Prototype (Video Game)
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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