The antihero union must be having a party. For we live in a day and age when even comic book superheroes can be edgy, dark and powder keg dangerous. Sure, you don’t mind that black-clad tough guy foiling the felons, but you wouldn’t want him renting your spare room. Cole MacGrath, the main character in Sony Computer Entertainment’s new video game inFAMOUS, is that kind of guy.
Once upon a time, he was just an average bike courier. He spent his days wheeling between sidewalks and stalled traffic, chewing out lousy drivers in a place called Empire City. But then one day he finds himself regaining consciousness in the middle of a blast zone. As he staggers to his feet he realizes he’s been mysteriously transformed into something akin to a human lightning rod. Was it a terrorist attack? A science experiment gone wrong? Cole finds it all pretty scary and confusing, but in some ways, mucho cool.
Shock to the Senses
The dazed messenger can now heal his wounds (and the wounds of others) by absorbing electricity from nearby light poles or fuse boxes. His body also stores a charge that he can use in a variety of ways—such as lightning bolt blasts or enemy-repelling shock waves. Not only that, but these high voltage pick-me-ups also allow him to quickly scale any skyscraper and skate along power lines and railroad tracks.
But then there’s the downside. Since Cole is an electrically powered superdude in a crippled, quarantined city, there are lots of folks pleading for his help, and gangs of gun-toting baddies who consider him a threat and want to punch his lights out. And, to be honest, the whole bunch of ’em kinda tick Cole off.
That’s when gamers get to slip into Cole’s tattered leather coat and decide what side of the street he’ll tread. Will he skim, jump and zap his way through the game’s open world as a benevolent (if reluctant) champion? Or will he be a totally self-focused powerhouse who’s willing to let the innocent suffer if it makes his day a bit easier?
A City Full of Ethical Challenges
inFAMOUS contains dozens and dozens of quests—spread out over three large island boroughs—designed to answer those questions. A sizable number of the tasks weave together in a story that chases down the truth behind the midtown blast and the lightning powers that Cole now employs. The tale crackles its way around government officials, scores of deadly street gang members and a few other bosses with their own science lab-bred superpowers. Mixed in, there are also quite a few unrelated side quests that do little more than level up Cole’s powers while tossing him new moral choices to make.
And those moral decisions almost always influence how the game plays out. For one thing, they draw you into the story and make you think about what Spider-Man called the great responsibility that comes with great power. Will you shoot at police from the midst of a crowd and cause a riot that lets you slip by unscathed, but kills the innocent? Or will you step forward and draw all fire in your direction to protect the masses?
The higher your hero status goes the more apt people are to adore you and even join in to fight bad guys by your side. If the game’s Karmic Meter begins to point to the dark side, though, the crowds, and even those closest to you, will turn their backs in disgust. That might not sound tempting right off the bat, but just as in real life, a wicked choice is often the easiest path to take—at first.
All of that makes this a supercharged adventure that’s far more high-flying and sometimes thought provoking than your average action/shooter. But it doesn’t mean inFAMOUS is free of voltage spikes. The game is rated as acceptable for teens by the ESRB, but it’s a pretty hard T. There’s some sleeping-around sexual innuendo that pops up in conversations. And one villainous female character wears an open top that reveals cleavage and the underside of her breasts.
The constant battles include numerous thunderbolt deaths of hooded junkies and thugs as well as average Joes and Janes. Blood sprays as baddies shoot Cole, and as he weakens, blood spatter borders the screen. Probably most jarring is Cole’s use of profanities during these difficult encounters. “H—” and “d–n” are most frequent, but the s-word, “a–,” “b–tard” and “b–ch” show up, as well. (Cole’s friend, Zeke, makes a crude remark about donkey genitals.)
These kinds of short circuits may not seem all that shocking when compared to so many other games these days. But they do serve as specific examples of the “anti” that’s inevitably included in today’s brand of heroic entertainment.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.