Game Overdose: Infamous: Festival of Blood (Hallowe’en Special…ish)
Ah, welcome, children of the night, into a world of mystery and intrigue. Of fantastic powers and eldritch secrets, and of that sketchy line between faith, fantasy and reality. And also of vampires, or nearly any other “horror” creature being crowbarred into a game series.
I can understand some of the confusion that I’m doing a Hallowe’en post post Hallowe’en, but there’s a good reason for that. One, it’d mean I couldn’t inflict that syntactically correct but no less awkward sentence upon you. THE HORROR!
It was also because I was mostly planning on letting Hallowe’en slide by in the gaming world. Sure, there’s normally extra content added to games, special map packs and costume changes, even events by some of the more wacky developers, but overall Hallowe’en doesn’t really impact hugely with regards to the analysis and game design element I hold so dear.
That is of course until something rare happens. They release a game, a DLC or an expansion that changes the main aspect of the game, breaths new life into it while still preserving its quintessence. This can happen at any time of the year, but developers seem to have a bit of a hard-on for Hallowe’en especially.
The most notable example to date is Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare, which turned the highly immersive western-cowboy third person shooter into a mostly solid survival horror game. It became less about old-school cowboy shootouts from behind cover and more run and gun flailing tactics while your resources (Health, Ammo, etc) start to diminish and the hoard presses down from all sides.
Completely non-canon, it essentially gave Rockstar an excuse to reuse a lot of the same assets, and play around with the setting and characters. They didn’t need to worry about getting a project going from the ground, they just needed to change the direction they were running!
And so enters Infamous: Festival of Blood. Another obvious horror-mutation shameless cash-grab, used solely as a means to vacuum pennies from the pockets of its loyal fans…
Hah, if it really was just that, would I be writing about it?
The basic premise of Festival of Blood is a story narrated by Cole’s best friend Zeke, a well meaning but “kind of shit” guy. He spins the tale to impress a woman at a bar, which is a brilliant means of simply saying “not canon” to the fans.
The actual game takes place on “Pyre Night”, New Marais version of Halloween, at some point during the main story of the second game. FOB follows a typical vampire story, where Cole’s blood is used to revive an ancient but powerful vampire and he’s subsequently bitten. To free himself he must slay this vampire, Bloody Mary, or remain her slave forever. The catch is that he only has one night (or 8 hours) in which to do it.
Most of the cast of characters are apparent in their absence, both Quo and Nix don’t appear. Really the only characters are Cole, Zeke and Bloody Mary, who deserves a special mention.
She’s beautifully voice acted and has already found her way into one of my favourite female villains in games, somehow being seductive without
being overtly sexual, intelligent, confident and inherently evil. A nice touch is that she actually flies around the city during FOB, meaning you can choose to clash heads with her if you’re feeling suicidal. I wouldn’t recommend it, as until you complete some missions, and find the relevant MacGuffin she’ll completely disable you, taking away all your blood and power-cores for a few crucial moments and spawning other vamps to deal with you in your weakened state.
As for the overall setting. You’re limited to just the one of New Marais 3 islands. I’d like to think that Cole, Nix and Quo have all split up to cover an island for the night each, and you get vampires while Quo gets werewolves and maybe Nix has an alien invasion. Who knows.
The beautiful thing is that the island is all decked out. Pedestrians are in costumes, there’s all sorts of firework displays going off, giant Balloons, decorations everywhere. It’s also very dark, occasionally too much so but I kind of think that’s part of the idea, especially when later on you gain Vampiric night vision. It does lighten up throughout the day, acting as a visual reminder of how short you are on time.
Time does deserve a slight mention. The “1 million miles from New Marais” for the Beasts big turn up is replaced with “X Hours/minutes til sunrise”. This would be fine if the first jump in time wasn’t 4 hours. And the time pretty-much halves each time after that. Suspense can’t really be created when such a huge chunk is cut out, and a few more hours would have been good.
Rather creepily is that where on the mini-map there’s normally Blue lines to show power-lines, useful for induction grinding or refueling battery cores, where the pedestrians are parading there are red lines. I’ll leave you to figure out why.
Overall the city looks and feels great. Another great addition is the “Catacomb”. The original Infamous had the sense of using certain areas away from the main map to deliver a particular experience. They did away with that in the second game for just one giant sandbox, which I feel was a bad move, because it meant that the same area is ultimately used through the whole game. You lose control of pacing when the player has that much freedom, both on a “level-by-level” basis and throughout the whole game. It did let them make a REALLY good city with vastly differing locales, but it kind of fell down because they couldn’t have those little asides to show off new mechanics or have boss fights.
