Video: Infamous: Karma System Hands-on for PlayStation 3
Infamous is the first PlayStation 3 outing from Sucker Punch, the guys behind the much-loved Sly Cooper games.
In this title, you'll pick up the pieces of Cole's life in a nearly destroyed world. See, Cole was an ordinary messenger who saw Empire City collapse when a package he was delivering exploded in his hands and leveled a large section of town.
When Cole came out of his coma, he found Empire City completely quarantined off from the rest of the world, riots in the street, mutated gangs in control, and his body infused with electrical super-powers. Now able to shoot electrical blasts from his hands, survive falls from the top of buildings, and knock cars into the air with telekinetic blasts, it's up to Cole to protect his friends and survive this brave new world.
The interesting thing about all of this is the fact that Cole doesn't have to use his powers for the good of all mankind -- he can be as selfish as you want him to be. See, Infamous employs a seven-level Karma System that monitors your actions and lets you know how good or bad Cole is being.
See, this will all be broken down in a little crescent-shaped meter next to your power level. If you're reviving pedestrians who have been hurt by your enemies (a quick deliberator-like shock from your palms can fix just about everyone in this game), your meter fills in with a little blue. If you're just wailing on every person you see in the street before pinning them to the ground and sucking their life forces out of their faces, your meter is going to fill in red.
From the middle/neutral spot, you can do good deeds and climb to Guardian, Champion, and Hero ranks, or you can fry passerbys and sink to Thug, Outlaw, and Infamous Ranks. Awesomely, this position on the good/bad scale is visually represented by Cole as well. When he's being a good boy, Cole's electricity attacks will be blue and his clothes will be pristine.
When he takes a turn towards evil, Cole will crackle with red energy, lose the pigment in his skin, and get mud on his face and clothes. These visual cues get more and more severe as you move up the ladder of your chosen Karma path.
While your moment to moment actions play into which way your meter's going to go, the bigger influence are Karma Moments. These are 15 to 18 pivotal points in the story where you need to make a choice and then deal with whatever the consequences are. During my time in Bellevue, I got to play several of these, and the easiest to drop you into - well, the easiest to drop people who have been reading a lot about this game - is right after the food drop mission I described in my last preview.
Remember, the government had just dropped in a bunch of rations, Cole and his friend Zeke headed over there, the Reapers popped up, and Cole smacked the gang down. With the bad guys out of the way, the bystanders rush the food, and the screen goes slo-mo and golden with a little justice scale in the bottom corner while Cole begins a debate in his head. He can let the people - who are obviously starving - grab what they need from the bounty or he can zap a few of them to scare everyone off and leave the booty for him and his friends.
Now, I'm a Superman fan, I try to pick up random trash when I see it on the street, and I try to hold doors for people but this was my chance to be bad. I had Cole take aim (L1), fire off an electrical blast (R1), and watch as the panicked peeps fled the scene. Since I got my first taste of this game, I've been talking about how fleshed out the characters seem, and this Karma part only reinforced that feeling.
As the people fled, Cole's girlfriend ran up to the hero and demanded to know why he blasted the innocents. "I did it for us," Cole told her. "To make sure we're taken care of." It might seem like a little drop in, but you'd be surprised how many games give you a good/bad choice where the evil option has no justification. In Infamous, it looks like the golden moment before you have to act will provide Cole's motivations so you understand why he's thinking about being an ass.
Let's jump to the bridge. If you remember from last time, the TV jacker - now know as the Voice of Survival - popped up right after the food drop section, called Cole a terrorist, and blamed him for the blast. Cole and Zeke decide to flee the city and head toward the only bridge out of town. Once the duo gets there, they find a throng of people with signs and anger in their voices in a standoff with a squadron of SWAT team members blocking their path to salvation.
Again, the screen goes gold and Cole starts to contemplate. If he runs out in front of the pack to challenge the cops, it'll basically be a dozen against one. If he shoots from the crowd of protesters, he'll ignite a more even conflict between the cops and protesters, but some people will probably get their heads kicked in. The choice is yours.
I was lucky enough to do both. When I took on the cops by myself, the crowd pretty much stood back and watched me fry the police in the name of survival. When I shot from the crowd, a full scale riot erupted with the cops attacking the people and the people swinging back; the AI went against one another - breaking off into mini-fights here and there - and Cole could pretty much just sit back and watch humanity tear itself apart.
I have more Karma Moments to tell you about, but this seems like as good a place as any to get to the bigger picture - i.e. why the hell you care about being called a Hero or Infamous. Super-powers are - duh - a huge part of Infamous. As you're taking out gang members, beating side missions, and advancing through the game, you're earning experience points.
These points (and descriptions of why you're getting said points) pop up underneath your HUD to reward you for everything from non-lethal takedowns to amazing move combinations to 2-in-1 blows. You take these points into a power manager from the pause screen and are then able to purchase upgrades for your 16 ability categories. Now, some of these upgrades are only available when you're at or past a certain level of good or bad guyness.
You know Cole's ability to throw grenades comprised of electricity? When you first get going - whether you're good or bad - these will function as standard explosives, but when you're a Hero and buy the final upgrade, your bombs will give off a huge blast and automatically restrain any wounded enemies in the area.
When you're Infamous and buy the final upgrade, your grenade will shatter into smaller grenadelets that will ricochet and roll all over the place for a ginormous explosion that annihilates everything in the vicinity. Whereas Cole's Shockwave usually just knocks people back, upgrading it for good increases the range and force of the move whereas evil upgrades fry people in midair and instantly blow up cars in the Shockwave's path.
