This week, Zero Punctuation reviews inFamous.
In my F.E.A.R. 2 review I made the point that government super-soldier projects were a flawed premise because any death machine with free will will inevitably notice that there's something iffy about taking orders from cabals of aging generals when they can beat bears to death from across the room using only their prostate. If superpowers are to be had, handing them out to random passersby seems to be as good a system as any because then we can all ask ourselves if we'd use the gift to help people or blow up the entire world. Of course I would ask why we can't have more options. Can't I just help the people as a day job and destroy the world on the weekends? Or maybe I just fuck the whole complicated business and go back to working at Wal-Mart using my powers to jump start the little carts the fatties ride around on.
Today's superpower lottery winner is Cole McGrath, a name that's half Irish and half dipshit, a courier who was dicking around with his package and it blew up in his face. Which goes to show that registered post is probably best for delivering your MacGuffins. Cole gains the power of electricity while everyone around him gains the power of dead. And Cole must decide whether to rebuild the city he just destroyed or make what remains into his little electro-bitch. Judging by the way he looks like a cross between an EastEnders character and an angry potato, and talks like a blender full of gravel, the game suspects you'll favor the second option (if that weren't already obvious from the fucking title). From a relatively sober beginning fighting gangs and hoodies, the plot gradually takes a left turn on 4th and Bananas and before long you're fighting giant trash robots built by psychic super-hobos. I'd call it borderline Indigo Prophecy syndrome if the plot had made any attempt to make the slightest bit of sense.
First let me blow your fucking mind by saying that this is exactly what a sandbox game should be. You have a big city. You have the means to get around the big city quite fast. You can jump gleefully around on the rooftops like Down Syndrome Batman. If you'd got some urgent doctor's appointment you can just do the story missions or if, like me, you're working from home and spend most of your days arsing around in a dressing gown and getting paid perplexingly well for it, you can do the optional side missions, too, and add more and more territory to what is either your benevolent niceness kingdom or your electro-bitch facist state. And thankfully not all the optional missions are just variations on "go here and kill everything" (only most of them). And, lest we forget, you can shoot various flavors of lightning out of your arse. Some of those flavors do seem a bit ridiculous, like electric healing - since everyone knows that 50,000 volts is just the thing for a collapsed lung. And when you make electricity into little restraining manacles which didn't make a lot of sense when the Superfriends did it either. Also, some of the later enemies have ridiculous amounts of health and fighting them gets pretty tedious when you stand over them and zap them in the balls five times before they finally realize that staying down is the smarter option. The end boss is particularly guilty of this, it's like his health meter is a six foot Mars bar and you're diabetic.
These complaints seem petty even to me but, well, I only had a weekend to play to the end and I stayed up all night to find this out so I might as well mention it if only to justify my disruptive sleep schedule and bleeding eyeballs. But then I realize that if I'm trying this hard to find complaints then I may have forgotten what I'm in this gig for: to depict the majority of games as the bland garbage that they are to highlight the few glittering belly dancers that rise above it, and InFamous is good. In fact, it's great. Huge, creative and fun. It's rare that I find a game for which I'm willing to suffer haemolacria.
But having said that, I have one big complaint that I was saving until now and it goes thus. Moral choice systems in games need to drink some paint and retard themselves out of existence. As I said waaaay back in my BioShock review all they usually amount to is occasionally forcing us to pick whether we want to sing the orphans to sleep or murder their dogs with no middle ground. Especially not in InFamous, because you need to be all the way good or all the way evil to be able to unlock the best toys. I was playing nice just to spite the title and they let me unlock a generic windup powerblast thing that I never used because it would've been quicker to nippletweak all the enemies to death. But apparently the evil part lets you arc lightning, letting you rip shit up Emperor Palpatine-style which really jostled my flaps and no mistake.
You see, this is my issue: all the system really does is force us to play the game twice if we want to see all the content. It's not letting us role-play because we're always Cole McGrath, you're just either Cole McNice or Cole McDick. It's not letting us impose our own values because the evil options are always so cartoonishly villainous you'd need to be Jeffery Dahmer. But even he wouldn't have called himself evil and that's why karma meters are bullshit. Good and evil are utterly meaningless terms that vary from society to society. A few hundred years from now, when overcrowding leaves us crammed shoulder to shoulder through the streets fighting over the last croissant in the patisserie, the denouncement of genocide will be remembered as tragically quaint. Anyway, everyone knows that a really evil person would take the good option to create a facade of benevolence while slowly building their power base and public confidence until just when you least expect it BAM! off-world slavery. And even then the Republicans would probably still vote for them.
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