Game Design Talk: My Dilemma With inFamous


inFamous is one of the games that motivated me to buy a PlayStation 3. To me, this looked like a cooler version of Crackdown, which I liked quite a bit. I’ve had this game in my collection for the past few months, but I’ve only been playing it on and off for the last few weeks.

Despite being fun to play, I’m having a really hard time motivating myself to play this game. It’s not the gameplay mechanics that turn me off, but the context behind those gameplay elements.

My feelings towards inFamous relate strongly to a post I wrote last year about the relationship between gameplay mechanics and the context behind gameplay. Every game has to have the right balance of the two elements, and that balance is different for each game. While I like the gameplay mechanics that drive inFamous, I really don’t like how inFamous handles the other side of the equation. It’s not bad, but it’s really not for me.

What’s not to like? For me, the story of this game is a huge turn-off. It’s a cliché comic book tale about an apocalyptic event and a science experiment that has granted/cursed one guy with super powers. Crackdown had a virtually non-existent story, which allowed me to just enjoy jumping around the city and shooting bad guys. In inFamous, the story of Cole is front-and-centre. If you don’t like it, tough luck. I can see teens guys or comic book enthusiasts overlooking or enjoying the story, but I’m not in the mood for this type of story right now.

Adding to my dislike of the context, I feel a complete disconnect between me and the characters of the game. Cole strikes me as a complete jerk. I feel no sympathy for him or his situation because he does and says a lot of things that I wouldn’t do if I were in his shoes. I connect even less so with Cole’s sidekick, Zeke. Even the enemies, who I’m supposed to really dislike, don’t fire me up. They’re just dudes waiting to get zapped.

My biggest gripe with the context of this game is inFamous’ decision-making system. Throughout the game, you’re put into a position where you can make the ‘good’ choice and complete a task one way, or make the ‘evil’ decision and complete the same task in a different way. This mechanic has been positioned by its creators as the key element of the game. From a mechanical perspective it makes sense. Your actions will affect some story components and will lead to different sets of power-ups. What kills the entire system is the story wrapped around each path. Every choice is so obviously good and obviously bad to the point of being hokey. When you make a choice, the outcome offers no twists or surprises. Without any shades of gray, the decision-making system feels overly simplistic with little payoff other than cool attacks for use down the road.

Despite my criticisms towards the game, inFamous has sold millions of copies and developed quite a fan base. Not to say that millions of people are wrong, but my personal tastes don’t line up.

Will I continue to play inFamous? I don’t know. In this case, I don’t think I can override my distaste towards the story or characters in order to get through the rest of this game.

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