14/05/2009 at 21:19       Phil May       9 COMMENTS.
No, No. Notorious

Imagine how you'd feel if tomorrow morning you woke up to find the world had changed. No buses were running, the television just spat static back at you from every channel, and the lights flickered on and off spastically, as if someone at the power station had fallen asleep at the switch.

Welcome to Cole Macgrath's world.

Empire city was once a bustling metropolis. The type of place where cube drones drip-fed coffee into their bloodstreams just to keep their neurons and the financial markets buzzing, a place where the seething criminal underbelly moved through rat-runs in the shadows while hard working decent law-abiding folk mentally ticked off a flip-calendar in their heads counting down the days to the weekend.

[THUMB1]A cataclysmic explosion ripped through Empire City, but worse was to follow. Those wiped out in the explosion were the fortunate ones. Those who lived succumbed swiftly to a deadly and mysterious plague that subsequently led to Empire City being declared a huge quarantined no-go zone by the government.

Cole Macgrath was caught up in the explosion but instead of it killing him outright, it transformed him, imbuing his body with the ability to draw on and store massive amounts of electrical energy. Cole swiftly found that this also gave him superhuman strength, resilience and agility as well as a dazzling array of offensive capabilities that would ensure he could survive, and protect those close to him.

Cole's girlfriend, Trish, also survived the blast and the plague, and chose to help and heal the sick and wounded. His best friend Zeke, a smart-mouthed laid back character helps Cole come to terms with his abilities and together they scrape out an existence in a city that is far from out of danger.

[THUMB2]A world filled with ambling nightmares

The same explosion that gave Cole his powers has also somehow transformed the city's junkies and nefarious wrongdoers into a roving scavenging pack of near-animals. They inflict a reign of terror that has swiftly spread citywide, looting government-sanctioned aid drops and causing fear and chaos wherever they appear.

So you take up the story as Cole, with awesome power at your fingertips and the choice to pull Empire City back from the brink of apocalypse, or send it screaming over the edge into the abyss.

Ironically, as the demo goes through its lengthy loading sequence, peppered with sage quotes from the great and good, your blu-ray drive sounds like a rapidly fluttering heartbeat, perhaps in anticipation of the action to come. The preview begins in Zeke and Cole's makeshift base of operations, surrounded by looted trappings from the city below.

You're given a brief introduction to the scope of Cole's powers when Zeke asks you to recharge four batteries that power the TV. As comical as this sounds, it acts as an effective demonstration of the focussed targeting abilities of your electrical arsenal. Moving the left stick around and highlighting a target with the reticule will allow you to direct a pulse of energy that can affect electrical systems, or just plain blow a hole in something.

As Cole is slowly getting used to his powers, and as the limited backstory suggests that a lot of what is happening is as new to him as it is to you, the introductory "tutorial" is a good chance to get used to the camera and targeting movements as well as your own.

What strikes you straight away is how fantastically detailed Empire City and Cole's immediate surroundings are. From the edge of the rooftop hideout you can see the murky depths of the city bay area stretching off into the distance, the wrecked skyline and crumbling buildings and the seething post-apocalyptic landscape that you'll soon be exploring. As game worlds go, InFamous dishes up a treat for the eyes quite early on. Things could do with some serious anti-aliasing but there's no tearing and certainly no shonky framerates here.

Control of Cole feels pleasingly intuitive, with on-screen prompts to guide you through the initial stages of control. Though you may be an uber-powerful hero, you're not without your more vulnerable side as each time you use your abilities, energy drains from your on-screen charge bar. Lose the lot and you're just like any ordinary everyday joe schmo.

[THUMB3]There's a whole new world out there, you just can't see it yet

The demo is short and to the point, possibly on purpose so you don't wander too far off the beaten track but you're given an opportunity to experience one of the other selling points of the game, the karma system. Each wholesome good deed you perform will raise your positive profile, and you'll be well liked, respected and loved by the general populace. Lose your cool and loose off a few electrical bolts into a crowd of innocent bystanders, and your karma levels will be in the red, ensuring that you strike fear and terror into everyone. It's not a punishingly binary system unlike other games that have experimented with this sort of in game morality simulation, so the game neither abjectly punishes you or favours you if you do accidentally let loose with your powers at an inopportune moment. That's a nice touch, and should ensure that players are able to realistically strike up a balance between being Mr Nice Guy or a tortured soul having a bloody awful Monday morning.

I particularly liked (read: hated really) the way Cole's lack of interaction with certain elements of his surroundings is explained away. You can bear no weapons because they'll just explode in your face (good job you can use that there electrical dealio then, eh?). You can't take your sister's 57 Chevrolet out for a spin because you have the same effect on vehicles as you do on weapons, yep that's right they just explode around you. But this isn't GTA, so I doubt you'll worry too much that you've got to footslog everywhere (in the demo at least).

Though you're not really in the game long enough to see how the storyline develops, and how else you can use your sparky superpower, this taster does at least show that infamous isn't just your ordinary everyday third person game. Cole is athletic and does a good line in picking out seemingly impossible routes through the twisted cityscape the game is based in. Clambering along rooftops, picking your way through the crowds of civilians (running, forever running everywhere like lunatics)
Though it serves up clichés quicker than you can say "Infamy, infamy, they've all got it infamy!" it's all done with a serious amount of spit and polish.

The demo should be hitting the PSN store soon, and because it's so short it's difficult to do much more than say "Here's a game with potential, let's hope the mission structure is varied and satisfying enough to put some meat on its bones", I'd urge you to try it before you drop the cash on the full version of InFamous. It's full of interesting ideas and a teasingly intriguing back story, so let's see how the full version does when it hits stores on the 29th May 2009.

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