Last weekend I went out to IndieCade East and had a fantastic time! I’ll be posting more about that here later, but first let me direct you to Tap-Repeatedly where I posted an editorial about the idea of the Expo Game. This was specifically in regard to Hokra, with a detour into Monopoly and Starcraft and a final conclusion about Beer Pong.
You can also read a post on Electron Dance about Harbour Master’s experiences, which happens to include a photo of myself and husband. Bloop, by the way, is a totally fun game. It’s a very accessible four-player iPad game with a hugely simple premise. I am so far undefeated at Bloop, though, so it’s not fair at all.
I actually finished inFamous yesterday, after posting my previous entry where I was only about a third of the way through. I happened to finish it about five minutes before Sucker Punch announced a new sequel, so that was very serendipitous timing.
I remain a fan of the game because it’s hugely fun to play. A big thing that did change from my previous entry to this one: people on the street really do start to hate you when you hit the “Infamous” karma level. At that point, they stop cheering when you suck out souls, and start throwing rocks. It’s never enough to be more than a nuisance but it’s a nice touch and shows a strong effect from your reputation. All the crowd behavior in the game is really great.
But the story… that has big problems. I haven’t seen a lot of serious critical writing about it, but then again, I wasn’t looking for that, either, until after I finished the game for myself. If anyone has some good links about that, please add them in the comments so I can read!
Here are my personal thoughts. I’m going to break this down character by character, to explain why the NPC characters in this game are mostly terrible. Unlike my last entry, this will spoil everything in the game.
I hated Trish. Every time I ran into her, she was yelling at me about doing something wrong, then begging for my help again. Granted, I was playing the game evil. But my husband played it as good, and she was still a huge nag. There is nothing about this character that is likable.
I don’t have any problem with a woman in a game being unlikable. It is not a woman’s job in a stressful situation to be pure sweetness and light. But the game kept insisting that I cared about Trish. Cole was in love with her, and he would do “anything for” her (literally, the name of a mission is “Anything For Trish.”). I didn’t actually see why. There was beyond no chemistry there. She was not supportive of Cole trying to help out. She was not a person I cared about at all and I had no option to dump her.
Instead, I’m given a decision branch where I can, at least as presented, choose if she lives or dies. There are two towers. Trish is dangling from one, and six unnamed doctors are dangling from the other. Either one or six will fall, and Cole gets to choose.
This is a fairly common superhero dilemma, so it’s not bad to try it in game form. What makes it awkward is that saving Trish is an “evil” action and saving the six doctors is a “good” action. This is pretty loaded. It implies a collectivist morality not based on attachment or emotions. It also implies, once again, that I should care about Trish.
And again, frankly, I didn’t care about Trish. In this situation, it’s hard to even see for sure which tower corresponds to which choice. I was aiming for an Evil playthrough, but I ended up choosing the doctors’ tower. Part of this was that I was disoriented, and part of this was I actually wanted to get rid of Trish anyway. The game awarded me with Good karma (which, at the time, screwed me a little) and Trish plummeted to her death. When my husband played it, he went for Trish, holding out some hope that she would still like him after he made only Good decisions. The game awarded him with Evil karma, and she died anyway.
People complained about “fake” story branches in The Walking Dead, but at least if that game would wait a little on nullifying a decision branch, and remember your choice in some way other than a PS Network trophy. Just straight up nullifying a choice immediately is absurd.
In addition to this decision branch being fucked, this isn’t even the proper way to do a woman in a refrigerator. The woman is supposed to end up in the refrigerator to spurn the hero into revenge or action. I was already doing stuff, and I would’ve continued to do stuff even if Trish had lived. She has to die because … I don’t know why, really. It’s supposed to be sad maybe, but she was so terrible.
I liked Zeke at first, because Zeke is Cole’s bro. He seems like he’s the only guy really going to bat for Cole. And his envy at Cole getting superpowers is entirely understandable. If I were in Zeke’s position, I’d kind of resent being the sidekick, too.
At the end of Act Two, he of course betrays you. That’s kind of comprehensible. But what’s more annoying than that is that he’s a bit of a load. I have to climb this – hugely videogamey by the way – tower and guide him up on elevators. And he complains that I’m not doing it quickly enough. “Get the lead out,” he keeps bitching. Shut up, Zeke. Developers, it’s nice if an NPC reminds me of what I’m supposed to be doing, but if I’m clearly trying could they be a little more patient?
