Reviewed by Ryan “Plagiarize” Acheson
Available for the Xbox 360 (reviewed), PlayStation 3, PC
Rated M for Mature
Published by Activision
Time Square is lost. The military are doing their best to regain it, but truthfully told it is a last final sortie, probably by design. The infection has spread to most of the city by now … converting the animate and inanimate alike with no respect for what some of its prey calls “the miracle of life”. The infection is life and death at once. Taking the two and forever binding them together.
An infected water tank erupts and Hunters pour out. Fast and mobile. Agile and vicious.
An infected building spews forth further infection from great big bloated pustules embedded in the brickwork.
On the street some human civilians remain, but they are dying at the hands of the shambling hordes of infected ones flowing through the streets into the square like revelers getting ready for new years eve.
The tanks and the helicopters and the trained soldiers are bravely trying to hold the infected back, but they are dying none the less. They are running out of shells. Running out of bullets. Running out of men.
The infection has taken the city in seventeen days and the soldiers are scared. Not scared of the threat facing them down. Not scared of the threat slowly turning the tide man by man. Scared of something they have heard whispers about. Scared of something that is about to walk out of Central Park. Scared of something that has been killing, not slowly like the infection. Not man by man. But squadron by squadron. They’re not scared of the infection. Though strong, that can be killed. They’re scared of you.
You only bring death. Death by the thousands.
Thus begins your time with Prototype. In a short tutorial style level, you walk into Times Square and get an inkling of just how powerful … how evil … Alex Mercer is. It’s a taste of things to come, and then in true video game fashion you get all those powers taken away from you as the game flashes back seventeen days earlier, before the infection.
The surprising thing though is just how powerful you still are. Within moments of waking up in the morgue, with only fragments of your memories left, you’ll be running up the side of buildings, then ripping up air conditioning units and hurling them at helicopters.
Alex Mercer, at his base level, is more powerful than the vast majority of video game characters … and the upgrades come thick and fast. Soon you’ll be performing mind blowing acrobatics, and unleashing devastating attacks with all manner of crazy powers.
The story? Alex is trying to figure out who he is basically. Trying to figure out WHAT he is other than the biggest bad ass to ever walk the Earth. Prototype is pretty familiarly structured. Since Spider-Man 2 kind of defined the superhero genre, inspiring Prototype’s spiritual predecessor Hulk: Ultimate Destruction these games have played out pretty much the same way.
After a few initial intro missions, you have the whole city to explore. You’ll have the next story mission available that will progress the overall plot (and the timeline, with the city becoming more and more infected as time goes on). There are also a number of side missions that take a variety of different forms and a number of collectible items to find. Most of these take the form of a glowing ball of energy high on top of a building or hidden in a crevice somewhere, but some are a little different.
You see, whatever has happened to Alex, he has the ability to shoot black and red tendrils out of himself. He has the ability to shape those tendrils into a number of different weaponised forms. He can use them to help him glide, or run up buildings as the tendrils latch onto the masonry. He can also use them to consume people, to literally absorb living matter into himself.
On doing so a few things can happen. First of all, he can change his entire appearance clothes and all to match the person he just consumed. Secondly it heals him. Thirdly he gains access to the persons abilities and memories.
On freely roaming the city you will come across ‘web of intrigue’ targets. These are people with specific memories relating to the situation in New York, and on consuming them you will see fragments of their memories. Throughout the game these fragments fill up a web that gives you an overview of the city. You can follow different threads to see how different groups or characters progressed by accessing the memories of others.
The side missions take on a few different forms. There are checkpoint races in which you have to hit all the checkpoints within a certain time limit. There are gliding events in which you have to try to land as close as possible to a central target after leaping off a tall building. There are consume events where you have to consume either a set number of a given type of person, or one very specific but well defended person. There are a few others of the general kill a certain number of people within a given time limit but my favorite were the war events.
In these you are placed on one side or the other of a conflict in New York. Either fighting with the infected or the army you have to tip the balance of the battle so that your side wins. It’s a good showcase for the kind of large scale chaos that the game does so well.
The story missions are the kind of multi-part missions you might expect, and while they might follow a similar formula, and while they occasionally present a large step up in challenge, you have such a diverse series of ways to approach them that its difficult to get bored even when you’re failing one over and over.
Usually you’ll come across an approach for each mission that is a lot more effective, and if you don’t, and Alex isn’t as upgraded as he can be at that point, you can always go and earn some XP or new skills before trying again.
New skills unlock as you play through the story missions, but there’s so many, and they come so fast that Prototype seems to be giving them away like candy. There’s two ways you get abilities. You either spend XP in the upgrade menu (and you get XP for lots of things like collectibles, side missions, escaping strike teams, and more) and these are normally new attacks or movement abilities, or you gain them by absorbing someone with a skill you want, like say the ability to drive a tank, fly a helicopter or pose as a military commander and call in an air strike.