The catacombs answers that by having an area specific to FOB, and it’s used in several ways throughout the game but overall is a very welcome addition, giving them a lot of control compared to the open-world aspect.
So now Cole’s a vampire, and as such there’s some expected changes to how he controls.
The first apparent change is that he’s forgone his amp (a kind of cattle prod) for a cross/stake thing, which enables him to dust enemy vampires in heart-stabby actions. Most enemies cannot be killed outright without a final melee attack where Cole slams the stake into the ground where the vampire would have been if the game didn’t have this tendancy of making Cole do overly flamboyant but impractical coup de grace moves, like throwing the spike into the ground while spinning and picking it up on the second turn, just in time for the vampire to watch bemused from a distance and counter-attack.
The amp’s charge-up bar remains, allowing you to deal more damage or outright kill enemies with a tap of Triangle after several successive Squar hits, and it’s as fun as ever to wail on enemies in melee.
The staple Karma bar is gone, and Cole is pretty much considered evil throughout the expansion, complete with red lightning. Ionic powers also vanish, and are instead replaced by a “corruption” metre. The corruption bar works more like an alternative power-source, akin to his battery cores used for regular lightning powers, rather than the Ionic’s “this is a super-move” ideology. The beating heart adds a nice little bit of thematic coherence with Cole’s new role as a vampire.
Now, at this point you’re probably thinking “well, new energy bar must mean LOTS AND LOTS of new VAMPIRIC powers!” and my response is… mixed. There’s only the one ability that uses this corruption, which might show a lack of imagination, but I can’t help but feel it’s more than enough.
The ability in question the Shadow Swarm, and it’s a very classic vampire move. Cole transforms into a flock of bats, flying in the direction of the camera (as steered by the right analogue stick) and becoming nigh-invulnerable. It’s quite possibly the most multi-faceted ability in the Infamous series. Defensively it lets you move out of harms way at great speed; as a utility move it lets you traipse across the city faster than ever before, and offensively it lets you close in on enemies while have bullets pass harmlessly through your rodenty-bits, or elevating yourself to perform a thunder drop on a hapless group.
The offensive properties are enhanced even further when you unlock the Shadow Strike aspect, which allows Cole to one-hit kill (or heavily damage in the case of First Borns) by staking them in the heart straight from Swarm-Form. This doesn’t replenish corruption however and in fact drains an even more sizeable chunk, so it has to be used sparringly and I tend to reserve it for Harpies, who rarely stand on surfaces long enough to let you hit them in melee and jump around a lot making conventional electrical attacks less effective.
The powers screen is also gone, meaning that your powers are limited to the basic offensive plus shadow swarm, and the Vampiric sense ability (I’ll talk more about that later). Also, rather than spending XP to unlock powers you perform stunts, which mostly come in the flavour of killing certain types of vampires in certain ways.
The use of “unlocking powers” is much more smoothly implemented than in the main game. Rather than it be absurd stunts to unlock the right to buy one move (eg. shocking flying enemies) it tends to be more basic. Staking vampires, finding hidden vamps, completing a few User Generated Missions, with there being bench-marks that unlock more powerful versions or different power upgrades.
As these are things you have to do anyway it negates the whole “oh well, better go and specifically push certain people off of buildings to then shock them in mid-air!” aspect of the main game. It meant that you could play the game as it was meant to be played without worrying about getting specific stunts done or worse, grinding them. The possible exception is user generated content, but more on that later.
Your “corruption metre” is filled in one of several ways. Finding “Canopic Jars” which will completely fill, but they’re a non-renewable source having a limited number around New Marais. You can also drink (and kill) humans which will completely fill your corruption to max. The last way is by staking vampires, but it won’t be a complete fill, and you tend to need to use shadow swarm to take out vamps, meaning you have to spend corruption to make corruption.
I should probably actually talk a bit about the enemies of the game now. Here’s a quick run-down.
Slashers and Fiends – are the male vamps. The differing features being one throws blades and the other fires a (somehow) shotgun-like crossbow. They teleport around occassionally but nearly exclusively stand on flat surfaces. They’re easily the easiest enemy to take care of. One nice touch is they occassionally blink out and blink back with a human shield. Don’t shock the vamp in time and they’ll nom on the human. Basically free corruption, whether you kill them or their meal.