But what really sticks out with me about Zeke is a long conversation on the radio I had with him. About him dating “Dwight’s Sister” and how “Dwight’s Sister” was being difficult. I guess this conversation is supposed to just be wacky banter with Zeke. But for god’s sake, does “Dwight’s Sister” have a name? Even the biggest jerk on the planet would probably bother to learn the name of the person he was going out with. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, like, okay, Dwight’s Sister is somebody I’ve already met, like Moya or Sasha or something. But, no, she just has no name because coming up with a new name is hard.
Okay, a person on the radio tells me to do shit and then it turns out that person was bad so here is a new person on the radio telling me to do shit. It’s just like Bioshock! Except instead of “would you kindly” it’s “…twelve seconds.” I have not much more to say about this device. It gets the job done but honestly the twist wasn’t even necessary.
I just don’t think anybody was on the stick about this.
The first time you “meet” Sasha, she’s spraying toxic goop on Cole’s face to give him hallucinations, wherein she sort of introduces herself.
There’s two scenarios here. Either you’re playing Evil, and you only get one faceful of goop before forcing civilians to choke on the rest. Or you are playing Good, where you get to have a few conversations with Sasha as she drains your resolve.
So, uh, if you’re playing Evil, as I was, when you run into Sasha physically you’ve heard way less of her expository dialog than someone who is playing Good. You’re left wondering, who is this broad and why is she so into me? If you’re playing Good, you’ve heard all her conversations but then she falls off the game a bit and you don’t really hear from her again. Either way: confusing!
Sasha “owns” all the Evil sidequests in the second half of the game, so you get to know her after all. But since I did literally everything she asked, I thought we were tight. So it surprised me just a little that Reapers on the first island still attack me instead of helping me out like they do during sidequests. Do they not know I made peace with Sasha? Would it really be so gamebreaking to have the weakest possible enemy type helping me out a little in the final act?
So I get who the Reapers were, because Sasha shows that she’s spraying toxic goop on people to mind control them. And I get who Alden was, because there’s all this expository information about him.
But what the hell were the Dust Men?
This is a serious question that I have. They are angry homeless people who work for Alden. Sorry, but, that’s not all I need for them to make sense. I feel as if I fought them for the majority of the game. I must have killed hundreds of them. Reapers were mind controlled civilians and the game attempts to explain their mindless bloodlust. But the Dust Men are even more powerful, and they want to kill everything for seemingly no reason. They show no fear or self-preservation and rely on suicide-bomber tactics. What the hell is going on here? If this was explained, I missed it. I guess Alden’s psychic powers are so great that he can mind control literally hundreds of homeless people to die for him, but yet can’t make this work on even one… government official, or something.
These are guys that hide in crates, for hours, on the one off chance that Cole will happen by so they can burst out and yell “Surprise! Gunfire!” I know, it is a video game, but if they were literally robots, made from trash, then this would all be just fine and logical. Were they robots made from trash? That would help, but the game showed lots of explicit trash robots and said the Dust Men themselves were human.
Hang on, let me get my flask.
I already knew about the twist ending going in. So I was playing the game looking for clues about it. There’s really not many. There’s Kessler saying “I know how you feel about Trish” (which, incidentally, was wrong, because as established I hated Trish). There’s a Dead Drop with him saying that he Cole is the only one he trusts with his package (which just made me laugh, because, ha ha, his package). That’s pretty much all there is.
The game tosses in a time travel twist out of nowhere, really. Kessler is Cole from the future, and he has same-but-different powers. inFamous has not established time travel at any other point. I don’t have any problem at all with time travel twists if they make sense. But this just felt like “No, Cole, you are the demons” because someone thought that would be cool. There’s no narrative symmetry to it. It should be a beautiful moment of realization – of course; it all fits!, we should be saying – but instead it is just weird and confusing.
Kessler being literally anyone else would’ve been more interesting. Fuck, Kessler being Zeke from the future would’ve been interesting. Kessler being Moya in a power suit would’ve been interesting since her lies have no other context. Seriously: literally anyone.
Will I play the second one? Hell yeah. I already own it, after all, and this game was a blast. I just hope that the upcoming newest installment takes a different approach to plot and character while it’s making a fun superpowers game.