To enter into the various military bases (where the people with such skills generally hang out) you’re usually going to want to disguise yourself as the appropriate military official to get inside. Then you can either try to stealthily absorb the people with the skills you want, or of course, you can just murder every last son of a bitch in your way.
Prototype can be difficult. For all of Alex’s powers even he will start to find difficulty in taking on an entire army, but it’s a pretty fair reaction to the kind of absolute death you can cause. Whether you’ll hit a brick wall is kind of hard to know. It’ll depend on how long you’ve spent leveling up Alex. It’ll depend on whether or not you’ve found a good approach to a given mission.
The open-endedness of the game means that some people, through no real fault of their own, will hit difficulty spikes, but for me the freedom is worth the risk.
After all this relatively glowing praise this isn’t the only issue the game has. The city is pretty bland and only contains a handful of the more famous New York landmarks. You’ll be using your map to figure out where you are as much as you can rely on landmarks, which is a shame.
It’s not all bad news graphically. Alex’s animations either while as himself or in disguise are all top grade stuff. Everything he does looks phenomenally badass. Some of the moves he can pull off aren’t nearly as useful as others, but it doesn’t really matter because they all look so cool and fluid.
Even little touches like the tumbles and flips he’ll do in the air when you adjust yourself on a jump make up for some of the short comings in the city and of some of the pedestrian models.
The transformations and gore have obviously also had a lot of attention, and I know Dread Central readers will be happy to hear that. Alex can turn his arms and fists into blades and bludgeons and whips. All do what you would expect, whether it is shattering or slices, with a healthy amount of well animated blood and gore.
One of my favorite things is that when consuming someone you can start moving again before the process is finished, dragging their body with you and it is slowly drawn in, it reacting as you jump city blocks, run up the side of buildings with destroyed tanks, and glide through the air.
I saw someone describe Prototype as Be a Dick: The Game and in many ways it’s an apt label. Alex Mercer is a dick. He’s got great power and as far as he’s concerned, responsibility only to himself. He’s a psychopath with hundreds of ways to kill people and little threat of anyone stopping him or holding him accountable for his actions.
Just walking down the street he’ll automatically slap and punch at people strolling by you minding their own business. The carnage is so satisfying, so fun, so large scale, that unless you have any moral hang-ups you’ll find yourself being as creatively evil as possible. If you’re questioning just why exactly Alex Mercer would pose as an old lady and then grab another person by the throat and them hurl them into the wall so hard that their head explodes, or why he’d grab a van as a battering ram and charge through the crowds sending them tumbling over in his wake like bowling pins, if you’re asking those questions, maybe Prototype isn’t for you.
It may be an uneven experience at times. The sound may be forgettable (see, I almost forgot to even mention it). The missions may at times be taxing. Ultimately though, Prototype allows you to tear through New York like the Anti-Christ bringing death to everything that stands in your way, or that hey, it just might be really funny to kill.
Prototype’s flaws are real, but you won’t care once you leap off a skyscraper and flying kick a helicopter hundreds of stories in air just because you can.
4 1/2 out of 5
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Desolation Review: Campers + Lunatic = Simplicity, But Not Always a Better Product
Starring Jaimi Page, Alyshia Ochse, Toby Nichols
Directed by Sam Patton
I’m usually all in when it comes to a psycho in the woods flick, but there was just something about Sam Patton’s Desolation that seemed a bit distant for me…distance…desolation – I’m sure there’s a connection in there somewhere. Either that or I’m suffering from a minor case of sleep-deprivation. Either way, make sure you’ve got your backpack stuffed, cause we’re hitting the timber-lands for this one.
The film focuses on mother and son tandem Abby and Sam, and the tragic notion that Abby’s love and father to her son, has passed away. The absence has been a crippling one, and Abby’s idea of closure is to take her adolescent offspring to the woods where her husband used to love to run and scatter his ashes as a memorial tribute. Abby invites her best friend Jenn along as emotional support, and together all three are planning on making this trip a fitting and dedicatory experience…until the mystery man shows up. Looking like a member of the Ted Kaczynski clan (The Unabomber himself), this creepy fellow seems content to simply watch the threesome, and when he ultimately decides to close the distance, it’ll be a jaunt in the forest that this close-knit group will never forget.
So there you have it – doesn’t beg a long, descriptive, bled-out dissertation – Patton tosses all of his cards on the table in plain view for the audience to scan at their leisure. While the tension is palpable at times, it’s the equivalent of watching someone stumble towards the edge of a cliff, and NEVER tumble over…for a long time – you literally watch them do the drunken two-step near the lip for what seems like an eternity. What I’m getting at is that the movie has the bells and whistles to give white-knucklers something to get amped about, yet it never all seems to come into complete focus, or allow itself to spread out in such a way that you can feel satisfied after the credits roll. If I may harp on the performance-aspect for a few, it basically broke down this way for me: both Abby and Jenn’s characters were well-displayed, making you feel as if you really were watching long-time besties at play. Sam’s character was a bit tough to swallow, as he was the sadder-than-sad kid due to his father’s absence, but JEEZ this kid was a friggin malcontented little jerk – all I can say is “role well-played, young man.”