Harpies – Lady vamps equipped with dual uzi’s. They have a tendancy of teleporting around like MAD, and they’re more than happy to cling from the sides of buildings. This gives them good cover, and generally makes them near impossible to kill without 1) dislodging them first or 2) utilising the Shadow Strike ability. Brilliantly designed as they force you out of your comfort zone. That said? MY LEAST FAVOURITE ENEMY.
First Borns – the “big vamps” and act as mini-bosses. They resemble the giant vampires as seen here. these are the only vamps I’ve seen capable of breaking your Shadow Swarm, other than Bloody Mary Herself, where they can either do some blinking-bullrush or use some cone-like scream. They also attack by spitting bats at you. It also takes several Shadow Strikes to kill them, so my recommendation is fly away from them and lob grenades.
Victims – recently turned humans, mostly of no concern as they can’t teleport so can’t follow you. Goddam irritating in a large number as they can jump on your back requiring a spam of the “X” button, but you should just be able to swarm away. They’re made by Bloody Mary and First borns from regular humans. They can’t be staked or drained either, and will die from damage, meaning you can’t even use them to get back corruption. And then tend to get in the way of Shadow Strike, wasting corruption.
When I say “Teleport” I’m referring to their version of “Shadow Swarm” where they flash away as a swarm of bats and reappear somewhere else, sometimes avoiding your attacks or gaining some form of tactical advantage, but often times just putting them in range of your nice hard phallic stake.
Being a Vampire
I mentioned previous that in the main Infamous 2 game Cole plays differently whether you’re good or evil. A quick recap.
Good Cole mostly picks enemies off from a distance, and uses his frost powers to freeze enemies solid, often without them firing a shot. He’s more jumpy that evil Cole, able to perform an “Ice Launch” to gain a lot of air, and his Frost Shield stops enemies from pounding him with bullets, while recharging his energy.
Evil Cole is much more up-front and personal. Most of his fire and smoke-enhanced abilities are either big explosions or stunning blasts, so he throws enemies into disarray and then picks off the weak, performing a devastating drain move to kill an enemy, recharging his own health and energy.
Vampire Cole plays like a good strong mix of the two. Most fights against vampires will result in Evil Cole up close and personal, and most of his unlockable upgrades to powers are modeled on the evil route, (BIG EXPLOSIONS) but Shadow Swarm reminds me most of Good Cole’s versatility, especially when you’re using it defensively to get away.
Staking enemies and draining humans are both quick actions, compared to the “struggle” involved in the drain move of Evil Cole, eliminating one of the main issues I had with it, meaning you can “refuel” more easily on the go without leaving yourself massively exposed. The benefits are slightly less but overall you’re up.
He doesn’t get the elemental powers of Good or Evil though, and without his ionic powers (the super moves) he’s greatly limited offensively compared to his main-game counter-parts. He’s limited to shocks, grenades, rockets and pulse moves, as well as the thrusters to float around and can’t even utilise the spiderman-esque lightning tether, which means Shadow Swarm really does become the corner-stone of his repertoir, enabling you to go toe-to-toe with vamps and get around the city with ease.
I would recommend getting the UGC unlock for the rockets especially, as it will make your rockets 1) Home in on enemies, 2) split into 3, striking one or multiples and 3) stick to enemies meaning they can’t escape as easily.
Another added power (though I should probably say re-implemented) is Vampiric Senses. Rather than relying heavily on the mini-map like the main game, many of the side missions and findables cause an “aura” to appear around Cole’s head. When you press the appropriate button (R2 by default) Cole presses his hand to his temple and can access his vampiric senses to their fullest, with a nice little joke of “my vampire sense is tingling”.
This is a fantastic nod to a power Cole had in the first game. It was heavily implied that Cole was more a psychic who’s abilities manifested as a “sort-of” electro-kinetic power-set, so he could psychically see “echo’s” of the recently dead, as well as receive psychic visions from enemies he defeated, often leading to scavenger hunts. This was notable in its absence in the second game but makes a nice return in FOB.
Vampiric Sense allows you to find the 3 main hidden “things” in the game.
Firstly, it makes Canopic Jars glow as if lit on fire. Useful for making them stand out in the distance. Canopic Jars not only fill your health but also increase your maximum Corruption meter once you collect enough. These are akin to the blast shards you normally find, which presumably have been put in a cupboard when all the decorations went out and will be re-littered across the City at the end.
