Sucker Punch Productions

inFAMOUS Hands-on Only one person outside of Sucker Punch has played this game, and it wasn't you.

December 19, 2008 - Infamous is awesome. Period. End of statement. I know a lot of times we at IGN get railed on for over-hyping games -- we tell you a game looks great during the preview period but then crap on it when review time comes -- but I'm willing to put my reputation on the line right now and tell you I can't see that happening with this game.

Infamous is a blast, and you're going to need to buy it come spring.

As if playing videogames for a living wasn't enough of a reason, I consider myself pretty lucky after Monday. On that day, I became the first person outside of the hallowed halls of Sucker Punch -- the folks who brought you the Sly Cooper games and are currently burning the candle at both ends on Infamous -- to actually pick up a DualShock 3 and play their current project. In this open-world game, you're in the electrified shoes of Cole. He's your average, everyday bike messenger in Empire City until one day he's holding a box, it goes boom, and the world goes to hell.

 


Check out our video interview that's chockfull of exclusive footage.

Terror. Death. Destruction. Murder. Rape. The collapse of the civilized world. This is where my hands-on session with Infamous began. A comic book story at heart -- Sucker Punch cites series such as DMZ, Batman No Man's Land, and others as inspiration -- the game introduced me to Cole and his cast of supporting characters through the game's graphic novel-inspired cutscenes. Rather than tell the tale with in-game renders and visuals, Infamous has a 2D art style all its own that glides and moves as Cole's narration advances. After the blast, Cole was comatosed for two weeks and the society he knew collapsed. Aside from the blast itself, a strange infection spread that changed some of Empire City's inhabitants into monsters. In an effort to contain the chaos, the government blew up the bridges in an out of town and left the city to deal with it's own terror. With Cole laid up in the hospital, his best friend Zeke kept watch over his bedside and Cole's nurse girlfriend Trish was left to tend his wounds -- a job made all the more difficult by the fact that Trish's own sister was killed in the explosion that reshaped their world. When Cole rejoins the land of the living, he's got to deal with a mourning girlfriend, a ruined city, and streets filled with people who would slit your throat for a box of crackers -- oh, and his body now emits blue, devastating electricity in all sorts of jaw-dropping ways.

After I was through the introductory scenes, I was put in control of Cole in Zeke's rooftop apartment, which is really on the roof, by the way; with electricity out in his building, Zeke's moved all of his belongings to the top of his building in order to have some light. Controlling our hero -- or antihero depending on how you choose to play -- boils down like most third-person games. The right stick controls perspective, the left stick controls movement, and Cole's nifty abilities are all mapped to the face and shoulder buttons. With Zeke wanting to watch TV but his generators dead, it was up to my juiced up digits to do the dirty work. Holding L1 drops you into an aiming mode -- the traditional slight zoom over the shoulder deal -- and brings up a small circle that acts as your crosshairs. Place the circle on top of something that needs a few hundred volts, press R1, and you'll fire off a blast of light blue electricity.

Completing my basic objective of topping off the generators had me tapping R1 over and over again to take the devices from their depleted red meter states to a full-bodied green glow. With the juice back on, Zeke's TV sprung back to life, and we got to chatting about my abilities. A pack rat of sorts, Zeke decided I needed some target practice and set me loose on a handful of mannequins he had set up on the roof, I took aim, fried the suckers until their heads popped off, and marveled at the way my splash-back currents shimmered and scattered across a chain link fence. I didn't get much downtime though because soon a low-flying cargo plane buzzed our heads, the cartoons Zeke was watching cut out, and the TV Jacker came on. With Empire City completely walled off from the rest of the world, the outside media's getting snowballed by the government and has no idea what's going on inside. Rather than let these bogus "everything's OK" reports be the only voice in Empire City, the TV Jacker is kind of a folk hero who interrupts TV at will to break the real stories from behind his mask. In this instance, the voice of the city is letting the inhabitants know that the cargo plane we all just saw is making a food drop in Archer Square, and if you want the grub, you better haul ass over there because the Reapers -- a ghoulish gang of gun-toting freaks in red hoodies that were junkies before the blast changed them -- will be headed that way to take what they want.

With that, my first real mission as Cole was in play. Time was of the essence, and being a super-powered messenger with aion for urban exploration, I just leapt off the roof of the building and crashed to the ground. No matter the height, Cole can't be hurt by a fall. In fact, if you hold down square while falling, you'll pull off the Meteor Drop; this shockwave of juice spreads out from Cole's impact crater and deals damage to anyone in its wake. The higher you are when you start charging it, the bigger the blast.

