Tuesday, June 09, 2009

A game which will live in infamy

Above: Don't kill the messenger!

My review of inFamous is up at thephoenix.com. It's the most negative review of the game I'm aware of. Most people I've talked to like the game, or even love it. So let's stipulate now that I'm a total idiot, I should be fired, and Microsoft is paying me off. It's all true.

Although I wasn't having fun almost all the time while playing this game, in the interest of fairness I should say that inFamous did speak to the completionist in me. The side missions get repetitive fast, but almost all of them take only a couple of minutes to complete. And when you finish one, a big chunk of your map gets transformed from "gang territory" to "liberation nation."* It's really satisfying -- more satisfying than blowing things up, for sure.

inFamous also scatters a liberal amount of collectable "Blast Shards" around the environment. Collecting the shards nets you a small amount of XP, and also earns you more electrical energy for your crimefighting. It's not as fun as hunting for the agility orbs in Crackdown, because the rewards aren't as great, and the platforming isn't as fun. (Often, the shards are below you on a building, and inFamous makes it very hard to move downward.) But it's still pretty absorbing, especially because your radar shows you where they are, which is a feature I could definitely use in my ongoing quest to find the last agility orb in Crackdown.

Still, moment-to-moment I thought the game was no fun at all, because the action was a grind, and the platforming was obnoxious. Battles played out the same from start to finish, no matter what powers you had or who the enemies were. As for the platforming, I was not a huge fan of the massive auto-assist. The only time I really liked it was when I'd jump off the roof of a building onto a powerline. The rest of the time, it seemed like the game was constantly overturning my decisions. I don't know if my armchair quarterbacking is all that helpful, but I think both of these problems might have been solved, or at least ameliorated, with the same fix.

First, I think they should have reduced the number of Cole's powers. I'm not joking. There are so damn many that I tended to forget about them, and a bunch of them never came in handy (I'm thinking specifically of the charged shot, which was mapped to R2). Other than the Lightning Storm, which you get late in the game, none of them really take advantage of the electrical conceit. They were the same attacks you see in any action game. So one or more could have been jettisoned without adversely affecting the gameplay.

Then, a spare button could be used for a Shadow of the Colossus-style "grab" function. That way, Cole would stick to things only when the player wanted him to. I can't tell you how often he would cling onto a light pole or something while I was trying to get away from a pack of enemies, or how often I tried to jump off of a building, only to have him spin around in mid-air and get sucked back like it was a black hole. Also, the actions to take cover and to dive out of the way are mapped to the same button, which means that you often dive out of the way when you mean to take cover. A grab button would have done away with all of this.

There are probably a million reasons why that wouldn't have worked. I'm trying to be constructive here!

*Not in-game terms.


Julian said...

Nit-pick: having "combat roll" and "go into cover" mapped to the same button is common. Gears of War is probably the most salient example, but I'm sure we can all think of others. I wonder if the issue here could have been fixed, somewhat ironically, by increasing the distance from which it would suck you on to cover? I did notice in the demo (I haven't played the full game) that it was too difficult to get into cover. But then again, there were only a few moments in the demo where cover was actually useful, so it didn't bother me much at the time, but I could see it getting very frustrating very quickly if there are more powerful ranged foes later in the game. It just seems to me that the mapping itself isn't really the root of that particular problem.

Mitch Krpata said...

That's true, but it really worked badly in this game. And I think it's more that you can only take cover if you're standing still. So if you run up to cover and hit the cover button before your character has come to a halt, you will instead do a big dramatic roll.

Julian said...

Yeah, definitely. It felt bad in the demo. I kind of just gave up using it unless I absolutely had to by my second go at the demo. I just think it's amusing that a major gripe I've heard from more people than just you is that the platforming is too sticky, too automatic, and yet taking cover could be fixed by INCREASING stickiness. You can go into cover from several character-lengths away in Gears or, say, Army of Two (since I've been playing that a bunch recently, it's on my mind), but in a game where you'll zoom over in midair to latch onto a tiny handhold from six feet away, you can barely get into cover when you're right next to it.

Mitch Krpata said...

Actually, I think the real reason a grab button wouldn't work for taking cover is that you'd still have to hold down a button to take aim, and you start to get into Killzone 2 territory.

But the issue isn't so much increasing stickiness in that one area, it's ensuring that player input is the primary force controlling Cole no matter what's he's doing. And that's not the way it is now.

Julian said...

Increasing the stickiness with respect to cover is one possible solution, one way to map the player's input to their intent. It does need to be directional, though. If you hit circle when you're moving towards cover, you should go into cover, but if you hit it when you're moving away from cover, you should roll. I think that's a problem with their assistance routine in general. It should never turn you around. And it's one that has been used in other games that are generally regarded as controlling well, such as Gears.

I can toast to the primacy of player input though. Watching my bro try to play the demo really showed me how confusing the assist can be. It didn't look like Cole was doing quite what he wanted him to do.

It's an interesting question, though, how much assistance is a good thing? People generally tended to prefer the platforming in Assassin's Creed to Mirror's Edge, and a lot of that was based on how much the game automated your movement and assisted you. They said playing as Altair made them feel like a badass, and why couldn't Faith just reach a little to the left to grab that pipe they just missed. Not that Mirror's Edge didn't have other problems, but there's a fine lime between helping the player do what he meant to do, and taking control away from the player. On the flip side, there's a fine line between letting the player's input dictate the character's actions directly, and requiring too much precision or management of minutiae from the player.

