Version tested: PlayStation 3
With the two games arriving within weeks of each other, comparisons between the superhero open-worlds of Sucker Punch's PS3-exclusive inFamous and Radical's multiformat Prototype are inevitable, but with the former now a thoroughly known quantity, there are more precise points of reference, and one of them is another game released this month - Bionic Commando. Equipped with unfussy free-climbing controls and the ability to rail-grind overhead power-cables, inFamous hero Cole McGrath has more in common with Capcom's Nathan Spencer than just his surly disposition and sandpaper larynx: he travels in style, if not with the same difficulty.
Elaborating on Sly Raccoon's lock-on equilibrium, inFamous allows Cole to clamber almost freely across the surfaces of buildings, perch on fences and spikes, run on all fours up the side of girders and pipes, and sprint over tightropes, beams and cables. If you make a jump for something, the game makes sure you connect over the last few feet, anchoring your purchase to appropriate contact and never threatening to drop you to the ground. If anything, it's rather difficult to descend, and Cole's other attributes cushion any actual fall from distance, providing it's not into deadly water.
Deadly, because the crumbling city beneath Cole's rooftop highways has been freshly downtrodden by a massive explosion, which has thrown the masonry into a slouch, the neighbourhoods of Neon, the Warren and the Historic District to murderous gangs, and, most pertinently, the laws of nature off Cole's axis. Infused with electrical powers, he's Force Lightning sieved into a non-linear progression system, firing electricity from his palms and tossing cars into the air on a shockwave to begin with, developing electricity grenades and slow-motion precision shots over time, and ultimately calling bolts from the heavens. Stay away from the water, and make sure to keep an eye out for anything connected to the mains, which rebuilds the all-purpose electricity ammo meter with a tug of the left trigger.
For all this though, Cole is hardly invincible, and the initial Reaper and Dustmen enemies can tear him apart with their machineguns, which is bad news in a city overrun by them, and where traditional methods of open-world travel are not available. Cars are off-limits (Cole says he fries them when he gets inside), and while you can sprint tirelessly over open ground to escape, it's a better idea to look to the rooftops for protection and navigation.
After an introduction that establishes Cole's basic skills and a few of the key players, including his girlfriend Trish, his best friend Zeke and a Fed called Moya, inFamous settles into a comfortable rhythm, highlighting story missions on your mini-map with blue icons and side missions with yellow. Unable to rely on high-speed car chases and exotic machinery, instead you're invited to rescue civilians from a train that the local baddies are using as a prison, but you evacuate it not by blasting your way from end to end but by perching on the top of the first carriage and driving it down the line, which you can do because, as Moya points out, you're a human third rail. There are frantic rooftop pursuits that take in the whole broad platform vocabulary, and pitched street battles that call on all your various zaps and waves.
Side missions follow similar lines, and completion of these liberates a particular sector, clearing it of enemies and so making it easier to get around unmolested. It's also worth taking the time to complete them for the extra experience points, which allow you to upgrade your abilities. Some of the more enjoyable side missions recall Crackdown's point-to-point races across the skyline, and there are fringe benefits to unlock, like extra respawn points for defending medical centres.
After an interesting start, however, inFamous loses its way considerably in the middle third, and certain things begin to dawn on you. If you rub away the labels, for instance, most of the abilities Cole can deploy in attack are just analogues for traditional third-person weaponry. The default zap attack is a rifle round, the heavier one is a rocket launcher, the grenade is a grenade, and the precision shot is a sniper scope with slow-motion.