Feature: Infamous 2 And The Problem With Karma

June 30, 2011


WARNING there may be potential spoilers for Infamous 2 and Fallout 3 below!

Karma systems can be good or bad depending on how they are implemented in to games. Starting off with a pun? Brilliant. It appears that a lot of modern day games choose to use karma systems with recent examples including Infamous, Infamous 2, Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas, the Fable series and the Mass Effect series. Each game uses the karma system in a different way but each system is fundamentally flawed.

The way the karma system works in Infamous 2 is that every action will award you either good or evil karma points. As you earn more points in either direction you become either more of a hero or more infamous until you reach the peak points of the scale. The scale is split in to 3 good zones and 3 evil zones (see picture below) and the more evil/good you become the more powers you unlock. Effectively saying: “become an evil overlord and you will be rewarded with evil overlord powers” and similar for being a superhero.

Infamous' Karma Meter

Here is where my gripes start. Specific powers are awarded to specific karmas. If you reach good karma level 3 you unlock a bolt power which effectively turns you in to a human machine gun to mow down all enemies. It’s superb and great fun to use. There is no alternative or remotely similar power for the evil side. Sure, if you’re evil you’d focus on causing havoc with massive area attacks as opposed to accurate burst attacks but so what? I believe that having a machine gun is pretty havoc causing if you ask me. After finishing the game with both good and evil endings you do unlock the potential to use all powers but what good is that if you’ve finished everything aside from sidequests. That isn’t a major problem but the fact that neutral karma is considered unpowerful and unnecessary boggles my mind. For starters there is no neutral karma; you can only be good or bad. Secondly, some superheroes can be good and evil. It isn’t always black and white like that. Take Magneto from the X-men series as an example. He is portrayed as a villain within the comic book series but it is much more complicated than that. He is simply trying to protect others like him from the extinction of mutants by humans. At times he meets up and has friendly chats with Charles Xavier and you can see that he has a heart. In Infamous 2 if you slip in to the evil Karma side you are a dick. You still have the ability to complete ‘good’ missions though which can tip your scale back to good. But the problem lies that if you wish to live on this boundary you are forced to use pathetic powers. Why can’t I live on the edge and be all powerful at the same time?

Without trying to be too critical of Infamous 2 I can understand why this mechanic is in place the way it is. This allows for 2 plays of the game, one as a hero and one as a villain. On top of this, as you become more heroic/evil you power up allowing for character progression throughout the game. To top this off there are 2 different endings to the game and which one you get depends on your karma.

I think it is failrly obvious which is the good and which are the bad options...

Fallout 3 used karma in a different manner. You aren’t a superhero so there isn’t as much weight on the system. There is neutral karma (YES!!!) on top of the standard good and bad. The way karma affects you within the game world is how people react to your presence. Maybe a merchant will believe you more if you have honest karma or you have more of a chance of lying to someone if you are evil. Some people may run way from you with fear; alternatively bounty hunters may be out to kill you on sight. This adds a layer of immersion to the game but without making the game world rely around it.

Fallout 3’s system definitely gives the player more leeway with what they want to do with their karma but Infamous 2’s whole game revolves around your karma. It’s hard to decide who is doing karma right or not. Personally I’m fed up of karma. It’s an overused system which is being dried harder than a well in a desert. Instead how about games let me do what I want and reward me regardless as opposed to stopping me from doing certain things just because a slider said so. Down with the karma system.

If there is an Infamous 3 then it should still have a karma system though as long as all the decisions in the game aren’t so black and white. The only choice in the game which was hard to make wasn’t a choice at all which is the final choice to decide the outcome of the game. This isn’t a choice because you can only make a decision based on your karma, defeating the whole point of having a choice at all. Infamous 3 will be a great game if it ever exists; just allow me to be a shady superhero with mysterious intentions. How about a shadiness bar that recognises your lack of worldly publicity if you stick to back alleys and avoid the press? I’m kidding, that would suck.

Post your thoughts on whether karma systems should be praised or scrapped in the comments section below.




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3 Comments on “Feature: Infamous 2 And The Problem With Karma”

  1. Nick/Shen Says:

    In with the “f*ck Karma systems” band. My biggest problem is that it greatly damages the characterisation of the main character – y’know, the most important one? You can have an interesting and complex character who’s a saint or a devil, but if the character is rapidly switching between both sides of the spectrum, they lose all cohesion. In Yahtzee’s most recent Zero Punctuation review, he jokingly wonders why they don’t let you choose to be all the way good or all the way bad at the beginning, but honestly, that would work well. Give yourself a set of choices within concrete characterisation. The end result is the same (the whole point of the karma system after all is for a specific ending in this game). Of course, this is all overshadowed by what you mentioned – why isn’t there a neutral option? How hard will it be to include abilities that require some evil points and some good points? Karma systems like this are utterly baffling.
    My preferred system would be to remove the labels of good and evil as those are the most damaging, since they define characters completely. A character should be, by definition, either good, evil or neutral. The things that should vary is how lawful or chaotic they are, if you want to streamline “choice” into a viable system.
    It sickens me that developers look at karma systems as “choice” though, because it’s not. If they want to do it well, then they should write in factions to choose from, priorities to decide on etcetera. Just making things good or evil is a sign of complete laziness, no matter how much effort they seem to put in the rest of the game.


    • mevansgaming Says:

      The most ideal karma system would be one where every action has a variable on the game world. Imagine what Heavy Rain tried to do but do it right on a much grander scale. If you kill some civillians then the police might be aware of what you did. They may post a news story on the tv network, some civillians may recognise you and either call for the cops or run away in fear. Not because “you’re evil” but because you killed some people. Ofcourse, having such a dynamic system would require work which I doubt developers would be willing to bother doing. Karma it is then…


      • Nick/Shen Says:

        I’m sure at least one well paid developer would (*coughMolyneuxcough*) if it weren’t for one glaring problem: space. Not even Blu-Ray discs have enough room to allow for such a huge world that isn’t incredibly limited (a la Heavy Rain, Fable, Fallout) so you’d need expensive super computers. We have the power, but no way to profit from it. Why I said “preferred” not “ideal” 😛


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