inFAMOUS

Tagged: Game

Videogame (2009). Sucker Punch Productions (SPP). Platforms: PS3.

inFAMOUS is a Superhero action Adventure, the design of which shows some influence from Computer Role Playing Game conventions. Gameplay focuses on combat, exploration, and climbing and leaping in the manner of a platform game (see Videogames); the game's mechanics are cleverly biased to represent its protagonist's remarkable acrobatic skills. The setting is the fictional Empire City, an analogue of New York in which the player character, a slacker named Cole MacGrath, works as a bicycle messenger. MacGrath is commissioned to deliver a mysterious package to the centre of town and then open it. This action triggers a devastating explosion, of which he is the only survivor. After spending several weeks recovering from his injuries, MacGrath – and the player – emerge to find the city quarantined as a result of an inexplicable plague, its citizens terrorized by street gangs and fed only by inadequate air drops. Meanwhile, MacGrath has developed electrical Superpowers.

The game's plot then forces MacGrath to use his powers to take the city back from the gangs while searching for the device which caused the original disaster, a McGuffin known as the Ray Sphere. At various points the player is given a choice between two alternative courses of action, one selfish (or "evil") and the other selfless (or "good"). Early in the game, for example, the player must decide whether to share food with all those who need it, or keep it for themselves and their friends. As in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003), the alternatives the player chooses will determine how their friends see them, and whether the inhabitants of the city treat them as a hero or a villain. These binary choices seem especially appropriate for a game inspired by Superhero Comics, where morality is often simple, and every character must pick a side. While the existence of two distinct paths makes the structure of the game's Interactive Narrative essentially multilinear, branches are folded back into the main plot soon after they diverge, meaning that the same key events will occur whatever the player decides to do. Other aspects of the design are embedded – fragments of the backstory are hidden throughout the game – or modular, with various tasks available for the player to undertake as they wander through the dying city.

Ultimately, after MacGrath has fatally injured the worst of the gang leaders, it emerges that this man is his own future self. This other MacGrath has travelled back in time from a world in which humanity is threatened with extinction at the hands of a superpowered destroyer known only as "The Beast". His plan was simple; he would accelerate his own transformation to superhumanity, exposing his previous self to the Ray Sphere far earlier than had been the case in the original timeline (see Time Paradoxes). This, he hoped, would make his new iteration capable of defeating the Beast when it appeared. To achieve this end, the future MacGrath had arranged for the early construction of the Sphere, and for its empowering detonation, in which the life energies of thousands were forcibly transferred to his younger self. By this time the path chosen by the younger MacGrath is irrevocable; the game ends with him either preparing to fight the Beast, or glorying in his personal power over the helpless city. Thus the game functions as an origin story, in which its protagonist becomes either a superhero or a supervillain. As this suggests, inFAMOUS is an original creation which is highly literate about the Comics which inspire it, and perhaps also informed by such contemporary works as Heroes (2006-2010).

The second game in the series, inFAMOUS 2 (2011 SPP, PS3), is also an action Adventure, with a similar design to that of its predecessor. The intention seems to have been to create a sequel which would be appropriate whether its players had chosen to be noble or vile in the original game, or indeed had never played it at all. inFAMOUS 2 is largely successful in this, though there are moments when the strain of supporting two incompatible relationships between MacGrath and the other continuing character becomes apparent. At the beginning of the game the Beast tracks down MacGrath in Empire City and almost kills him. Convinced that he needs to become more powerful, MacGrath goes to New Marais – a variant of New Orleans – where he hopes to find the designer of the Ray Sphere. But when he arrives in the city, he finds it has been sealed off from the outside world while a civil war rages within its walls between newly created superhumans and a private army dedicated to their suppression. Meanwhile, the Beast begins an odyssey of destruction across America.

As in inFAMOUS, players are assumed to begin the game with a neutral ethical stance – though this can be slightly adjusted by reusing information saved from the first game – and must then make decisions which determine whether other characters will see them as virtuous or wicked. Here, however, the moral choices have become markedly less ambiguous, and arguably somewhat heavy handed. Players begin by fighting the various forces which are oppressing the citizens of New Marais, while searching for the man who they hope can help them defeat the Beast. Eventually, in another reversal, it is revealed that the Beast is actually a government operative apparently killed in the first game, who is slaughtering millions in order to create new superhumans by using his powers to emulate an exploding Ray Sphere. This, he believes, is necessary, since the plague which affected Empire City in inFAMOUS – eventually revealed to be a consequence of the original Sphere's detonation – is spreading across the world, and will ultimately kill every human being. Only superhumans can survive the disease, and only a small minority of the human race can be made superhuman, and then only by the Ray Sphere process, which kills thousands of ordinary people in order to create one example of Homo Superior. The player is then left with one final decision: to activate a device which will destroy the Beast and cure the plague, at the cost of killing every actual and potential superhuman in the world, or to join the Beast and continue with his genocidal plan. The first choice makes inFAMOUS 2 into a game which is truly lost by winning, since in order to succeed the player must kill their own character. The second ends with the Beast, unable to face continuing with the slaughter, imbuing MacGrath with his powers before committing suicide, making the game's protagonist into the exact enemy which his future self empowered him to destroy.

A further sequel seems unlikely.

Related works: inFAMOUS: Festival of Blood (2011 SPP, PS3) is an interpolation into the story of inFAMOUS 2 – or perhaps just a tall tale – in which MacGrath is transformed into a vampire, forcing him to destroy the mistress of the undead infesting New Marais before he becomes her eternal slave. inFAMOUS (2011) is a six-issue Comic series, written by William Harms, which serves as a prequel to the second game. [NT]

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