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inFamous is the PS3's answer to Crackdown in more ways than, I suspect, its developers ever intended. Hailing from Sucker Punch, the team behind the Sly Racoon series of platformers, it's a sprawling, open-world game where super powers play the major role. The gameplay gives us a next-gen mish-mash of established genres - think of inFamous as an open world, platform action game with elements of an RPG and a duck-and-cover shooter - and the game's long-term appeal hinges largely on an addictive cycle of rewards and power upgrades. Most of all, however, inFamous reminds me of Crackdown because it's a game that's destined to be misunderstood and under-rated. It's a game that demands invention and imagination. Get into it, and you'll find it one of the finest titles on Sony's system, and arguably the best super-hero game yet. I almost dread to say it but, much as I loved Crackdown, inFamous is - for me - the better game.
For starters, I find the gritty, comic-book storyline more compelling. It opens with our cycle courier hero, Cole, coming round to discover that the package he was delivering has exploded, wiping out half of Empire City in the process. What remains of the city is being terrorised by vicious gangs of mysterious hooded vagrants and addicts, and has also been cut off from the rest of the country by a brutally maintained police barricade. On the plus side, Cole now has super powers. With a press of the L2 button he can drain electricity from just about any reasonable source. By holding down the L1 button then pressing R1, he can aim and fire bolts of juice at the aforementioned troublemakers. Press X while targeting, and Cole can release a powerful pulse of energy, knocking people and objects out of the way. And that's just for starters.
Not only does Cole have inhuman resilience and incredible agility, but he can - by earning experience - add new powers to his list. The sort of bombing technique now banned in local swimming pools can be employed from high buildings onto the pavement, knocking baddies sideways with the impact. By the time you're six or seven hours into the game, Cole is hurling shock grenades, firing off precision bolts in glorious slow-mo, grinding along cables at high speed and gliding from rooftop to rooftop. The more you play, the more powerful you become.
Movement is the essence of a great superhero game, and inFamous has it licked. In terms of running and climbing, the game sits somewhere in between Crackdown and Assassin's Creed, demanding a certain amount of intervention, but bending over backwards to help you clamber up skyscrapers and string together a series of super-cool moves with ease. You can see Sucker Punch's platform game experience at work here, and in contrast to many gaming super-heroes, Cole is a joy to control. At first my worry was that Cole couldn't match Crackdown's ludicrous leaping for kicks, but once the grind and glide powers come in, just getting around the city is a jumping, sliding, flying thrill ride.