Wednesday, June 10, 2009


You know what game I really used to like? Spiderman 2. C'mon, anyone who's played the game will probably agree they had fun just swinging around New York, and being acrobatic, and stuff. Too bad almost everything else about the game was pretty mediocre.

And then inFamous came along. Another openworld superhero game starring a rather lithe average joe who suddenly finds himself with super powers. The power to manipulate electricity, that is. I was overjoyed, and pre-ordered it immediately. Was it the experience I had been hoping for? Well, Yes and No. inFamous is a great game, though it's not so much like Spiderman 2. Conceptually, perhaps, but in practice? Not especially.

inFamous has a pretty small cast of characters, but all of them are important pieces to the story. Central to this tale is Cole McGrath, a bike courier. There's nothing particularly special about Cole at first glance. He's got a best bud named Zeke, who's fat and a little ambitious, but a nice guy at heart. And he's got a girlfriend named Trish, a med student who seems a bit on the strict side, but always means well. Cole himself is quite the urban explorer. He knows Empire City like the back of his hand, and isn't above climbing up buildings or using a sewer route to cut time.

The game begins with Cole doing his usual thing. He's been tasked with delivering a special parcel. Everything goes fine..until the package, revealed to be a bomb of some type, explodes, wiping out a large part of the city. With the authority in shambles, and a plague suddenly springing up as well, the entire area is quarantined. Nobody gets in, nobody gets out. Crime rates spike to new heights as gangs suddenly finding themselves imbued with powers take over the streets. As Cole puts it, it's "society committing suicide". Miraculously, Cole survives the blast, being nursed back to health by Trish. He soon discovers that the blast has affected him as well; he has mysteriously gained the ability to manipulate electricity.

The game follows Cole as he not only learns to deal with and better control his powers, but as he also slowly learns about their origin, and the nature of the bomb plot. It's a deep web of sadness, lies, and death.

As you play through the game, you can choose how Cole overall decides to use his newfound abilities. Playing the good guy means giving mercy to your foes, and doing the right thing, even when it hurts (and it WILL hurt). It means keeping the city as a whole in mind, not just yourself. An enemy gives you trouble? Nearly kills you on more than one occasion? You finally defeat him, but you need to restrain yourself from dealing the final blow. Instead, just restrain him. See a guy being strung up for stealing food, and about to be publicly executed? Do the righteous thing, cut him down. See a wounded person on the ground? Take a moment of your time to stop and lend a hand. Of course, these are just minor things you'll always be doing as a Hero. More important "karma" decisions will be thrown at you left and right. Not only does being one side or another unlock different powers (and power ups), but it also alters the storyline. It also changes how the people view you. Once your karma meter has maxed out to good, the people will literally love you. Stop and stand around for a bit, and a crowd will begin to form around you. People will compliment you, cheer you on, take pictures, and overall idolize you. Sometimes, the braver ones will even help you out in fights, throwing rocks at gang members from the sidelines.

Being a bad guy is arguably easier than being a good guy, since you only think about yourself. No need to restrain yourself, kill the bastard who gave you a hard time. Better yet, be sadistic; restrain him first, let him wiggle a bit, then execute him. That guy being strung up? Not your problem, just keep walking. He shouldn't have stolen food. See a wounded person on the streets? Who are you, Doctor Cole? Why bother? They'll probably just get themselves into another mess anyway. Maybe even throw in a kick while they're down. Beware traveling on the streets though. In fact, you should probably stick to the roof tops, because at full evil Karma, the citizens gang up and attack you if you stick around long enough. Of course, you could always just kill them. They're no match for you, right?

inFamous follows the standard openworld, mission based formula. There's side missions, and story missions. Each side mission you complete seals a portion of land within the city in which gang members will no longer lurk commonly (and if they do, they usually get beasted by the pedestrians..if you're a Hero, that is). Until you take an area, enemies will continue to respawn in mass proportions, making it easy to get sidetracked, and particularly dangerous to traverse the terrain, especially when you're new to that particular section of the city.

