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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Prototype (7.4/10)

Here’s a link to the freakishly cool Prototype trailer

Well? Good, eh? I though this looked amazing, and was looking forward to playing the game… but sadly, the trailer was as good as it gets. Prototype isn’t a bad game per se, but with such a cool premise it really could, and probably should, have been so much better.

Set in New York City where a mutagenic virus is slowly transforming it and it’s populous into pseudo-monsters (while oddly, not a block away, the good citizens of the Big Apple go about their daily lives… I’ve heard New Yorkers are oblivious to their surroundings but this is ridiculous!), Prototype tells the tale of Alex Mercer.

The story begins, as these stories often do, with a flashback from the above trailer to when Mercer wasn’t such an invincible bad ass. Waking without a memory is enough to ruin anybody’s day, but waking up in the morgue is even worse, especially when the army guys who were guarding your corpse start trying to re-riddle you with more bullets. But rather than winding up right back in the morgue as one might expect, Mercer realizes he has the ability to change his form at will and is now virtually indestructible.

So off goes Alex to uncover the truth about what has happened to him and hunting down those responsible. As New York City self-destructs around him and martial law is invoked, Mercer must deal with not only a hostile military force, but the horrors that the virus has left in its wake.

The story is one of my biggest disappointments simply because while it’s perfectly passable, with such a cool underlying premise it should have been so much better. On the whole it’s a poorly told tale that's poorly acted. Part of the problem with sandbox titles like Prototype is that you tend to lose the thread of the plot while you’re off mucking about, playing side quests and mini-games or generally just wreaking havoc. As a result an already thin plot becomes even more disjointed.

But let’s not mince words here, the primary attraction of this game is you are given control of a virtually indestructible super-human with amazing bio-morphing abilities and utterly no compunction about using them in a bustling metropolis… so let’s talk about those powers!

Mercer reminds me a bit of the T-1000 from Terminator 2: Judgment Day. He can shape-shift his body into different sorts of bladed or bludgeoning objects. His arm can become a massive blade-like sword or he can transform his fists into giant mitts that are slow but powerful enough to club tanks. There is even a wicked set of claws for quick attacks. I should also mention that you can use the weapons dropped by the army during your rampages and use said arsenal against them... but with so many cool powers why bother?

My personal favorite was the 'Whipfist' which is sort of his ranged-attack weapon. A long tendril will shoot from his arm with a spike on the end, sniping targets from distance... but he can also swing it around or even vertically to slice and dice anyone in his path. What's more, with the 'Whipfist' Mercer can hijack helicopters in mid air by pulling himself up to them almost like a grappling hook. I loved it when the chopper I was currently flying was on fire and going down and Mercer jumps out only to hijack the next one without ever touching the ground.

Mercer's new powers not only allow him to change his form at will, but also give him super-human strength and speed. He can leap tall buildings in a single bound... okay, not quite, but close. When sprinting he'll automatically vault cars or toss them clear out of the way. He can even sprint up the sides of buildings... and jumping off said buildings from a good height and hurtling down into a crowded street is a good laugh, although not for the people on the ground.

The controls can be a bit a of a pain and are fairly complex (other than mashing the attack button, which will only get you so far), there is a pretty high learning curve here. But even with practice they don't work particularly well. The camera can be a burden at times as well, especially in the crowded streets. But if you can look past these annoyances, controlled chaos has rarely been as amusingly brutal.

Now, I feel the need to impress upon you, gentle reader, just how over-the-top violent Prototype is... it's almost gleefully graphic. Using your powers result in incredible carnage: slamming down your 'Whipfist' will slice a foe (or bystander) right down the middle, the two halves falling apart. Your blade is adept at separating a person's top half from the bottom and using your claws leaves a pile of body parts on the floor. The giant 'Hammerfists' leave little more than a bloody puddle.

One of the more clever and useful of Mercer’s powers is his ability to absorb or consume, well, pretty much anyone he wants. By doing this he’ll not only take their form (you can absorb an enemy commander so you’ll gain access to a military base for example) but also their memories (absorb a pilot to learn how to fly a helicopter). You can also absorb innocent civilians if you’ve had a rough run in with the army and need a quick disguise or some health. But oddly, no one seems to notice when Granny Doris starts running up the side of a building or leaping over cars. I guess in New York that’s considered par for the course...

While the story may have left me wanting more, I was partially placated by the 'Web of Intrigue.' Basically, a great deal of the plot is told through flashes of memory of Mercer’s victims as he consumes them. Part of this is revealed while playing out the story, but other people who hold pieces of the puzzle locked away in their juicy brains will appear randomly throughout the city.

When Mercer absorbs these poor sods he soon learns of a larger conspiracy. What was a bare bones story gets fleshed out well in this regard, but there a couple of problems with it. First of all, there are a TON of random people you must consume. You don't always find them in order though, it's more of a jigsaw puzzle approach to telling the story which can be confusing.

My biggest complaint about this is that the randomly generated NPC's you need to consume spawn at the most inopportune times. You'll see the tell-tale orange profile icon pop up on the mini-map only to have it blink away seconds later because the poor sap gets run over by a tank or something. It's even more frustrating when you're bearing down on your victim, the chaos of battle all around you, and right before you reach him one of the army men shoots the bastard. I can't tell you the number of times I nearly hurled the controller across the room in frustration.... the only satisfaction I got was hurling the corpse of my prey at the offending jackass instead.

Aside from checking in with the story occasionally and generally running rampant around town, there are a number of optional tasks and challenges you can attempt at your leisure for XP. Each challenge has different medals you can achieve: gold, silver, and bronze. Everything from taking out ‘X’ number of bad guys with a particular mutation to check point racing mini-game as you try and beat the clock. There is even a cool free fall mini-game where the goal is to glide from a distance onto the bulls-eye. These are fun diversions, but some of them are almost impossibly difficult to get the 'gold' medal. Rather than giving specific examples I'll just say this... Prototype is the only game where I've actually broken a controller in frustration... with my bare hands.

I've already mentioned that I thought the voice acting was pretty poor, and the soundtrack doesn't do much either. Graphically Prototype is decent, although draw distances are an issue, especially from height. There are also some lag issues during major fights, but considering how crowded the streets of New York are in the first place, adding mutated monsters and veritable platoons of army guys amidst the throngs of terrified tourists, makes that understandable.

Despite some pretty glaring flaws, I actually quite enjoyed Prototype. I had a lot of fun absorbing little old ladies then sprinting up the side of a skyscraper in a print floral dress... but got more and more bothered that no one seemed to care. I know New Yorkers have taken minding their own business to a whole new level but I just felt it was a bit off, and that, in a nutshell, is the problem with Prototype. Every time you feel like you are losing yourself in the game something happens that pulls you back. It feels shoddy. If a little more time and effort had gone into this game it could have been so much better, especially considering the promising premise. Factor in Mercer’s crazy abilities and it’s senseless violence at it’s finest, especially if you lean more towards the sadistic side;^) As it is though it's merely a fun and sometimes frustrating distraction that leaves us wondering what could have been...


Score = 7.4 / 10


  1. Ahh, I remember when you broke that controller. That was pretty funny. Been thinking about picking this up on the cheap since it was fun at times and I only played about half of it myself. Freaking red headed stepchilds....


  2. This actually sounds like an interesting game.... The trailer really made me want to hop online and get it but I am still hesitant... Judging from your Singularity first impression, I might check that game out first. Great review as always!