inFamous: Hands On

I’ll be honest, inFamous had pretty much slipped under my personal radar until we got our hands on the press demo (which will appear, in some form, on the PSN Store today) and whilst we got the full press kit a week or so back we were holding off until the final version popped through the door, which it did on Tuesday.  Last night, then, was dedicated to playing as much of it as possible and although the desire was there to keep going, today’s surprise excursion from the relative safety of TSA Towers meant it couldn’t be a late night.

So, with a couple of hours gameplay in the bag, we thought we’d let you know what we think.  No, this isn’t a review – whilst much of the commentary will remain the same throughout the game, we’re expecting plot twists and character development only hinted at from our current gamesave, so things could change.  As it stands, we’ve completed the first block of missions, grabbed quite a few XP points and spent them on a smattering of super powers, because although the demo embellished Cole, your character, with quite a few enhancements from the go, in the full game you can’t even jump for the first couple of minutes.

The game starts with a bang, quite literally, and although all around you in chaos, this is actually a sedate little introduction and eases you into the game’s controls (via a nifty way of calibrating the right stick’s look orientation) and although is entirely linear the introduction section is nicely paced and well produced.  What it does highlight, however, is the risible animation of NPCs, both in cut-scenes and amidst the gameplay proper – we’ll get back onto the subject of the visuals later but it’s fair to say that if you’re expecting Uncharted levels of finesse you’ll be really disappointed.

The animation loops are basic, badly interpolated and actually hugely off-putting, and whether that’s the fault of the rudimentary pathfinding or just dodgy AI, you’ll find that the only thing that moves convincingly is Cole himself – even major plot characters seem to shuffle their way towards you before rotating on the spot, Resident Evil style.  Whether or not this bothers you will be entirely up to the individual, but against the massive scope of the environments it’s jarring to see cops, injured civilians and even your avatar’s so-called friends performing the same 2 second loops as they attempt to amuse themselves.

And then there’s the aliasing and the frame rate, which are both pretty bad.  Yes, a certain amount of aliasing creates a clean, sharp image but when almost every straight line is jagged and the screen refresh is struggling to keep up it makes you wish the game had managed to grab another couple of months in the oven before being thrown onto the shelves.  This, coupled with the aforementioned animation and some PS2-level modelling doesn’t make for a particularly attractive game, especially one from a exclusive title, albeit one from a (hugely talented) third party studio.

But then, thankfully, games aren’t measured by their graphics here at TSA, because as a game inFamous is rather brilliant.  It starts slowly, yes, as all sandbox games do, but soon manages to wrap several plot threads together simultaneously whilst all the time giving you the player the chance to shape the outcome of the game which every way you wish.  This is done via key Karma Points, in which you’re given a good or evil choice to make – your decisions shape your overall character and unlock specific power-ups and plot lines depending on what you do in these situations and although seem a little forced at first soon start to make perfect sense.

The controls, if you’ve not already played the demo, are also pretty much perfect, and the game eases you through them whilst all the time teasing the more powerful arsenal of moves via the in-game menus.

In terms of production inFamous shares many qualities you’d expect from a Sony published title – impressively fast loading (with no install), gorgeous comic book cutscenes, a steady torrent of well-placed Trophies and the overwhelming feeling that this is a PlayStation 3 game, and whilst the 360 would have no problems throwing around these kind of environments PS3 owners can rest assured that, as we’ve said before, this is a better game than Crackdown and deserves to be the smash hit that Sony want it to be.  If you can get over the somewhat clunky visuals, there’s a deep, enjoyable game in there just screaming to take over a week of your life.

Once we’ve finished it, we’ll have the full review.