Trish, I don't think this is normal.
Trish, I don't think this is normal.
Once Cole was at street level, I really got the chance to see the bleak conditions these characters are living in. There's burned out cars, rubble, people wandering through the street, and dead bodies on the sidewalk. Everything was colorful and super-detailed, but it was also grimy and worn from the tattered remains of one of the bridges to the pile of rubble underneath a Conquistador Caf? sign. Eventually, Zeke, who took the stairs, joined me on the bustling sidewalk and we began jogging through back allies and deserted streets on our way to a parking lot where Zeke needed to pick up a gun he had just purchased. When we got to the firearm, it was time to use one of Cole's secondary abilities. Assigned to the D-pad, these powers will give our hero a mega-advantage in battle and getting through missions, but they're also going to drain Cole's internal battery a lot quicker. See, the gun was left for Zeke underneath a car so I had to arm Cole's telekenic blast, bring up the aiming reticule, tap R2, and send the four-wheels flying. With the cars toppled over and the gun in Zeke's hand (Cole can't touch firearms because the current in him causes the ammunition to go off), our budding superhero was out of juice and feeling weak. The solution to the problem was to walk over to a wall-bound transformer, hold down L2, and watch in wide-eyed wonder as Cole planted his feet, put his shoulders back, and sucked the power from the machine in an impressive display of arcing blue electricity.

Keeping Cole charged is going to be a crucial part of this game. After grabbing the gun, Zeke and I made it to Archer Square where we found the food drop tangled in a colossal statue in the middle of the courtyard. Cole shimmied up the structure -- climbing's a breeze and has a ton of animations -- and cut the load down with a quick zap to a rusty bolt. Seconds after the food fell, the Reapers showed up and the battle was on. Seeing as how this was my first dose of Infamous combat, I kind of went overboard. Small lightning bursts were tossed, people got pushed around with Cole's TK blasts, and I even began experimenting with the secondary lightning strike that is a continuous blast similar to a stream from one of the Ghostbusters' proton pack. However, none of these moves came cheap. Up in the left corner of the screen is a meter showing how much power Cole's packing, and I was draining it left and right. Sure, I could still punch the crap out of people and kick enemies when they were down, but being on E in the middle of a battle isn't anyway to live.
Luckily, Empire City is filled with places to get a fix. By clicking in on the left stick, the onscreen radar fills with little blue lightning bolts that Cole can track down and get a hit from -- stuff such as telephone stations, power terminals, and whatever else is around. This balance of fighting and juicing is going to be a tightrope players have to learn to walk. During my demo, I found myself running headlong into battles, running out of power, and getting capped before I could get to the nearest refueling icon. Although health is regenerative, if the bits of red creep onto the screen and everything begins to go black and white, consuming the spark of a parked car or light pole might mean you make it through a tussle with the Reapers. Although I didn't get the chance to play any missions like it, Sucker Punch says they're going to be battles and tasks that take Cole into blacked-out areas and leave him to figure out how to survive and at what cost. Even though they're keeping mum on how the whole Good Cole/Bad Cole dichotomy is going to work, I did get a glimpse of some of the choices Cole's going to have to make. When a villain or pedestrian is knocked down on the ground, Cole can either anchor the person to the ground with electricity cuffs or clutch the downed person's face and consume the tiny amount of electricity the human body holds. Remember, the populous is going to remember you for your actions in certain areas, so sucking soccer moms dry might not win you any brownie points, but what are you going to do if that lady's the only power source and you're up against some baddies?

Our videos will make the wait for Infamous a bit better.

Anyway, back to my Archer Square battle. After getting my head kicked a few times, I began to pick up on how combat's meant to work in Infamous. There's no lock-on system, so you're going to have to pull off combos with your powers, use cover, and time your shots well if you plan on surviving. See, these Reaper boys (Things?) move fast. Unless you catch them with their backs to you -- which I saw happen more than a few times because I'd hide and Zeke would draw the bad guys' attention -- you're going to have to get these guys down via a TK blast or get up-close and personal before you can try and fry them; sitting back and firing bursts of energy at the dodging foes is a good way to drain yourself without doing any damage. Thankfully, if an opponent is standing close to a conductor, you can hit that object and have the juice ricochet to the baddie. Meanwhile, you can take cover against whatever is around, find your sweet spot, setup your shot, and pop out to toast folks.