Secondly, there’s all forms of hidden vampiric sigils and glyphs scrawled across the city, which can only be seen with vampiric senses. These can point to a collection of humans in cages and their vampiric captors. You can save them or kill them as you please… the humans, not the vampires.
The other option are “Story Glyphs”, which take the place of “dead-drops” from the main game, and again all the pigeon carriers must have disappeared for this one night. They’re little bits of information about Bloody Mary’s past as a vampire. Unlike dead drops collecting 5 of these glyphs enhances your vampiric sense further, allowing canopic jars and glyphs to appear on the mini-map, helping you find them all.
The third and final purpose is vampire finding. Normal vampires appear like amber, as if they’re hot under a thermal sensor. Humans suddenly turn into walking skeletons with visible purple veins glowing throughout, and a pulsing heart complete with squeamish throbbing noises. Occasionally you’ll see a skeleton without heart and blood, and these are the hidden First Borns, who you can stake in the crowd to have them reveal their true horrific form and instantly die, filling your corruption meter a little bit.
Also, don’t bite a First Born, they’ll kind of hulk out on you.
Everything in Concert
While each individual aspect of the gameplay might sound good in and of itself, nothing compares to how beautifully the whole thing works in concert.
Your Shadow Swarm ability is absolutely key to this whole DLC. It lets you race around the city faster that Cole’s ever been able to in the past, but more importantly it lets you take on vampires using their own abilities.
As vampires can also use shadow swarm, not being able to use it seriously cripples you with regards to your ability to kill them. Sure, you can blast them with electricity, but when they’re all jumping around like mad, it not only puts off your aim but can also lead you into nasty flanking positions, or even self detonation by a bad grenade lob.
Even with Shadow Swarm this can occur, and worse still if you decide to fly away, the vamps can easily follow you. This is the first time in an Infamous game that such a large number of enemies can match you in mobility. In Infamous 1 some reaper conduits could teleport, but there was often only one of them at a time diminishing their threat. In Infamous 2 the ice soldiers could launch themselves around as well, but they couldn’t match your other mobility abilities.
Bear in mind that Shadow Swarm is a constant drain on your corruption meter. Worse still, Shadow Strike, while powerful and it acted as my go-to move for taking out harpies, drains a sizeable chunk. This means that if you strike too many enemies you’ll not only be stuck without shadowswarm, you won’t even have a corpse to stake to earn some corruption back!
And this is what is really at the core of the game, the needs of the many vs the needs of the few. One of my main criticism of the Ionic Abilities in the main game was the relative rarity of Ionic Charges, which somewhat limited the useability of the powers. This was offset by how powerful they were of course, but towards the end of the game unless you were evil and randomly nuking pedestrians you probably weren’t going to have any charges.
Corruption doesn’t suffer from this at all, as there’s a near-limitless supply of warm juicy humans necks for Cole. Of course, you can also get by with killing vampires, but it’s only a partial refill and you tend to have to spend corruption to get to a point to kill them, you’ll be left constantly trying to balance the deficit.
Not to mention flying around the city in swarm form, unless you’re going from vampire to vampire you’ll run out pretty soon, and it’s only one neck-bite and you’re back on your feet -er, wings.
All of the above comes to a head in missions, where they force you to really balance moral issues. As I said, needs of the many vs needs of the few.
Sucker Punch snuck a couple of extra missions in their User Generated Content pack, which mostly features this concept centrally, where Zeke will chastise Cole for feeding on the blood of the innocents, and Cole admonishes this by saying he needs to do it to defeat Bloody Mary, i.e the ends justify the means.
Hell, the end of Infamous 2 had this balancing act at the end of the game, but either sacrificing conduits (the few) or sacrificing humans (the many) with the karmically good option being martyrdom.
The best example I can give as an actual in-game moment is chasing a cartel of vamps across the city. They stay almost exclusively in swarm-form which means you can only match their pace by burning blood yourself. The downsideis that your powers run out long before theirs, which forces you to ground. You cannot match them any other way.
If they get away? Bloody Mary lives another day to spread mayhem and ruin, not to mention gaining a powerful puppet in Cole. Even Zeke will state “do what you have to do to get flying again”, who doesn’t seem to like the idea all that much in other instances. So bite a neck “for the greater good”.
