inFAMOUS Review: City of Saints and Madmen
Mostly, you'll spend time darting around Empire City fending off gangs of mutant superhumans who like to terrorize the traumatized populace with guns, rockets, and — much later — the sort of epic super-villainy you've come to expect from the genre. To grapple with opponents who'll eventually come at you from all heights and angles, you're able to climb anything in sight, darting with uncanny agility from zigzag piping to jutting ledges to the lips of window frames.
While that sounds like Assassin's Creed, it's actually easier, because Cole responds more quickly to your thumb's nudges and with less inertial commitment, so he'll recover from errors quicker. That said, Sucker Punch crafts the gaps you'll have to clear from ground to handhold to rooftop with laudable realism. No "almost" catches at the height of a jump, where other games magnetically pull you into the last few inches with an invisible helping hand. The downside's that precision maneuvers take, well, precision. The upside's that what you see is what you get, a kind of spatial reliability that lends itself to the game's impressive locomotive fluidity.
And where Assassin's Creed modeled wall-crawling with a kind of grasping, painstaking meticulousness, Cole is more like a coiled muscle, springing and scrambling as fast as you care to tap out moves. He can clamber up the side of a building from sidewalk to summit in seconds, and eventually gains the ability to "grind" on power lines and railcar tracks like Tony Hawk channeling Zeus. Since Cole can't sit in a vehicle — his powers detonate the gas tanks in vehicles and the gunpowder in bullets, plus water's a major no-no — you can't flip around the city by hopping into a taxi cab. You're essentially on an electricity-underwritten tether, which trades the convenience of instantaneously zipping from one point to another for the exhilaration of using your super powers to go places no taxi could. Getting around is thus a bit slower, to be sure, but invariably cooler, and it never gets old. It's all part of Sucker Punch's plan to let you experience the kinetic gratification of "superhero parkour" without compromising your ability to get from one side of the map to another in a reasonable amount of time.
Eventually that flexibility causes some minor problems, particularly in areas like the second island (The Warren) where the buildings are riddled with odd handholds and intentionally misaligned protrusions that can cause Cole to get snarled in the architecture. In one instance, I needed to procure a package wedged in the corner of a fire escape landing, but whether I tapped the "leap" or "let go" buttons, Cole wouldn't stop grabbing onto the handrails and overhangs. It took me half a minute to get him "unstuck" and positioned correctly. The character thus seems well acclimated to open spaces and simple geometry, but stick him in cramped quarters and his grab-hold-of-anything tack is like Microsoft Office's "Clippy" — accommodating to the point of absurdity.
The bad guys — initially called Reapers, a bunch of tar-belching goons sporting ghostly masks cribbed from Wes Craven's Scream who eventually morph into even deadlier things — can hit a bug on a wire from a thousand paces. They'll detect and rapid-fire snipe you from preposterous distances, something that's fortunately offset by the citywide surplus of electrical recharge nodes. Higher power abilities drain your "batteries," and when you're low on health, sticking your finger in an outlet can work wonders. Cars, power boxes, light poles, you name it — they offer a chance to juice-up, if you can spare the precious seconds it takes to click the thumb-stick and locate their crackling signatures. It's all part of a balancing act to keep you on your toes. And moving. And most of all, not bored.
Enemies beam in randomly at the edge of your visual range, per convention. No persistent flocks of strategically intelligent AI roam these urban battlegrounds. Thus you'll venture out from alleys or sprint across open recreational areas only to have your bell rung by half a dozen perfectly placed sharpshooters. Again, part of the balancing act. You may have superhuman powers, but you'll have to mind your surroundings, whether that means crouching below the edges of things and peeking out cautiously, or using your powers to detonate objects in the environment and rack up indirect takedowns.