As we get to our leading transient, kook, outsider – whatever you want to call him: he simply shaved down into a hum-drum personality – no sizzle here, folks. Truly a disappointment for someone who was hoping for an enigmatic nutbag to terrorize our not-so-merry band of backpackers – oh well, Santa isn’t always listening, I guess. Simplicity has its place and time when displaying the picture-perfect lunatic, and before everyone gets a wild hair across their ass because of what I’m saying, all this is was the wish to have THIS PARTICULAR psycho be a bit more colorful – I can still appreciate face-biters like Hannibal Lecter and those of the restrained lunacy set. Overall, Desolation is one of those films that had all the pieces meticulously set in place, like a house of cards…until that drunk friend stumbled into the table, sending everything crumbling down. A one-timer if you can’t find anything else readily available to watch.
Looking for a little direction way out in the woods? Look elsewhere, because this guide doesn’t have a whole lot to offer.
Children of the Fall Review – This Israeli Slasher Gets Political
Starring Noa Maiman, Aki Avni, Yafit Shalev, Iftach Ophir, Michael Ironside
Directed by Eitan Gafny
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
Slashers are a subgenre of horror that are often looked down upon. After all, what can a movie about a killer slaughtering multiple people have to say about, well…anything. Those of us in the community know full well that this is nonsense and that any kind of horror movie can be a jabbing (no pun intended) commentary on society, culture, politics, art, etc… And that’s precisely what Eitan Gafny aims to do with Children of the Fall, one of the few Israeli slashers ever created.
Set on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, the film follows Rachel (Maiman), a young American woman who comes to Israel to join a kibbutz after suffering some serious personal tragedies. Her goal to make aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) is however hampered by some rather unpleasant encounters with local IDF soldiers and members of the kibbutz. Pushing through, she makes friends with others in the commune and her Zionistic views are only strengthened, although they do not go untested. Once Yom Kippur, one of the holiest holidays in Jewish culture, begins, a killer begins picking off the kibbutz workers one by one in violent and gruesome ways.
Let’s start with what Children of the Fall gets right, okay? As slashers go, it’s actually quite beautiful. There are wonderfully expansive shots that make use of the size and diversity of the kibbutz. The film opens with a beautiful shot of a cow stable, barn, water towers, and miscellaneous outbuildings, all set against a dark and stormy night. The lighting of this scene, and throughout the film, is also very good. I found myself darting my eyes across the screen multiple times throughout the film thinking I’d seen something lurking in the shadows.
The kills, while unoriginal, are very satisfying. Each death is meaty, bloody, and doesn’t feel rushed. In fact, the camera has no problems lingering during each kill, allowing us to appreciate the practical FX and copious amounts of blood used. And if you believe that a slasher needs to have nudity, you won’t be disappointed.
The acting is middle of the road. Maiman is serviceable as Rachel but the real star of the film is Aki Avni as “Yaron”. His range of emotion is fantastic, from warm and welcoming to Rachel when she arrives to emoting grief and pain during his Yom Kippur announcement where we learn that he was a child in a concentration camp. The rest of the cast are perfectly acceptable as fodder for the killer.
So where does Children of the Fall stray? Let’s start with the most obvious part: the runtime. Clocking in at nearly two hours, that’s about 30 minutes too much. The film could easily have gone through some hefty editing without affecting the final product. Instead, we have a movie that feels elongated when unnecessary.
Additionally, the societal and political commentary is very in-your-face but the film can’t seem to make up its mind as to what it’s trying to get across. Natalia, a Belarussian kibbutz worker, raises the concept of Israeli racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, her hostility unabashedly pouring out in the midst of IDF soldiers, locals, other kibbutz members, and more. Is there validity to what she’s saying? Undoubtedly. But there is also validity to Rachel’s retorts, which include calling this woman out on her own vitriolic views. This back-and-forth mentality frustratingly prevails throughout the film, as though Gafny was unwilling to just commit.
The dialogue is also quite painful at times, although I attribute this to difficulties with translating from Hebrew to English. Even the best English speakers in Israel don’t get everything perfect and the little quirks here and there, while charming, are quite detracting. Also, why is this movie trying to tell me that Robert Smith of The Cure is a character here? While amusing, it makes absolutely no sense nor does it fit in Smith’s own timeline.
Had this film gone through a couple rounds of editing, I feel like we’d have gotten something really great. Eitan Gafny is definitely someone that we need to be watching very closely.
While Children of the Fall has a lot going for it, it has just as much working against it. Overly long, you’ll get a really great slasher that is bogged down by uneven social and political commentary.
Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama
Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein
Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.
The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.
Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.
The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.
While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.
All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.
Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.
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