Playstation 3, Xbox 360
Activision, Radical Entertainment
June 9th, 2009
My name is Alex Mercer. I’m the reason for all of this. They call me a killer, a monster, a terrorist. I’m all of these things.
Prototype begins with these words from its protagonist, and becomes the underlying theme of the game. An open-world action title from Vancouver-based Radical Entertainment, Prototype is a superhero game, where being a hero isn’t necessarily the focus. It provides an open Manhattan Island, unique and varied powers, and several ways to cut a man in half. Nearly every aspect of Prototype is awesome.
Waking up in a morgue with no recollection of who he is or where he’s from, the only thing he knows is that he has the ability to jump 50 feet in the air, and can kill a man with his arm, which is actually a blade, Alex Mercer makes a promise to himself that’s he will kill every single last person responsible for whatever happened to him.
Prototype’s narrative is very intriguing, as it explores Alex’s past, what the virus has to do with all of this, and how the military fits into the equation. The biggest reason the story in Prototype is so great, is because of Mercer himself. He is a fantastic main character. Whether you look at his overall design, his excellent voiceover, and his motives to keep going forward with his goal of vengeance, he is the reason that you’ll care about what’s going on with the story in Prototype.
Cutscenes play out in both CGI and in-game cinemas, and get the job done that way, but the real star of the storytelling are the Web of Intrigue targets. There are 131 people across Manhattan that have something to do with the virus or Mercer. If you consume these people, a flashback of sorts plays through the mind of Mercer, exposing some information on an event. Individually, these don’t make much sense, but once you gather more info on the universe that Radical has created, then it really becomes more interesting in that sense, and it’s like nothing really seen in a game before.
You may have noticed that I said “consume these people”. That was not a typo, and in fact, that’s not the only thing that Alex’s powers brings to the table. When you consume a person after you’ve killed them, you gain health through this, as well as the ability to take on their form entirely. This can be used for infiltrating military bases, or hiding from strike teams. It’s something that you will come to rely on.
Alex is one hell of a badass. He’s got five main offensive powers: the Whipfist which is great for attacking enemies from longer distances, Musclemass which allowed him to pickup and throw almost anything in the game very far away, Claws which are great for tearing up bigger enemies, Hammerfists which are useful for smashing things up, and my personal favorite, the Blade which is absolutely perfect for killing just about anything.
Through most of the game, you can just use your favorite to get through most missions, but there are a few scenarios where you’ll definitely want to use a certain power. For example, the Whipfist is the only way you’ll ever latch onto helicopters, and Musclemass is the only way you’ll be able to deal damage from hundreds of metres away. The game balances itself out enough that you’ll definitely be switching between powers from time to time. If not, you’ll have fun experimenting with each one just for the hell of it.
What’s even better about Mercer’s powers, is his speed. The first time you ever run straight up the tallest structure in all of Manhattan in a matter of seconds, it’s really something that is rare to experience in games. Gliding across rooftops, running along buildings, is all easy to do, and is essential in outrunning pursuing enemies. It’s a serious rush to simply run across the city.
As a result of all this variety, combat has a very dynamic feel to it, allowing you to handle most of the missions however you want. If you’re just looking to button mash your way to glory, or you want to fly in, attack, and fly out, you can. The variety of powers at your disposal literally begs to be experimented with, and this really keeps the game from feeling repetitious. Without spoling anything, the game does switch the way the game is played forcefully on some occasions, which also does help in that regard
You’ve also got the ability to pilot tanks and helicopters in Prototype, and these are both excellent ways to wreak havoc on Manhattan. The tank controls like you’d expect, but the helicopter is a complete dream to pilot. This is the best controlling helicopter I’ve ever controlled in a game, which is surprising. What’s best about taking a helicopter is how Alex gets into one. He throws the pilot to his death, then climbs into the back and snaps the neck of the gunner. It’s the same animation everytime, but it puts a smile on my face as well.
A few gripes of mine are to be had with the combat in Prototype. Yes, you have a lot of ways to kill things, but sometimes the controls can slip away from you. There are just so many moves to pull off, such as a bulletdive drop from 100 feet in the air, to slicing something down the middle, and this requires some odd button combinations. With a few moves, you’re going to have to move your hand on the controller to spots you’re not used to, but in time, it will become second nature to you. Another issue I had with combat is its difficulty spike. There were a few fights with some of the larger enemies in the game that I felt like snapping the controller in half. These difficulty spikes make the game feel a little bit uneven in places, but it never truly wrecks the great pacing of the game.
The story features 31 missions, with objectives ranging from simply killing everybody, to reaching places in certain time limits, to protecting a target. It all feels really cookie-cutter in design, even if the fun never becomes less than it could possibly be. It’d be nice to have some variety in mission types, perhaps some more chase sequences, but what’s here isn’t boring, it’s just not very new.
If you just rush through the story, Prototype will take at least 10 hours, which is well above the status quo for games this generation. However, if you take the time to see the depth of Manhattan, kill some people that don’t deserve to die, that could very well stretch over 15 hours on your first playthrough.
Aside from the story missions, there are Web of Intrigue targets around the city, there are 200 glowing orbs to collect, and there are side missions to partake in. These are basically all skill testers, such as gliding onto a target from high heights, killing a number of enemies within a time limit, rooftop parkour time trials. There’s a lot to do, and most of it is actually really fun. On top of that, you’re rewarded EP everytime you obtain a medal on an event.
EP is something that is absolutely necessary to upgrade Alex’s powers. You get EP for completing events and missions, or just flat out killing. The upgrades tree is really in-depth. There are a ton of upgrades for everything from your 5 offensive powers, to upgrading your shield and armor powers, how high you jump, and how fast you run. In one playthrough, it’s impossible to max out everything, so doing events and just playing with the city are important factors in success. On full health, or on low health, Alex can gain the ability of a devastator attack, which almost kills anything within 25 feet of him. That’s only attainable through upgrades. If you take the 10+ hours it takes to complete the story, and you add on a second playthrough as well as simply messing around with the city, this is a game that can really be played endlessly, especially with a few of the achievements Radical implemented.
The way that the disease is handled in Prototype’s presentation is nothing short of stunning. A series of red and green tints the sky of infected portions of Manhattan, hundreds of taxis and military vehicles pile up on the streets, and literally thousands of infected zombie-like citizens run along brainlessly. It’s the perfect place to test out that blade of yours. The rest of the city is no slouch, either, with less pop-in than you’d expect. The framerate remains solid throughout all the chaos, and you’ll definitely recognize more than a few New York landmarks. The detail isn’t too bad either, and all of the effects from the virus and Alex’s powers are great looking as well. Prototype is a very good looking game, and it’s even more viscerally awesome when you slice about a dozen people in half with one attack. From higher up,the city can become to look a little bit bland, and it never really changes from start to finish, so that can be considered a small thing to nitpick at.
The sound design is even better than the graphics in Prototype, in particular the voice acting which is completely solid in every regard. The soundtrack isn’t too bad either, but many of the songs sound like different versions of the main theme, which does tend to get repetitive after awhile. The city in chaos is done greatly as well.
Prototype can be a little tough, a little repetitious, and it can feel a little complex, but if you just stick with it and let it consume you, you’ll find yourself to have made a pretty smart investment. It’s rare that I recommend a game to everybody. I’ve reviewed better games and recommended them to shooter fans only or sports fans only, but with Prototype, I’m certain that anybody who gives it a chance will come away with a big smile on their face, and a little blood on their hands.
8.7 out of 10