Simon Ferrari said...

@ Julian: Pardon the intrusion, but is this Julian Dibbel writing? Your comments about grappling and cover mechanics is awesome... have you written about it in long-form somewhere else? Because it sounds like you've done qualitative research of some kind, and I'd like to read it. I've read Sicart's analysis of the grab mechanic in SotC, but I've been looking for other stuff that's similar.

@ Mitch: I could get behind an option to toggle between auto-grab and manual. I don't believe the left trigger button was used in any of the game's various control schemes, so that would've been a slightly intuitive place to put it.

Julian said...

Nope, sorry. I'm just some schmoe with a cool name who works a decidedly unglamorous job at a stock photography firm. Incidentally, this is the second gaming-famous Julian I've been mistaken for here, the other being Julian Murdoch from Gamers With Jobs and Three Moves Ahead.

I haven't done any principled research, this is purely anecdotal from my informal experiences playing, watching my friends play, and chatting on message boards/blog comments. Sorry. I'd only do that if I'd established a blog, and I'm far too lazy to keep up with that.

Mitch Krpata said...

This feels blithe, but the right amount of assistance is probably as much as you can get away with without the player noticing. I guess that's like saying the path to eliminating poverty is for everyone to make more money.

Julian said...

Perhaps, but it's also probably the only accurate way to put it. ^_^ It's not something you can quantify, and to some extent there's room for differing takes on it.

For instance, I really liked how demanding Mirror's Edge was, but I can also appreciate Altair's fluid movement. I'm glad both design philosophies can coexist.

Mr Durand Pierre said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mr Durand Pierre said...

We're going to have to agree to disagree about the platforming and shooting. I can agree that at times the auto-grab can misread your input, but it worked well most of the time. The shooting I found to be very fluid, and I even though many of the abilities are similar to conventional weapons, the ability to recharge your meter at every turn made it so you'd actual get a chance to use these powers regularly (whereas most games seldom give out grenade or rocket launcher ammo). I also found the R2 charge shot very useful when powered up. A little experimentation goes a long way and I found all the powers useful in one form or another.

As far as the morality system goes, I can agree that it didn't quite live up to the hype, but even playing as a good character, there was one choice moment where I chose to do an "evil" deed, because that's what I would have done in real life. By that point I was maxed out on the good side, so it wouldn't have hurt much to take a small karma hit. You can still toggle back and forth a bit, but the game wants you to gravitate strongly towards one side, as that produces the most dramatic outcome. I, for one, can respect Sucker Punch for limiting the number of possible outcomes in favor of a more powerful tale.

Apolo Imagod said...

I don't own a PS3 (yet) so I can't argue with what you're saying here... but I'm really curious about what you have to say about Prototype, seeing that I've seen several comparisons of the two games.

Still somehow, I feel your comments resonate in me, meaning that from what you describe, and the type of gamer I am, I probably wouldn't like this game. Still, I'd really like to try it out.

Simon van Alphen said...

Funny thing about a manual stickyness option for the platforming:
some more people should have played Sucker Punch's previous games, the Sly Cooper series. Or any game from that series.

It'd help the discussion tremendously because that's exactly something they used to do but didn't in Infamous.

Also, I wished they stuck to the original name for the morality system: Polarity.
It would be so much better. It sets the right tone for it's obvious extremeness in choices and it also explains why it gives the character more powers if he pushes further out to either side.

But I can imagine there's some horrible pedantic nerd in the team somewhere who would've pointed out that through historic reasons the electric charges are actually misnamed so good should be named a negative charge and evil the positive and rather then getting into a discussion with the little anoying twerp the name got changed.

Anonymous said...

"inFamous also scatters a liberal amount of"

When a name that usually starts with a lowercase is at the start of a sentence, you can capitalize it.

"InFamous also scatters a liberal amount of"

Hyde said...

I agree that clearing the gang territories and collecting shards is better than the main story of this game. I'm a few hours in and I'm now just trying to get 100% of the first island while the story languishes up north and I can't be bothered to hump it up there to see what happens. Blah blah blah raysphere, who really cares?

I still also have territory to unlock, but since I know it's going to be more generic streetscape and brick buildings with wire strung between 'em, I'm not sure I'm ever going to bother. This one gets sold back long before I ever waste my time finishing it. It's also convinced me not to buy Prototype, because that doesn't look all that much better.

Iroquois Pliskin said...

you may be happy to find yourself in good company, aside from Tycho: bill harris sez that inFamous "isn't even worthy of washing crackdown's balls" (http://dubiousquality.blogspot.com/2009/06/infamous-ps3.html) I want you to know that you have successfully deterred me from purchasing this game. Also: have you played anything you liked recently?

Mitch Krpata said...

I'm in good company! I even thought about once again emailing Bill Harris to congratulate him on his taste and discreetly drop a few links to my blog, but it seems like that's just never going to work.

As for your other question: I liked Punch-Out, Riddick, and Guitar Hero Metallica within the past couple of months. But I haven't played anything I've loved yet this year, I don't think.