|System: X360, PS3, PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Radical Entertainment||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Activision||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: June 9, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jonathan Marx
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.