Despite all the great next-gen games I’ve played over the last few years, Prototype sticks out as one of the very best. This is largely due to the butter-smooth controls and the game’s enormously powerful protagonist; playing as Alex Mercer is the gaming experience mature players have always wanted. Truly, this is one of the most enjoyable titles I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing. Now, the game isn’t exactly perfect; a few areas could have been improved. However, the amount of fun and challenge players will find from beginning to end is not remotely tainted by these ever-so-minor hiccups. In fact, I challenge anyone to play this game for more than 15 minutes and not fall in love.
Prototype follows 18 days in the tainted life of Alex Mercer, a former GenTek employee turned into a weaponized guinea pig. Alex Mercer is the host for a deadly genetic virus that has given him superhuman powers. He can manipulate his body at a cellular level to not only jump higher or run faster – he can sprint up the sides of skyscrapers, skewer foes with his groundspikes, emit devastating death tendrils from his back, morph into the form of his victims and obtain their memories by consuming them, rip attack helicopters from the sky with his whipfists, and literally explode anyone that stands in his way with his supped-up body mass to name just a few of the powers he wields.
All of these abilities are honed and intensified via an easy-to-use leveling mechanic. As players complete missions and side objectives, new powers and skills become available for purchase. Players can then unlock these enhanced genetic traits by spending the Evolution Points (EP) they acquired from destroying infected and military targets, completing missions, and collecting various landmark and hint orbs strewn throughout the city.
Players can upgrade Mercer anyway they see fit as long as they have the requisite amount of EP and have progressed far enough to unlock the ability. I loved the leveling in this game, because you are constantly rewarded as you progress. There is always something new to discover and implement into your combat strategy. By the time you’ve unlocked the blades, maxed out the whipfist, and are able to transmute Alex into a walking shield, you’ll likely still have a handful of survival, weapons, and vehicle upgrades to unlock. Players can use a vast array of weapons, call in airstrikes, and pilot tanks and helicopters by consuming key military targets with the appropriate skills. Upgrading these slots is done by breaking into military bases and consuming even more of this knowledgeable fodder.
Best of all, players will get to use Mercer’s entire arsenal with prejudice in the deadly, quarantined playground that is New York City. As Alex Mercer, players will go about indiscriminately killing everything in their path. In fact, at the beginning of the game, Mercer lets you know that he is a murderer and a terrorist. If you have qualms with ruthlessly cutting down unwitting virtual civilians, this game might not be for you. Thankfully, players will focus their rage against continually more challenging military and infected targets. The introduction of these new foes typically represents some kind of pitched, boss-like battle. Eventually, you’ll be wading, slashing, and destroying your way across a mutant zombie-apocalypse warzone rather than the jewel of the eastern seaboard.
As the game progresses, players will begin to unravel more and more about exactly who, or what, Alex Mercer is. The protagonist eventually pieces together the puzzling conspiracy that explains his predicament and the rampaging viral outbreak besetting the city through an interesting story mechanic known as the Web of Intrigue (WoI). Because Mercer is able to consume victims by absorbing and incorporating them into his DNA, players will find special targets throughout the city from all walks of life (civilian, military, and infected) that can be ingested. Consuming these hapless souls not only gives you a chunk of life energy (like randoms do off the street), they also give you key bits of information that help to explain the story. I really enjoyed the Web of Intrigue mechanic, as it revealed extra bits of the story through additional gameplay. Moreover, the cryptic presentation of the clips, while engaging, aren’t particularly illuminating until you’ve acquired several of them, allowing players to postulate and ponder over the flow of the story exactly how Alex would. If you’re worried this might be confusing, don’t fret. The main story arc is neatly presented via the completion of the main mission objectives.
On that note, players will be presented with loads of main missions (demarcated by a yellow star), skill challenges (which test your various abilities via gymkhanas and gauntlets), and non-essential side missions (that help you rack up EP and accrue additional WoI targets) through an open-world interface. In order to accept a mission or challenge, players will have to journey to the appropriate point on the mini-map. This allows players to hop in between distinct gameplay modes seamlessly and on their terms. As players take on side missions, they will strive to obtain gold in all events (eventually unlocking platinum difficulty). While side missions are obviously nonessential, getting rewarded with a nice EP boost for completing the challenges is well worth it.
