Sucker Punch's action-adventure thunderbolt finally lights up our PS3s, but is it worth plugging in?
From the branching dialogue paths of Baldur's Gate through Black and White's half-demonic, half-angelic HUD to Bioshock's Little Sisters, the notion of moral choice has become one of the industry's longer-lived obsessions, a nigh-mandatory feature of sandbox gaming much as simulated physics are now par for the course in first person shooters.
It's a notion which seldom convinces in practice, however, because few developers manage (or dare) to create real consequences for moral or immoral actions, with the former resulting in mere short-term hardship (e.g. a slightly lighter pocket) and the latter mere short-term gain. InFamous, a PlayStation 3 exclusive from the sly old raccoons at Sucker Punch, manages to take the equation further in some regards while limiting itself in others. It's also a full-blooded third-person thrill ride, tarnished only by graphical sore spots and some hackneyed mission types.
You play Cole, a cueball-headed, gravel-accented bike messenger struggling to earn a crust in the fictional US metropolis of Empire City. Unfortunately for Cole, one of the packages he's sent to deliver happens to contain a destructive device called the Ray Sphere, which levels a fair portion of his hometown and infects the remainder with a mysterious plague, prompting the national government to seal the whole place off.
It's not all gloom and doom, though: Cole staggers away from the crater with some rather kick-ass electricity-based powers, enabling him to suck juice out of Empire's grid and hurl it at the drug-addled militants who arise from the chaos. With on/off-girlfriend Trish scolding from afar, enigmatic FBI agent Moya pulling his strings and lamentable buddy Zeke feeding him a steady stream of wisecracks, Cole must relocate the Ray Sphere before a group of supervillains known as the First Sons seize it for their own, apocalyptic ends.
That much goes for the story missions, anyway, but between you and the bright blue cones which denote their starting points lie the 84 open-ended districts of Empire City itself, rife with diversions. Prior to going all Raiden, Cole must have spent a few evenings down the gym with Assassin's Creed's Altair, as he can tackle the urban landscape in much the same effortless, parkour-inspired fashion, leaping from windowsill to drain pipe to telegraph pole with a few brisk taps of the X button.
Sucker Punch demands little to no precision of your jumps, Cole's hands and feet finding their way infallibly to ledges and handholds (at times, getting down from a rooftop can actually be more difficult than climbing up to it), and even if you do take a tumble, the man's lightning-infused bone structure is impervious to falls. Watch out for water though.
Holding L1 flicks you into zoomed-in, over-the-shoulder combat mode. Eccentric though they may appear, on a functional level Cole's abilities are just over-clocked versions of some well-worn third-person shooting standbys. R1 is your default, pistol-like lightning bolt, reinforced later on by a slow-mo precision shot ability on D-pad up; X is a wide-angle shotgun blast, albeit one which can launch entire station wagons across the street; square hurls sticky grenade-like thunderbolts which detonate after a few seconds; and triangle lets rip a boss-killing hadoken.
Rather brilliantly, all the said high voltage muhahaha can be unleashed whether you're dangling from a suspension bridge, strolling on the pavement or balancing on a high-wire. Tapping square without holding L1 doles out crackling kicks and punches, and circle is used to dodge or, very infrequently, lock to cover.