Prototype is pure, uncompromising carnage. Every obstacle in your path is destined to be trampled, dismembered, or consumed. Each completed objective leaves utter decimation in your wake as the smoldering remains of military hardware amass with untold numbers of mutilated corpses. A sandbox power fantasy if there ever was one, Prototype has the makings of a stellar title, but a few key issues keep it from achieving perfection.
Prototype tells the story of Alex Mercer, who awakens in a Manhattan morgue with no idea who he is, or how he got there. Fortunately for Alex, information is easy to come by. He soon discovers a frightening set of supernatural powers have been bestowed upon him, including the ability to absorb other organisms into his own being – carrying with them their knowledge and memories. Alex then begins his quest to unravel the mystery of his existence, one victim at a time. Along the way, he uncovers the connections between himself, an increasingly zealous military opposition, and a lethal virus that is mutating citizens into violent monstrosities known simply as the “infected”.
The story is told through a mixture of in-game and pre-rendered cut-scenes, while splices of information absorbed through your victims fill the gaps via the “Web of Intrigue” – a collection based system that allows you to hunt and consume individuals with knowledge relevant to the story. Each consumed victim rewards you with a stylized snippet of storyline and an additional target for consumption. Though it is presented with a degree of ingenuity, Prototype’s story is not its strong point. Some cut-scenes come across as awkward, and the plot which they seek to convey does little to draw the player in, or evoke an emotional response.
However, Prototype isn’t a game about emotions – but rather one of brutality, violence, and raw unmerciful power. Most missions result in millions of dollars in property damage and casualties numbering in the thousands (Both of which are tallied at the end of each rampage). Gamers familiar with Radical Entertainment’s previous open world title Hulk: Ultimate Destruction will feel right at home with the mechanics as they blaze a trail of ruin down densely populated city streets – and then straight up the faces of skyscrapers. Prototype adds to this formula by providing Alex with a wide assortment of shape shifting abilities.
Alex can transform his limbs into a lethal array of melee weapons, each of which is capable of unique combos and special abilities that make them useful in a variety of situations. He also gains access to various defensive, vision, and disguise powers that further vary the players options. As the game progresses, upgrades to these abilities can purchased with Evolve Points (EP), which are generously awarded for defeating enemies or completing missions, events, and other objectives. The EP system ensures that the player is always just one or two missions away from another unlock, and will keep you playing just to see all that Mercer is capable of – which is quite a lot.
The main storyline consists of thirty-one missions and can be completed in roughly ten to fifteen hours. In addition, Prototype sports a vast number of challenges called “events” that range from waypoint races to killing sprees, and reward the player based on their performance with a bronze, silver, or gold medal along with EP. Outside of structured play, the city is an ever-changing playground begging the player to participate. Military bases and infected hives constantly spring up and populate their vicinity with enemies. Dozens of Web of Intrigue targets roam the streets, waiting to be consumed. There’s always something to do – Prototype is the kind of game a player picks up months after they’ve beaten it, just to play around – and that’s what a sandbox title is all about.
The combat is as chaotic as it is plentiful – regularly throwing dozens of enemies at the player ranging from the infantry, tanks, and helicopters of the military to the zombie-like monsters of the infected. There is no visible loss in framerate during these encounters – but the volume of enemies can sometimes be difficult to manage. Though the targeting system attempts to prioritize enemies based on their threat, it’s not uncommon for it to select a feeble rifleman over a gunship, which can result in some cheap hits that force the player to retreat and regain health – fully evaporating the sense of power the game seeks to provide.
Visually, Prototype occupies a wide spectrum. Alex is a well detailed character, and all of his animations are fluid and convincing. Enemies, pedestrians and vehicles are bland and recycled, but the sheer number of them on screen helps to account for their deficiencies. On the other end of that spectrum lie some significant issues. The architecture of the city does little to impress, and is composed of featureless geometry and repeated window textures. This is accentuated at higher altitudes, where a dense vision-obscuring fog further reduces Prototype’s graphical luster. Worst of all are the explosion effects for vehicles and buildings, which are some of the worst you’ll see this generation.
Despite its flaws, Prototype accomplishes what it set out to do. Its frenetic gameplay and overwhelming number of abilities result in more “Oh hell yes!” moments than you’ll find anywhere else, and its limitless replay value will keep it in the tray for months to come. Check this one out if you’re a fan of sandbox titles like Crackdown, Grand Theft Auto, and Infamous. You won’t be disappointed.
Reviewer’s note: The Xbox 360 version was tested for this review.
Alex’s attack and movement animations are top notch, but the rest of the city leaves much to be desired. There is an inverse correlation between altitude and visual quality, and vehicle/building explosion effects are very poor.
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Prototype provides the player with an unrivaled sense of power, and a bevy of uniqe and satisfying abilities. Combat is entertaining and chaotic, though at times the amount of enemies can be overwhelming.
The musical score sets the appropriate mood, and often does more to engage the player than the storyline. Constant chatter over military radios is entertaining and helps to draw the player in. Combat sound effects are passable, while cutscene dialog often feels awkward.
A true sandbox title, Prototype offers infinite replayability – even if its just to let off a little stream in its ever-changing playground of a city.
Prototype isn’t perfect – but it’s damn fun regardless.