Additionally, unscripted objectives such as destroying virus hives, taking out military compounds, searching for the 200 landmark and 50 hint orbs (which exponentially increase in terms of EP reward), or just wreaking massive destruction throughout New York City is all facilitated by the free-roaming, open-world format. While powering through the main story on Normal difficulty will take a player about 8-12 hours to complete, there is likely another 50+ hours in side missions and just fooling around. That estimate doesn’t even take into account the additional 50+ hours it would take to get a Platinum Trophy or 1000 Achievement points.
Gameplay in Prototype is off the hook. I absolutely loved picking up taxis and hurling them at helicopters; carrying off helpless civilians at a full gallop like ragdolls only to consume them in a dark corner; sprinting up to the top of the Chrysler Building and perching on the lightning rod. Even more awesome was just how much ass I could kick and how empowering it all felt; skyjacking helicopters, mutilating infected hordes, draining the essence of mutant hunters, and lighting up military bases with RPGs is all done naturally. The only gameplay mechanic I found to be jenky was that of shapeshifting into “disguises.” I didn’t feel the stealth / sneaky side of the game was particularly well-realized. In fact, it likely could have been abandoned entirely without missing a beat.
Nevertheless, the trigger-based targeting system, simple button combos, and quick access to powers via the D-pad make this game a dream to control and play. The only control downside I found was while accessing the power and special vision radial menus – it felt a little clunky compared to the rest of the lightning-quick controls. That being said, I’m not sure what else the developers could have done because they even slowed down time whilst activating the menus. Truly, from the moment you fire up the game you’ll feel like you are the most dominant force on the planet!
The presentation in Prototype is also outstanding. Visually, the map used of Manhattan is massive and well-rendered. Ironically, it features a great draw distance when looking out at the horizon, but it does suffer from a good deal of pop-in vertically when falling to the street from a great distance. Also, as nicely depicted as the in-game map is, it suffers from poor transitioning from neighborhood to neighborhood. While Chinatown, the Financial District, Harlem, Greenwich Village, Chelsea, and the Upper East Side all look distinct, their close proximity due to limited game space makes the city look less real than it otherwise would, were it a fictional metropolis. Contrary to that point, those of you who have never spent time in The Big Apple (shame on you) will never be fazed by this gripe, and I truly enjoyed rampaging amongst storied landmarks rather than in a meaningless world.
Another visual misstep is that vehicle destruction animations are pretty crude; they blow up and crush in weird, unrealistic ways. Plus, subtle annoyances such as lots of clones were notable, though you can tell the developers tried to work on this. However, none of these issues ever hamper play.
Closing out on a strong note, I loved the way the NPCs reacted and attacked. Additionally, drivers will actively try to get out of your way; though they’re invariably too late to change their fate, I loved watching them swerve and throw it into reverse before getting crushed under the treads of my tank. Furthermore, the game is loaded with shiny textures, and despite all the explosions, action, flying bodies, rampaging enemies, and particle effects, the game almost never sputters.
The sounds in the game are very solid. People will scream in terror as you run through the streets, cars crush with a pleasant crumple, and the radio chatter of the military is engaging though repetitive. I also really enjoyed the voice acting; I felt it was believably portrayed, nicely capturing the in-game action, the polished cutscenes, and the jumbled memory clips.
All in all, Prototype is one of the best games to release this generation and is definitely the best game to drop in 2009 (so far). Outside of the lackluster stealth and disguising mechanic, the brutal combat, huge open-world, varied challenges, and utterly satisfying gameplay makes this a must-have title for any serious gamer’s collection. Get ready to put your life on hold!
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.5 Graphics
Several nitpicky items can’t keep this title’s visuals down. All players should love the look and the depiction of the destructive, explosive, and bloody action. 4.8 Control
Pulling off Mercer’s maneuvers is an absolute dream. Forcing you will upon the world is just a few button presses away. 4.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Despite the mild repetition of military radio chatter, the ambient sounds and voice acting are outstanding. 5.0 Play Value
You’ll be playing this game for years to come because it absolutely nails action combat. Skyjacking helicopters, bashing tanks like soda cans, and ripping your foes limb from limb is a gameplay experience that’ll never get old. 4.9 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.