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GDC: inFamous

Cole power.

Last year was all about the battle of the band games, as Rock Band went head-to-head with Guitar Hero. Things will be different in 2009 - unless Activision decides to release a Rolling Stones game, but that's another story. This year, it's time for a superhero showdown as Radical's Prototype takes on inFamous, a PS3 exclusive from Sucker Punch.

The context is different, as there's no history of franchise-swapping here. However, the content is remarkably similar. inFamous stars a white male hero in his twenties, who wakes up to find the big US city he lives in has descended into chaos. He also learns he's acquired some mysterious superpowers. In Prototype, set in a big US city that recently descended into chaos, the hero, who is white, male and about 25, awakens to learn he has acquired some superpowers, which are mysterious.

We got the chance to play Prototype last month, and now it's time for a hands-on session with inFamous at the Game Developers Conference. The first level available appears to be the first level of the game, as it's all tutorially. The on-screen text states that it's "Day 14 of the quarantine". Our hero, Cole, is hanging about on the roof of a tall building with a fat bloke in a tracksuit called Zeke.

There's a broken telly on the roof, along with a load of power generators. Zeke asks you to charge them up, and the on-screen instructions tell you how - press L1 to target, then R1 to release a blast of electricity. This is your default weapon and puzzle solver, and you're always able to use it even if you've emptied the meter showing how much electric energy you have stored.

Evil Cole shoots out red lightning, unlike Good Cole, who prefers blue.

You'll need to fill it up if you want to pull off Cole's more advanced moves. To help with this there's a "ping" manoeuvre you can use to identify any objects supplying electricity in the vicinity - then it's a matter of pressing L2 to get the juice from them. You can also suck power from your enemies. As you explore each level you'll come across hidden items called Blast Shards, and if you collect five of these your power meter will increase by one extra segment.

So what are the moves you're storing up all this energy for? That will depend on how you choose to play the game. There's the option to be kind and helpful by healing injured civilians, caring about who gets caught in your crossfire and so on. Or you might decide to go round smashing up everything in your path and stealing energy from everyone around you.

There are also specific moments where you get to make moral choices. In the first level, for example, food parcels are dropped into the city. You can either let the people scrambling for a share grab it all, or shoot the lot of them with your crazy electrofists and nick the food for yourself.

Here's how you'll choose which powers Cole acquires and how his character develops.

Citizens will react to Cole differently depending on how you behave, and you'll rack up good or bad karma as you go. This affects how the powers you earn play out. For example if you've taken the good path, your electromagic grenades will only stun whoever they hit. You can then hog-tie enemies if you don't want to kill them, and send civilians on their way. If you've been bad, however, the grenades will cause widespread and indiscriminate devastation.

It's hard to believe anyone would bother tying up dizzy people rather than just blowing them to bits with massive balls of lightning. But according to Sucker Punch, playtesters often choose the path of righteousness, as there are distinct benefits. For example, being evil gives you access to the Sadistic Shot move, which increases the radius of your electric explosions. If you behave yourself, however, you can acquire the Righteous Blow, which gives you a small energy boost each time you hit an enemy.