This is a beautiful example of morality vs necessity and one of the best examples in a game where you have to do evil to do good. However…
If anyone from SuckerPunch reads this I want you to take notes…
Like I said, the whole thing is narrated by Zeke. Now after I’d chomped down on a few human necks Zeke actually chimed in with a criticism that ran along the lines of “Cole needed to do this to save the day, but it blackened his soul to do it”, in a somewhat Bastion-esque dynamic narrative way. I fed a few more times to see if he made a new comment but nothing happened.
The potential for making a truly awesome morality system was somewhat squandered here. I would have loved to have seen a typical Infamous dychotomy that actually made sense, where if you’d fed on so many humans you got a slightly different ending. Maybe Cole becomes Mary’s vampire prince? Hell, why not, this is just some derp story Zeke’s making up to impress a lady… Or is it?
Thing is, after I’d scarfed down my 100th human (for a trophy, of all things) there was no repercussion for my actions, despite the game hinting that way. Had I of not done that, abstained DESPITE my vampire nature as any good hero would do, struggled against the beast, as reinforced by the very mechanics of the game I would have loved to have a bit of pay-off.
If it were up to me as a designer I would have kept a tally of vamps killed vs humans killed. If you’ve killed/eaten/failed to save (in the instance of fiends grabbing people) more humans by the end of the game you get the bad ending. More vamps = good ending. That’s killing vamps, not eating them.
This would mean that the morality of the game would be something of a metaphor of being a vampire do-gooder. Constantly struggling against giving into temptation, constantly having to use your powers for good at less pay off than the evil option. Ultimately it’s just an endurance game, trying to stay good enough to beat Bloody Mary. Would have worked beautifully, and it’s what I was hoping they’d done.
Additionally, as a side note. Suckerpunch, if you’re going to have trophies and even unlockable powers reliant upon completing x number of User Generated Missions, please have at least that many missions which you yourself have created . Seriously, I probably attempted about 50 missions for the 20 needed to get all the content. Why? Because people suck. Some of the missions made no sense, had no ending, and others I’m certain existed just to troll me. It should be a fun extra, not a way for you to get out of making side-missions, especially when they can completely ruin the pacing.
All about Control
You might have noticed that for the most part the controls seem very limited compared to the main game. I didn’t initially understand why but I can explain it in very simple terms.
The game is move compatible. Now look at these two pictures.
As you can see, a Move’s (on the left) left hand controller has roughly the same number of buttons as the dualshock (right), but overall because this game was made with the Move in mind the left hand does less.
Why? Well, because on a standard Dual-shock controller you have the advantage that only one hand needs to actually hold the controller steady. You can reach up and play around with the D-pad while your right hand holds the controller in place.
As you’re essentially holding a poor facsimile for a wii-wand (or a douche) in your right hand there’s no support for the left, and ergo fewer buttons can be pressed easily on the left-hand controller.
Now, the cynic in me would probably admonish Suckerpunch for lobotomising their game for move controls, but the fact is that it’s a perfect implementation, and even though I didn’t play it with the move (and I don’t plan to, as I don’t own one) I can appreciate how well every aspect of this game works around that basic premise.
The fact that the swarm moves forward constantly and all you really do is steer it by the camera, or more accurately gesticulating with the wand; that all the enemies require the swarm to defeat effectively; that there’s missions that require you to swarm all over the place… This all shows the level of thought that went into the design.
Genuinely it’s an impressive implementation either way, though I’ll be damned if I’m going to lose the accuracy of an analogue stick when it comes to killing those damned Harpies.
Overall festival of blood is a brilliantly designed, well executed game. It suffers from length and pacing issues, and Bloody Mary is too good a character to have in a brief throw-away whim like this, but as whims go Suckerpunch pulled no punches.
I would have liked to seen more side-quests, more lastability of the game, and ultimately more of this DLC. Heh, maybe they’ll do a sequel next Halloween? PLEASE explore Quo vs Werewolves or Nix vs Aliens… PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE!
If you’re new to the Infamous series I’d suggest against Festival of Blood, as it does assume you’re a returning player both in difficulty curve and character roles. Go play the first and second game, I mean, what the hell else are you doing with your PS3 if it’s not Infamous or Uncharted? As for returning fans? Definitely worth the price-tag of £8-ish. Think of it as an awesome interactive (if occassionally cheesey) horror-movie for one.
And chances are if you are a PS3 owner, you do a lot of things by yourself already.
Happy Hallowe’en Y’all!