Not every upgrade is linked to how you're playing - reducing the damage you take is universal - but the super-powers definitely are, and that's going to add an interesting dynamic to the gameplay. See, if you fall in love with that Evil, third-tier Shockwave, you're going to have to keep playing evil to have access to that move. If you suddenly have a change of heart and start making the selfless decisions, your Karma pendulum is going to start moving back toward good and you're going to lose access to your wicked abilities.
Of course, if you change your mind and move back to being evil, you won't need to re-buy anything, but it's a decision you'll have to make. From my gameplay experience, being evil and staying evil is going to be easier than being good and staying good. See, I replayed that prison level from New York Comic-Con - the Dustmen are assaulting a prison that acts as the final police holdout for this section of town - but this time I was totally evil. With Cole's feet planted on some electrified chain link, I had an infinite supply of ammo, so I just started hurling level-three grenade after level-three grenade.
Gigantic explosions rocked the prison yard as the foes poured through a hole in the compound's protective wall, and enemies screamed in pain as they were shot into the air and zapped. The thing is that this attack wasn't very precise. For every enemy I was blasting to kingdom come, I was also hurting a number of the police I was there to help.
Now, being evil, this sloppy superheroing only helped keep me on the less than favorable side of the world, but when you replay this section as a good guy, you're going to have to be more precise in your attacks. Spider-Man and Superman don't kill an innocent just to stop a madman, and if you want Cole to be the savior of Empire City, you can't either.
How Empire City views Cole is a big component of the Karma System. If you play as a just Cole, the city will be cleaner, shops will begin to reopen, and people will cheer you on the street. If you go the all-about-me route, the city will become a darker place, the public will hurl stones at you when they spot you, and desperation will seem to be around every corner. You're literally giving the city a reason to believe or robbing it of its hope - a choice that was reflected in a random Karma moment.
Whether you're being good or bad, you're going to be battling the Reapers, Dustmen, and other thugs roaming the city. This means that at least a few people are going to like you. While heading to another mission, a guy stopped Cole and thanked him for what he was doing. To show his gratitude, he was going to begin plastering the city with posters of Cole so that everyone knew someone powerful was watching.
The artist presented Cole with two posters to choose from - one was a blue and white inspirational number that showed Cole staring towards the sky while people cheered below, and the other was a red and black scare-fest that depicted half of Cole's face as a skull. It was up to me to pick which one was scattered all over the place -- I had to pick if I wanted people to look to me as a hero or as an outlaw.
With Cole believed to be the whole reason for Empire City going down the tubes, his choices either confirm the public's outrage or show them how wrong they are. An example of this popped up as another Karma situation when Cole came across a police station wired with explosives.
Cole could either defuse the bomb by sucking the energy from it or walk away and let it take out a police force that is supposed to be hunting him. When I defused it, I changed the minds of a few cops, who would now stick around the station and help me whenever they could. When I walked away, a cop tried to take care of the package himself and ended up going boom and destroying the building; now, there would be no cops in this section of the city to help me.
Not everything I saw was strictly a Karma example; Sucker Punch also let me get a taste of some of the 100 side missions that'll be packed into this game. Similar to Spider-Man, Grand Theft Auto, or whatever other open world you're thinking of, icons will pop up on both the onscreen radar as well as in-game map to show where people who need your assistance are.
A yellow marker with a red background indicates it's a mission for Evil Cole (i.e. whack someone's husband), and a blue background means it's a task for the savior (i.e. take out 25 Reapers who are holed up in a house). Of course, choosing to take on a good mission locks out its evil counterpart.
One of the ones I tackled had me racing across rooftops, using my power to hover through the air, and sliding down wires between buildings so that Cole could disable a series of satellite dishes that were making communication in the city impossible. I only had a few seconds between each dish takedown, which made the event feel like a race, but once complete, Cole's walkie talkie would reach further and thus let me see more side missions on my map.
Another mission I was sent out on had Cole checking on a guy named Dwight because Zeke was trying to hook up with Dwight's sister but she wouldn't hear of it until she knew what was up with her brother. Well, Cole gets to the docks and finds Dwight dead. However, Cole has the ability to pick up on psychic energy (apparently) and gets a flashback of a Dustman packing a rocket launcher deploying a bunch of Swarmers, cobbled together metal crabs, to deal with Dwight.
When the reminiscing is over, Cole can still see the ghostly energy of the attacker running back to base. Cole gives chase, a number of Swarmers and Dustmen pop up to fight him, and the chase it on until the confrontation with the murderer. While I dodged rockets and took cover with Circle, I spent all of my power on those lovely exploding energy grenades. The Dustman didn't stand a chance.
Of course, using the grenades was eating up my battery cores - those sparkles next to the Karma meter on the HUD that represent how much juice Cole's currently got. You can recharge off of any energy source you can find, but you can also collect blast shards around Empire City that act like heart pieces from Zelda. Collect enough, and you'll add an additional battery core to your collection, which starts at 12 and can grow to 24.
So, yeah, Infamous continues to knock my socks off. Right now, the game is complete in terms of missions and such, but the team is focusing on polishing everything over and over so that the experience is all that it can be.
The crowds looked to move more realistically this time around, there are quotes about the dichotomy of good and evil from folks such as Einstein and Lincoln that serve as load screens between deaths, I was impressed that the AI had so many things to do when wandering the streets (folks were sprawled out on the sidewalk reaching up for help, hunkered down next to newspaper boxes, etc.), and climbing buildings and making precise jumps as Cole is still a breeze.
If the rest of the game is as engaging and fun as the handful of hours I have now put into this title, Infamous will be a must buy for superhero fans around the world.