Empire city is split into three districts, each connected by a large bridge. Each district is controlled by a specific gang. The Neon District (where you start out), is controlled by the Reapers. The Reapers were previously just a bunch of harmless druggies, but the blast gave many of them (and their leader) powers. They also all seem to be infected with the plague, and slightly insane, as they commonly take a moment to pause and belch out black tar before resuming their attempts to riddle you with bullets. Reapers come in four varieties. The most common type are the simple grunts, who wield machine guns (and occasionally grenades). They are basically everywhere, but are most common in alleyways and on rooftops. Next up are the slightly more powerful types that wield rocket launchers. I never encountered them too often outside of missions. Furthermore, there's the suicide bombers, dudes characterized by an [almost] bloodcurdling scream. They light two sticks of dynamite and run straight at you, hoping to die and take you with him. Most powerful are the Conduits, dudes with actual powers. These guys are pretty tough take on when there's more than two of them. They wield machine guns like the grunts, but also have teleportation abilities, and an earthquake move that homes in on you for pretty serious damage. The Reapers are headed by a crazy woman named Sasha, who is probably the source of the plague. The bomb explosion gave her the ability to generate wierd black tar. Once the tar gets into your system, she can control your mind. This is how she's been "recruiting" Reapers.

Next up is the Warren, probably the poorest of the three districts. The Warren was known to be a pretty shabby place even before the blast, so it's certainly not any better now. The Warren is patrolled by the Dust Men, a group of homeless people who saw their chance to take a stand and siezed it. The Dust Men are characterized by their interesting use of trash. Believe it or not, the cloaks you see many of the grunts wearing are actually trash bags. They take junk and build mildly useful things with it. The Dust Men have the same ranks as the Reapers, with a few additions. The Conduits come in two flavors; a rocket launching type that also spawns little spider drones that attack you in swarms, and a grunt type with immense telekinetic powers, enabling him to pilot a mech golem constructed entirely out of thrown away materials and held together by mental power alone. Both are forces to be reckoned with, especially the latter. The Dust Men are led by Alden, an old man with incredible telekinetic powers. He loathes Kessler, the leader of the First Sons in the Historic District, and has been building a huge tower in the Warren out of garbage, for unkown reasons.

Finally, there's the Historic District, which is where the blast took place (and where the tutorial takes place; you can revisit that huge crater that Cole wakes up in). The Historic District is truly destroyed. It's tallest building looks like the Leaning Tower of Piza. There's a freaking huge crater where the blast took place. Many of the buildings are missing parts. In the Historic District you'll find the First Sons, not so much a gang, but more an organization (and one that's been around for quite a long while, at that). The First Sons have the same ranks as the Reapers, but again, their Conduits are different. The First Son Conduits' powers involve projecting themselves to look significantly larger than they actually are. While pretending to be larger, their main form of attack is a destructive ground pound. Their second Conduit isn't that special once they get the jump on you once or twice. They cloak themselves and sneak up on you, and once close enough reveal themselves just long enough to loose off a shotgun blast before running away. It's really irritating to get ambushed by these guys. The First Sons also use drones, which have cloaking capabilities and fire grenades.

Cole has a large multitude of powers with which he can battle these baddies. The standard form of attack is the basic electric shock, but if you want to get fancy, there's more you can do. Jump off a building and hit Square, and you'll perform a Thunder Drop; basically an electrified ground pound. The more air time you get before you hit the ground, the power the blast will have. Need to knock enemies around a bit? Try the Shockwave. It's not especially damaging, but useful for knocking enemies back (and making them vulnerable for attacks that ARE damaging). A direct and close up hit from from a shockwave sends most enemies flying quite a distance. These are just a couple of the powers to come, such as the Shock Grenade, Arc Lightning, and Megawatt Hammer. My personal favorite is the Polarity Wall, a personal shield that you can use on the go to block most standard attacks (and, with a little upgrading, even convert blocked attacks to energy for yourself). It's a life saver.

However Cole can only manipulate electricity; not generate it. While some very basic powers don't consume energy, just about everything else does. Energy doesn't recharge by itself, so when you're running low, you need to find something running on electricity and drain it to juice up on more power. This could be a car, a generator, a lamp post, anything that seems like it would sensibly have electricity flowing through it. Like most FPS games, there is no health bar; the screen loses color as your health goes down. Cole will eventually regenerate naturally, but if you want to speed to process up, draining things also restores health.

When you first start out, much of the city will be completely blacked out and lacking power. To restore power, you'll need to venture into the sewers and recharge the substations. It's not like you don't benefit from doing this, as each time you restore power to an area, you learn a new power. Also, since the power is restored, the rails and cables also go live, allowing you to grind across them for faster traveling. Furthermore, more things available for draining pop up. During black outs, things to drain for power are few and far between, making combat a risky affair. With power restored, many more things get powered up, so you can drain them.

inFamous is also presented very well. For an open world game, it looks and runs remarkably well. The game did freeze just once throughout my entire playthrough, and that was while wreaking absolute havoc on a street. Cars were exploding, people were dying, electricity and sparks were flying everywhere. Sure, the graphics aren't what you're gonna see from, say, Killzone 2 or Uncharted, but they're still great, and it's a testament to Sucker Punch's ability to really polish a game that glitches are quite minimal in this game. I did sometimes see people get "stuck" in place, and Cole once inexplicably fell through a platform, but otherwise the engine held together quite well.

