Nov 2, 2011

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inFAMOUS: Festival of Blood Review

inFAMOUS: Festival of Blood Review

It’s been almost five months since Sucker Punch introduced its superhero sequel inFAMOUS 2 to the gaming world, and we’re just now getting our first expansion. In an industry overpopulated with day-one DLC and rushed content, maybe that’s a good thing. Fans of Cole MacGrath and best buddy Zeke will dig this standalone expansion; it takes the open-world sandbox of the first game and layers Halloween fiction and a spooky atmosphere on top of it. inFAMOUS: Festival of Blood may be a fun experiment with New Marais, but it’s also a love letter to fans, with charming dialogue and an urgent story fitting of our hero. Some gameplay elements from inFAMOUS 2 have been simplified or are just plain missing, and all the content won’t have you playing for more than a few hours. Despite these shortcomings, Festival of Blood is a good example of DLC done right – an inFAMOUS “Halloween special” that will please series fans for a decent price.

Festival of Blood brings electric superhero Cole MacGrath back into action on Pyre Night, an annual festival in New Marais highlighted by drunken debauchery and creepy decorations. Burning barrels, hideous costumes, and demonic balloons fill the streets. While reviving injured civilians beneath the city’s cathedral, Cole is captured by a vampire clan and used to resurrect their female leader. Bloody Mary proceeds to send her vampire spawn all over the city, but not before biting Cole and informing him that he will become her slave when the sun rises. Not one for having freedoms stripped, Cole embarks on an urgent mission to find a silver cross of legend that can kill Bloody Mary before time runs out. Fans will appreciate that Zeke takes a larger role in this story, but much ado (and humor) is still given to his role as Cole’s less suave sidekick. The story is told in a charming way, and the witty banter I enjoyed in inFAMOUS 2 is here in full force. I especially enjoyed the ending, but you’re in the wrong place if you’re looking for a deep narrative. Cole’s hunt for the Barbed Cross is quite one-dimensional, and the best exposition we get is a small scene on Bloody Mary’s backstory. I noticed these shortcomings because it’s a stark contrast to the sweeping storylines of the first two games. I miss the character development and plot twists that are highlights of the franchise, but Festival of Blood can still be appreciated on its own merits. Its bite-sized plot and no-frills motivation amidst vampire mythology offer up a spooky diversion of sorts, a brief “what if” glimpse that takes our favorite characters and places them in a ridiculous situation for the hell of it.

Unfortunately, some gameplay changes aren’t redeemed by the same logic. Sucker Punch greatly streamlined the process of gaining new powers to fit the game’s short length, and the results are mixed. Gone are the XP gains and purchasable powers of the past. In their place is a system that rewards you with new powers exclusively for completing certain tasks. Stake 20 vampires in disguise, get the Magnum Bolt. Stake 20 more, received upgraded grenades. It works, and it acts as great incentive to complete tasks outside of the story missions. However, it also means that unless you stop to take care of a vampire gang or stab a Firstborn in the back, you won’t be receiving any upgraded powers as the game goes on. Unfortunately, you won’t miss much. Many of Cole’s powers from inFAMOUS 2 have been stripped without explanation, and the powers you’re left with only get one upgrade apiece. In some cases, this is baffling – why am I earning Magnum Bolt and double grenades when I should already have those? We’re never explicitly told where in the inFAMOUS 2 timeline Festival of Blood takes place, or if it’s a completely hypothetical story. I can accept not having powers if Cole hasn’t technically earned them yet, but from a pure fun standpoint, not having any ice, fire, or ionic powers stinks.

On that note, fans should be warned that morality – arguably a core piece of the inFAMOUS franchise – is also conspicuously missing. Cole is never presented with a dilemma of values; instead, the player is somewhat forced to feed on civilians, and no opportunities for influencing the narrative exist. It works in the context of this story, and I had no qualms with allowing Cole to satisfy his baser instincts. Again, Festival of Blood is a diversion from its predecessor, a “what if” scenario that throws our hero into a desperate situation with no opportunity to “choose” his way out. I’m totally fine with that – Cole’s a vampire, after all – but don’t expect any chances to drastically influence the story.

While fans may lament the loss of choice and some powers, the gameplay delivers in all other regards. As a vampire, Cole can utilize Shadow Swarm to fly around the city as a cloud of bats and feed on civilians to replenish the energy needed. The speed and versatility of Shadow Swarm feels awesome, and makes me wish that inFAMOUS 2 had featured an unlockable flight ability. The fluid movement and tight aiming are as good as ever, but I found myself wishing for more cover objects during some of the bigger firefights. Enemy types are suitably varied and introduce some new wrinkles to combat. I was glad I didn’t have to fight the same ice mercenaries and redneck goons from inFAMOUS 2, and the game’s new mini-boss is a challenging foe with clever ways of getting the jump on you.

Graphically, Festival of Blood doesn’t disappoint. inFAMOUS 2 pleased me with its detailed textures and bold colors, and this vampire-themed expansion carries the torch proudly. Equally impressive is the way Sucker Punch pulled off the atmosphere of Pyre Night. Dark alleyways, grey catacombs, and the black sky mesh perfectly with the bright-red light of burning barrels and Cole’s orange-tinted electricity. Visually, the details are what really sell this game. From the vampire coffins deep underground to the burst of fireworks from an errant bolt, you’ll feel like you’re trapped in this nightmare right alongside Cole. The sound (and music especially) does an excellent job of pulling you in as well. Right away, I noticed the signature strings and drumlines of inFAMOUS 2 used cleverly to conjure images of old horror movies and parodies. Its a perfect fit for the game, and snappy drums ratchet the intensity in key moments while giving off that spooky flavor.

Festival of Blood also introduces new user-generated-content (UGC) features, including the ability to forge your own 2D text-based cutscenes. While such an option may seem primitive, I really enjoyed how Sucker Punch used them in its pre-loaded missions to add a real sense of narrative that is often missing from UGC. I’m excited to see what some of my favorite community members do with this tool. Meanwhile, PlayStation Move owners will be happy to hear that Festival of Blood also supports Move control. Unfortunately, I was not able to test Move control during my play time.

All told, if you’re a series fan, Festival of Blood is well worth your time. Its charming story, spooky atmosphere, and rock-solid gameplay more than make up for its shortcomings in length and content. Those unaccustomed to the franchise would be better served picking up inFAMOUS 2 for cheap before giving this DLC a shot. Otherwise, enjoy this fun Halloween romp.

inFamous: Festival of Blood
Platform: PS3
Genre: Action Adventure
Release Date: 10/25/2011
Developer: Sucker Punch
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)
MSRP: $9.99