|Developer(s): Sucker Punch Productions
Publisher(s): Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform(s): PlayStation 3
Release date(s): May 26, 2009
Genre(s): Action-adventure, sandbox
The game takes place in fictional Empire City, laid across three islands: the Neon District, where many businesses and entertainment venues are located, the Warren, the slum, and where goods are shipped into and out of the city, and the Historic District, the smallest of the three islands. The districts are connected by bridges, and each district has its own elevated train system. At the start of the game, six blocks of the Historic District are wiped out by an explosion from a bio-electrical device called the Ray Sphere. A plague develops soon afterwards, forcing the government to quarantine the region. In doing so they block the only bridge to the mainland from the city, causing society to collapse within the isolated city.
The protagonist is Cole MacGrath, a bike courier for Empire City who happens to be in the center of the explosion, surviving it and gaining electricity-based super powers. His best friend is a fellow courier named Zeke, who takes initial refuge from the chaos on the streets at a rooftop pad and becomes both impressed and envious of Cole’s newfound powers. Trish is a medical student and Cole’s girlfriend at the start of the game, but rejects him after accusing him of causing her sister’s death. Shortly after the explosion, Cole meets with FBI agent Moya, who assigns him missions to complete in Empire City in hopes of finding an agent named John. John was trapped in the city while investigating a case for another agency when the quarantine was enacted and has left numerous encoded messages on satellite receivers. A rogue VJ, “The Voice of Survival”, manages to broadcast his conspiracy-laden, panic-provoking messages across the city from a TV station.
As Cole explores the city, he comes across three others with super powers like himself. Sasha is a scorned lover and former high ranked member of the First Sons, trying to earn Cole’s romance, and has the ability to use a tar-like plague-inducing substance to control the minds of others. She controls the Reaper gang, Ex-Drug dealing Junkies as Cole put it, of the Neon District. Alden is the ex-leader of the First Sons and a wizened old man with powerful telekinesis abilities that leads the Dustmen gang in the Warren District under his control. Alden and his forces fight the First Sons, an ancient fraternal organization that works out of the Historical District. Kessler, a man with many super powers, controls the First Sons, using them to seek out Cole and the Ray Sphere, the device that caused the explosion in Empire City.
While the basic story of the game remains unchanged whether the player opts for the “Good” or “Evil” karma path, there are some story elements that change depending on the player’s choice at that time.
Cole is instructed by an anonymous customer to deliver a package to a location in the Historic District, and then to open it; unbeknownst to Cole, the package contains the Ray Sphere, which activates upon opening and wipes out six city blocks. Cole manages to survive the blast and is nursed back to health by Trish, during which he discovers his newfound powers. When the Voice of Survival pinpoints Cole at the center of the explosion, the city turns against him, and Cole and Zeke try to escape the quarantine with Cole’s new powers but are overwhelmed by government agents. During his arrest, Cole is convinced by Moya, a high-ranking government agent, to return to Empire City to seek out the Ray Sphere and her husband John in exchange for Cole and his friends’ release from quarantine. Cole proceeds to follow Moya’s missions, restoring power to the city to be able to fight off the various gangs that have taken over. As he comes to interact with Sasha, Alden, and Kessler, the leaders of the each gang, he learns that Kessler displaced Alden from the leadership of the First Sons, an organised crime group, and initiated construction of the Ray Sphere, while rejecting Sasha’s attempts for romance. Cole is able to defeat Sasha and capture Alden, but during a breakout attempt by the Dust Men, Zeke’s own heroism antics allow Alden to go free, much to Cole’s irritation. Later, Cole and Zeke track down Alden, who has recovered the Ray Sphere; Cole is able to distract Alden long enough for Zeke to recover it. However, Zeke is caught between Alden and Kessler, and realizes that he could gain superpowers himself through the Sphere and activates it, but nothing happens. Kessler immediately figured out what went wrong and offers Zeke power in exchange for assistance to fix it. Zeke agrees and departs with Kessler, taking the Ray Sphere with him.
Cole is finally able to track down John, but learns that John is neither from the FBI nor Moya’s husband, but instead an undercover NSA agent who assisted in the creation of the Ray Sphere. John explains that the Ray Sphere consumes the bio-energy from those around it and transfers that power to the person holding it, granting them super abilities at the cost of thousands of lives, and urges Cole to help him find and destroy it. Alden goes on a killing spree while heading into the Historic District. After a long battle, Alden is defeated and jumps off the bridge. During the battle, Alden destroyed huge sections of the bridge. Cut off from the Warren, Cole goes ahead into the Historic District. As they search for the Ray Sphere, Cole discovers that Kessler has kidnapped Trish along with six other doctors, and forces Cole to choose between saving her or the other doctors. Regardless of the player’s choice, Kessler has arranged for Trish to fall to her death, but is briefly revived by Cole. If the player has good Karma, Trish will be proud of Cole and profess her love, while if the player has bad Karma, she will curse his name with her dying breath. After mourning for his loss, Cole works with John to Recover the Ray Sphere; the player can then opt to either destroy it or use it to further enhance Cole’s powers, but either option causes the Ray Sphere to malfunction, disintegrating John.
Cole then goes to face Kessler at Ground Zero of the original explosion. As they fight, Zeke appears and tries to intervene but is tossed aside by Kessler. Cole eventually mortally wounds Kessler. Kessler uses his last actions to implant his memories into Cole’s mind, revealing that Kessler is a version of Cole from the future of an alternate timeline. In that timeline, Cole (as Kessler) and Trish were happily wed with children, but soon the appearance of an entity known as “The Beast” plunged their world into chaos. Kessler and Trish fled with their children rather than fight, but after years of running, The Beast eventually caught up to them and killed his family. Kessler realized the only way to stop the Beast would be to use his powers to go back in time and prepare his past self, Cole, for battle against it as it was too late to fight back in Kessler’s time. Kessler seized control of the First Sons from Alden, shunning Sasha’s advances due to his past love for Trish, and ordered the construction of the Ray Sphere much earlier than in his timeline. Kessler was also the anonymous customer that directed Cole to use it. Kessler used Trish’s death as a means to prepare Cole to make the harsh choices in battle with The Beast. After Kessler dies from the battle, Cole declares his hatred for Kessler, and says “When the time comes, I will be ready.”
The ending of the game depends on the player’s Karma. If the player’s Karma is good, Empire City continues to rebuild itself, while still idolizing Cole as its savior. If the player’s Karma is evil, Empire City has fully slid into chaos, and Cole recognizes himself as the strongest person alive. He also laughs at the idea of using his powers to fight The Beast.