I do have some gripes, though. First, the side missions are pretty repetitive. There's a decent variety of them, but most of the specialized ones disappear quickly, leaving only the regular ones that you've already done many times before. I especially dislike the Satellite Uplink and Counter-Surveillance missions..moreso the latter. Furthermore, Cole's tendency to "stick" to surfaces when climbing can be aggravating sometimes. It's like he's literally attracted, like a magnet, to surfaces he can climb onto (which is just about everything you'd think a person would be able to latch onto), so it can be difficult to maneuver him in small spaces. Also, I kinda wish there were more really tall buildings. There's two in the Warren, one in the Historic district, and none that I know of in the Neon district. While I'm nitpicking, I'd like to say that, while the story was amazing, there were also a lot of loose ends, which Cole himself comments on at the end of the game. Maybe this is indicative of an eventual sequel (or DLC), but I'd like to see the story continued or expanded to have more closure.

This was a really long post, but there's a lot to talk about. inFamous is a surprisingly interesting and deep game that will keep many hooked until the very end (and then they'll want to play through again to get the alternate ending). Replay value is a mixed bag; there's hundreds of Blast Shards to collect, and a couple dozen story expanding Dead Drops to listen to, but once you've done all that and gotten all the trophies, I wonder if this game will still continue to draw me. An 8.5/10.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Kimi ga Nozomu Eien (Rumbling Hearts)

Usually when I watch anime, I'm juggling 3-4 active series at once; a mecha show, a comedy/romance show, and a SERIOUS BUSINESS drama show.  I like series that have a lot of drama and psychology, because they always feel engaging.  Not unlike most shows of its genre Kimi ga Nozomu Eien draws you in with a sweet and gentle romance, one that could easily have been drawn out into a simple series in itself but is instead settled within a couple episodes, and then punches you square in the gut with sudden emotional dilemmas, relationship problems, and the like.

The series begins with a small circle of friends.  There's Takayuki, the male lead, who's a bit of a slacker, and his buddy Shinji, a decent guy who gets good grades.  There's also Mitsuki, an energetic girl on the swim team (who has an extremely faint but still budding crush on Takayuki), and her friend Haruka, a sweet but timid girl who has a huge crush on Takayuki.  Mitsuki and Shinji help get Takayuki and Haruka together, and their relationship, while rocky at first, quickly flourishes.  Haruka reveals to Takayuki her love for picture books, and that she has a dream of one day becoming a picture book author herself.  She seeks a rare picture book called Mayauru's Gift, and, as a present, Takayuki finds it for her.

Takayuki is on his way to meet Haruka when he runs across Mitsuki, who shyly reminds him that it's her birthday.  He takes a bit of time to buy her a ring for the occasion, which makes him late, allowing tragedy to strike.  Takayuki arrives at the place he was supposed to meet Haruka, only to find a huge scene and yellow tape everywhere; Haruka has been hit by a car, and is now in a coma.

Fast forward three years later.  Haruka is still in a coma, and everyone is in shambles (except for Shinji, who left for college during the timeskip, though he pops in and out of the story sometimes).  Takayuki fell apart completely, blaming himself for the accident.  Mitsuki nurses him back to prominence over the years, and in the process falls in love with him.  The two form an uncertain relationship that is constantly clouded by guilt over Haruka.

Things only become even more complicated..when Haruka wakes up.  She does not know that three years have passed;  to her, the car accident might have been just the other day.  The doctors make everyone promise to keep this fact a secret from her, as revealing it may be too much for her to handle.  Thus the characters continue to live life, somewhat miserably.

Kimi ga Nozomu Eien isn't actually exceptionally unique in terms of plot material.  It actually has a very standard feel to it.  But it's the way the characters portray emotion that made this show so interesting--and yet so difficult-- to watch.  Yes, middle parts of the series were actually difficult to watch for me, because it was gut wrenching watching these characters' suffer such emotional stress, and not seem to know any way how to help themselves.  Amazingly, however, you actually come away from it feeling pretty good.