isn't a bug hunt, though," said Fleming. "You're not going to have to keep running around breaking every light."
But you can if you want, along with anything else that gets caught in your wake of energy. We saw a taste of how the environment reacts to Cole's electricity attacks, with cars flipping out or at least getting a charge. Aside from being used for offense, Cole can also revive fallen bystanders by standing over them and giving them an ER-style shock, like a walking defibrillator. You also learn that you're not the only one with weird powers; others have also inherited odd skills due to the blast.
Like any superhero, Cole has weaknesses. We got to see them in action when a blackout hits the Neon district, severely downgrading Cole's enemy-roasting abilities. There was also an encounter with the first bad guy with powers of his own, seemingly teleporting Nightcrawler-style all over the street until he got leveled by a Cole-induced electric superstorm.
It should be noted that Cole's previous life as an urban explorer comes in very handy. He has climbing and jumping skills similar to the Prince of Persia, but what sets him apart is the ability to attack from practically any position. He can scale a wall up to a rooftop, but blast enemies while hanging halfway off the edge — in effect, using the ledge as cover. He's also able to battle while latched onto vertical obstacles like telephone poles.
However, the cornerstone of inFAMOUS is going to be morality. Neither Fleming nor Fox would go into too much detail regarding this, but the internal struggle of deciding whether to be truly heroic or be the ultimate badass has the potential to have repercussions that can last throughout the game. It's an element we've most recently seen in RPGs, and it sounded like the door was open for gamers to find themselves in one of those kill-one-to-save-thousands dilemmas.
"We're talking about modern-day superheroes. We have to give you that option to make those complex moral choices," said Fox. "We look at it like this: You have Batman, and you have the Punisher. The Punisher essentially kills everyone, and then you have Batman, who doesn't kill anyone at all."
There are certainly several aspects to making an original superhero game. Since no one knows who Cole is outside of the people at Sucker Punch, there's no built-in market ready to receive it. Fleming said that was a blessing and a curse. "If you have a known superhero, you can still make an average game and it'll sell," he said. "For us, we have to make a great game for it to sell. It has to be really good — and we like that challenge."
inFAMOUS is slated for a Q2 2009 release. We definitely like what we've seen so far, but it'll be a while yet until we can see if Sucker Punch has risen to the challenge.
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