- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 4, 2009

Superhero and cartoon characters are integral parts of the electronic entertainment industry. With this in mind, I salute the meld of pop-culture character and video game with a look at inFamous (from Sony Computer Entertainment and Sucker Punch Productions for PlayStation 3, rated T for teen, $59.99).

With great power comes great responsibility, we’ve heard it before. So what about the potential for great evil? A single player takes part in an ethical dilemma as he commands a superpowered being through a richly interactive world in more than 100 missions guaranteed to offer an electrifying experience.

What’s the Story: Paraphrased from the game Web site (www.infamousthegame.com) - Just another day on the job for bike messenger Cole MacGrath in Empire City, except for the armed maniac chasing him. But then the Ray Sphere detonates and Cole’s world lies twisted and mangled. As the lone survivor of a massive explosion, Cole finds himself with an arsenal of superhuman electrical powers. Who was that guy with the gun and who turned his city into a quarantined state of anarchy?

Play the role: In control of Cole, a guy with gritty looks and a raspy voice similar to actor Christian Bale, the player takes this urban explorer to every corner of the three districts of Empire City as he restores power and civility - or unleashes chaos on its citizens.

Our jolting Cole has the agility and stickiness of Spider-Man as he climbs to the tippy top of billboards on the tallest buildings or through the bowels of the sewer with amazing dexterity. Sucker Punch has taken great pains to create a massive jungle gym of landscapes for the protagonist.

He also wields electricity much like a Master Jedi’s Force attack arsenal with a shocking set of explosive options. An all-important, six-step karma meter registers his good or bad deeds as he completes primary and side missions that will transform his powers between good (blue electric) or evil (red electric).

The good Cole spends time rescuing citizens, even bringing those near death back to life (he’s like a portable defibrillator), and using electrical restraints on the bad guys. The evil Cole has way more fun - he couldn’t care less about life and wreaks enormous destruction on the city.

Get to the action: Simple button combinations let Cole shoot lightning bolts from his fingertips, unload shock waves, create lightning storms, throw shock grenades, jump off buildings and deliver thunder drops, wield a megawatt hammer and control arc lightning bursts.

He battles heavily armed, hooded madmen as he completes objectives such as delivering prisoners to a holding facility, saving passengers by guiding train cars to a safe area and clearing surveillance devices from a building.

Memorable moments: There’s a very cool hallucination scene (after a black mind control goop is sprayed in Cole’s face) where he fights off giant Reapers in a tunnel. I also never got tired of skating across train tracks and electrical power lines or grabbing large conductors in a substation to create some fireworks.

Violent encounters: As Cole is injured, blood splatters on the screen, showing his loss of health until things gets fuzzy and ultimately black and white signaling he is near death. Don’t worry, Cole just needs to get out of harm’s way, bio-leach energy from a fallen foe (not considered a good deed) or tap into any active electrical source to restore his health.

Despite the amount of destructive force Cole yields, the game never matches the type of violence or gore of a Resident Evil or Gears of War. It does play to the emotions, especially when killing a citizen. And, although electrocution is not pretty, it is not super gross in inFamous.

Pixel-popping scale: 9.0 out of 10. The cinematic wonderland of a broken Empire City juxtaposed against the comic book cut scenes will impress the players and bystanders. Besides the overall post-apocalyptic visual splendor, as Cole chooses his moral path, the city and its citizens always react accordingly, down to pelting an evil Cole with rocks or cheering him on, making it one of the most alive, opened-ended games I have ever played.

Read all about it: I found it hard to believe that with those gorgeous sequential art-style cut scenes, somebody at Sucker Punch would not feel inspired to put together a comic book to expand on the story. Well, a four-part prequel to inFamous is available as a downloadable, online comic on the game’s official site (www.infamousthegame.com), featuring about 28 pages of colorful prose with the same fantastic look.

Extras and unlockables: Collect glowing blue blast shards to add battery cores and sustain superpowers, find audio nuggets hidden throughout the districts that help expand on the story and a player accumulates XP points to upgrade powers for either version of Cole.

What’s it worth: inFamous lives up to its name. It’s a game to relish and completely commit to playing through as both villain and hero to fully appreciate its complexity and the passion of the developers.

* Visit Zadzooks at the blog section of The Washington Times’ Community pages (www.washingtontimes.com/communities/zadzooks) or on Twitter .

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