[Prototype] Genre: Sandbox Action Rating: ESRB M for Mature Publisher:Radical Entertainment Format: Xbox 360, Playstation 3 & Windows Release Date: 9th June 2009 (US), 12 June 2009 (UK)
Why do most people play videogames? Is it to feed their competitive streak in hardcore multiplayer action a-la Call of Duty 4? Or is it the epic storytelling of titles like Bioshock? Maybe it’s the ultimate cinematic experience when a true gaming masterpiece is created such as Grand Theft Auto IV.
I’m guilty of all of the above in one form or another… however my favourite games are the ones like Radical Entertainment’s [Prototype] – I’m talking about pure unadulterated laugh-out-loud FUN. Assassin’s Creed is another prime example of a game that had it’s faults, but I loved it all the same because the freerunning and combat elements made me grin like an imbecile on crack.
Like Assassin’s Creed and Mirror’s Edge before it, Prototype has tapped the freerunning market again… but is adding so much more into the mix. It is a sandbox action title that dispenses with the pleasantries and provides you with the means to decimate an entire city & it’s inhabitants with your bare (albeit mutated) hands.
You play the part of Alex Mercer, an amnesia-stricken former employee of GENTEK who wakes up in the morgue finding that he has the ability to modify his genetic structure, enabling him to utilise mutated powers of attack, defense, and perception. He can also easily perform superhuman feats of strength, endurance, speed and agility. Mercer, now of course incredibly pissed-off with his newfound godlike powers, decides he’s going to find the person responsible and make them pay (very possibly in some kind of excruciatingly painful way).
Ok so I admit – the story isn’t exactly complicated, and the in-game cut scenes aren’t exactly cinematic works of art. The game won’t pick up any BAFTAs for it’s voice acting either, but it’s passable.
However the gameplay is where Prototype truly shines. The control system is reminiscent of Assassin’s Creed, which isn’t a bad thing, and although a lot of people have found some of the controls “clunky”, I’ve found all the controls & in-game menu systems to be rather intuitive.
Holding the right trigger makes you sprint and also enables “adaptive parcour”, so when Alex meets an obstacle, he will jump & vault over it in all manner of ways… or if that obstacle is slightly larger – a building for example – he’ll will run up the walls. This never gets old – and just like Assassin’s Creed & Spider-man 2 before it, this enables complete freedom when roaming the city of New York.
The A button is used for jumping, and also for gliding (when you have upgraded your abilities to acquire it). This is incredibly useful, and allows you to travel large distances relatively quickly. Combat is dealt with using the B, X, & Y buttons.
The B button controls your grab attacks – from here you can throw objects (cars, aircon units etc) and people, and consume people with a tap of the Y button once you’re holding someone. Consuming will replenish your health, and take on their form as a disguise. However if the victim is a “web of intrigue” character or a base commander, you’re privy to their memories too. This allows you to do a bit of detective work and get Alex that bit closer to maiming the person responsible for his affliction.
The X button is a standard attack, and combining other buttons unleashes particular special moves & combos.
The Y button is another attack option, but controls special abilities for your selected mutation. For example if you have the claws selected, Y will make Alex plunge his claws into the ground – these then track the targeted bad guy/innocent civilian and the claws become huge spikes that protrude from the floor skewering them (see below).
The in-game menu system is quite intuitive, allowing you to choose a “loadout” for your mission. The D-Pad activates the four main facets of the gameplay; Disguise, Attack, Defense & Sensory. These are just quick toggle buttons though – to select the various powers to assign to each category, you hold the left bumper and select from the displayed radial menu.
Does exactly what it says on the tin. Once you have “consumed” someone (and you can consume anyone), this toggle morphs you into that character, allowing you all the privileges and access to their memories. These memories are stored in the “web of intrigue”… a separate menu which you use to hunt down specific targets to unravel the mystery of Alex’s condition. You will see these targets marked by a little red icon during gameplay, and once you consume these targets you’re treated to a trippy cinematic containing the relevant memories.
As you progress you open up different attack forms – Claws, Hammerfists, a whip & a huge blade. Each attack method is just as useful as the next, as long as you keep up with the available upgrades – and these are rather plentiful.
Alex can increase his body’s defences to protect against damage or scare attackers away. Defences include sharp spines on his back, bulletproof plates and a forearm-mounted shield. His skin can even harden to armour strength, making him look like a Hunter-esque behemoth.
By adjusting his senses, Alex can perceive things in the environment that humans would normally be unaware of. He can see in infra-red and night vision as well as easily track individual enemies in a crowd
As far as presentation goes, the game is a bit of a mixed bag. The animations on Alex are great – watching him leap and bound over obstacles while leaping onto helicopters and dismembering military personnel is awesome. The disguise transformations are cool too, and the special area of effect abilities look sick.
Unfortunately it’s the New York surroundings that appear to have suffered – this is definitely no GTA IV. Buildings looks like they’ve been copy/pasted, there’s a bit of popup & the draw distance isn’t great – this makes it hard when you’re looking for the hidden landmark & hint orbs while gliding everywhere.
Yes the city is quite ugly unfortunately, but in all honesty you’re normally zipping by at such speed that you hardly notice. Add to that the regularity that you’re pursued by strike teams, you’ll hardly notice the boxy buildings.
The AI in the game is quite good, with the military calling in strike teams often once they realise they can’t handle you on their own. When disguised, you’re often found out if you’re too near one of the mutation sensors that are littered about – this can make some missions where you need to stealth consume a little frustrating. The infected AI is great too – as they can travel across the city almost as well as you, which makes a retreat that little bit more intense.
The music and sounds all fit the tone of the game well, along with the aforementioned ok voice acting, I didn’t have much to complain about in this area. Some of the military dialogue is quite atmospheric – when you’re discovered you’ll hear the radio chatter advising they’ve “made contact with the primary target”, and the strike team call starts – you can see the soldier calling in the strike as he’s marked with a red icon… and if you can get to him quick enough, you can stop the call going through.
However I’ve found it more entertaining to let the strike come – it’s incredibly satisfying taking out a helicopter with your bare hands, or throwing an aircon unit/car to take it out. Prototype is just like GTA IV in this sense – a great stress reliever. You don’t have to go straight to missions in game – you can just cause havoc with the military, or take out some infected nests.
The storyline is progressed through missions that are located throughout the city. All you have to do is go to the location, and hit Y to start the mission. There are more things to do than just missions though. Aside from generally causing carnage and slaughtering a lot of people, there are events littered around the city. These take the form of killing challenges, gliding challenges, parcour footrace challenges etc, and this keeps the replay value going thanks to a nice medal system based on your score or time.
After you get the gold medal on all the challenges, you unlock the platinum difficulty – and finally the “Radical” setting, making the events nigh impossible.
My only other complaint about the game is that it’s very short – you’ll get about 15 hours gameplay altogether, but if you want to unlock all the challenges, it’ll take you a while. Replay value is high in my opinion – the events keep you going for a long while, and the “pick up & play dismember everyone for half an hour” factor weighs heavily in my enjoyment.
Overall I really like Prototype – yes, the game has it’s faults, but they don’t substantially subtract from the overall fun experience, so I’d recommend picking this up if you’re a budding superhero/antihero with sadistic tendencies.