With all these tools at my disposal, I was able to wax the bad guys on the scene, grab the XP for beating them, and get the food to the people, but no sooner was I winning over the crowd and the TV Jacker popped up on the Square's big screen and made the accusation that I had set off the bomb and that I was a terrorist. The crowd turns on Cole, Trish walks away in disgust, and Zeke and I decide to make a break out of town.

From there, my hands-on time jumped about two hours or so into the game. Sucker Punch tells me that Zeke and Cole make it to the bridge after the Archer Square incident and meet an FBI agent named Moya. She agrees to get the duo out of the city if Cole agrees to use his powers to help her find her husband. Of course, our knight in a messenger bag agrees and heads back into the depths of Empire City to live up to his word. The mission my time picked up with focused on getting an elevated train from one end of the city to another. The Reapers had captured a bunch of people and were holding them in a locked train car as collateral. Moya apparently found out about this pen of people and had reason to believe her hubby might be one of the impromptuengers so she dispatched Cole.

Starting near the rear of the train, I pushed forward and took out a number of normal old Reaper types milling about the track. Although it sucked to have skipped so much of the game, the jump did mean that I got access to another two superpowers. The first is a makeshift electricity grenade. Cole throws the little ball of blue -- it'll stick to enemies and innocents alike -- and it goes boom with a blast of electricity. The second is the overcharged shot, which comes down to you aiming as usual and holding R1 until the reticule changes and Cole's arm twitches with energy. You release the button, and Cole releases a condensed beam of juice that wipes out the target and jumps to any other people in the nearby vicinity. With the few guards waxed thanks to the grenades and blasts, I climbed on top of the lead train car, and the energy inside Cole gave the locomotive the power to speed down the line.

Then, the Conduit Reaper showed up.

Whereas the normal dudes in red are pretty simple, the Conduit is a Reaper in white that can teleport from place to place and send a blast your way that tears apart the ground in its wake. As the train approached its first stop -- the train will roll to a stop when it comes to a feeder box Cole needs to refill with energy so that the tracks work -- the Conduit showed up and began laying waste to my world. Meanwhile, the train had come to a stop in the middle of a bunch of apartment buildings with regular Reapers on the rooftops who were all too happy to take pop shots at me while I battled the big guy. Finally, I got some grenades stuck to the bastard's back, dropped him, scaled a light pole and then the side of a building so I could take out the bad guys, crashed to the street below, filled the feeder box, and got back on top of the train. We rolled into the next stop, and the process pretty much repeated itself except there seemed to be more bad guys and I took the fight to the street in hopes of using cover.

Then I heard something screaming. By the time I spotted a new Reaper running down the street at me, it had exploded in a giant ball of red and killed me. This is a Suicide Reaper. Thankfully, the game has a pretty forgiving checkpoint system that I made use of as we made a few more stops on our way to the train's final resting place. Cole set the kidnapping victims free, the area of town rejoiced, and my demo ended.

Damn this static electricity.
Damn this static electricity.
Now, I'd be remiss if I didn't talk a bit about the climbing mechanics in Infamous. When I first started playing, the developers had to remind me that Empire City is designed to be a jungle gym. Buildings, girders, ledges and just about everything else are meant to be scaled, leapt from, and basically used to get Cole from one place to another as quickly and cool-lookingly as possible. There are a few nifty things about this system. To begin with, it's a breeze to use. Cole's got this back story about being into scaling buildings and whatnot so he's supposed to be athletic and good at this stuff before he gets his powers. Now that he has them, you can just jump at tight ropes and super-thin ledges, and Cole will automatically land the leap and get where you want him. During my demo, I didn't have to inch him along because I was afraid of him falling; I got to just run and have fun. The second big part to this climbing system is how great it looks. We've seen Spider-Man, Lara Croft, Nathan Drake, and hundreds of other videogame heroes climb walls and shimmy on ledges, but I don't think I've ever seen so many varied animations for this kind of movement as I saw in my snapshot of Infamous. When Cole's hanging from a rooftop, he's got one foot planted next to his hands. When he's on a windowsill, Cole's pressed as close and he possibly can be to that wall. The character's body really gives you the feel for how these moves would go.

Infamous was already one of my most anticipated games of 2009, but this hands-on has propelled it to the top of that list. Since Spider-Man 2, I've been waiting for a developer to capitalize on the formula that combines an open-world adventure with kickass comic book storytelling. Although my taste was way too brief -- I have no idea how side missions will play out, how smart the NPCs on the street are, etc. -- Infamous did nothing but impress when I played it. If you dig superhero stories or the idea of a good guy in GTA gets you all warm and fuzzy, it's going to be a very, very good spring.