HIGH The main character is one of the most powerful gaming has ever seen.
LOW Getting mega-spammed and juggled to death by enemy attacks.
WTF did anyone bother to quality-check the story before the game shipped?
The second of two high-profile third-person "superhero" games hitting consoles at nearly the same time, Prototype from Radical Entertainment seems to have much in common with Sucker Punch's inFamous. However, after finishing both, it's clear to see that the focus of each game was different enough to give them unique identities despite appearing so similar at first glance. On the menu from Radical? Chaotic destruction and insane powers—double helpings of both.
Prototype starts with main character Alex Mercer waking up with amnesia on a morgue slab. In moments, the player is set loose in the city to wreak havoc in one of the most action-packed openings I've seen in quite some time. Tanks explode, tentacles reach out in every direction, and mayhem of all sorts hits fast and furious. Giving just a taste of things to come, the intensity scales back and the game properly begins with Alex in a stripped-down, yet still-potent state. At this point, it's up to the player to decide what to do.
Following the classic open-world formula to a "T," the basic structure of Prototype is exactly what you'd expect—the play area is a large city Alex is free to traverse at will, its streets and buildings sprinkled with icons that represent different types of activities selected at will. There's nothing stopping the player from going straight through the critical story missions and ignoring all else, but Alex Mercer is such an interesting character to play that it's almost impossible to not dabble in the optional events just to see what he can do.
Rather than being the usual GTA-style crook on the lam, Alex is infected with a virus that gives him phenomenal powers, impressive even when compared to other characters of note in the video game sphere. As fast as lightning, he can plow through traffic and flow over obstacles effortlessly, literally run up vertical faces of buildings, leap unbelievable distances, and glide through the air with such efficiency that it's essentially a half-step below true flight—and that's just him getting around.
Offensively, Alex has so many options it's almost ludicrous. With a few taps on the D-pad, he can go from innocuous hooded emo-teen to a fully-armored bioweapon with wicked claws. Not into claws? Morph over to his whip-hand and cleave entire crowds of people into bloody chunks with one swipe. Bored with that? Double the muscle mass in your arms and start pitching wreckage into circling attack choppers. If you can imagine it, it's probably here, including over-the-top things like jump-kicking an enemy from across the street and then kicking that enemy into another, or using passersby as gruesome surfboards. The list of powers goes on and on, and most of the abilities can be upgraded several times to increase their already-fearsome effectiveness. It's hard to imagine a character more deadly than Alex Mercer.
However, I think my favorite activity in Prototype took advantage of Alex's defensive shape-shifting talent. By consuming (as in, eating) another character, Alex can take on their likeness and pass unnoticed through crowds. Disguising myself as a military officer and infiltrating one of the many bases scattered throughout the city, it was a rush to stand concealed in the midst of a platoon of enemies, suddenly disembowel whomever happened to be standing next to me, and have the entire scene explode into violence. There is nothing quite like it.
Although taking on Alex's role means stepping into some obscenely powerful, obscenely enjoyable shoes, Prototype as a whole has quite a lot working against it. In most respects the game feels rooted in the last generation, and doesn't have much to offer in the way of polish or current niceties, conceptually or otherwise. For example, the graphics look quite dated and the city Alex tears up fails to impress with its generic appearance and forgettable geography. Animations don't blend together well, citizens on the street look rather simple, and it's almost comical when buildings crumble into pre-rendered damage states. It's really not hard to imagine this game running on the Xbox or PS2, at least visually.
More significant than its visuals, the story is a complete wash and fails on nearly every level. It may be incredibly engaging to play as Alex Mercer, but thanks to a near-total lack of characterization and a bad habit of failing to properly set the stage, I felt nothing for Alex the character and his struggle to regain his memories. Worse, the plot's final scenes which should build drama and energy for the final conflict descend into nearly indecipherable gibberish. Seriously, who wrote this? Although I give credit for a unique mechanic where Alex pieces together bits of his tale by stalking and devouring different individuals throughout the city, the fact remains that I felt virtually no motivation to unravel the game's central mystery, which is hardly a mystery at all.
However, the biggest problem with Prototype doesn't really emerge until past the halfway point. After getting comfortable with and enjoying what Alex can do, the developers ramp up the frequency at which the player is detected by roving strike teams, causing unwanted interference and annoying battles that constantly disrupt play. The actual missions themselves also suffer from a sloppy, haphazard feeling due to so many enemies being tossed into the mix that at times it's nearly impossible to figure out what's going on. Instead of employing his various powers with precision and deliberate intent, too often the game crumbles into an uncontrollable juggle state of random explosions and attacks from all sides.
Although Prototype sports several great ideas and a main character that wows, imagination, inspiration, and a strong guiding hand were lacking in every other aspect of the game. Delivering a slightly better-than-mediocre experience overall, it's truly unfortunate that the final product wasn't as realized and intriguing as the powers of the virus-fueled juggernaut that stars in it.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood and gore, intense violence, and strong language. And you know, the ESRB really wasn't kidding this time. The game's violence is quite graphic, frequently displaying things like entire crowds of people being shredded into dripping parts, or enemies exploding into chunks. It's certainly not one for the weak of stomach, and absolutely not one for the kids. There are more than a few examples of salty language, but the real thing to be aware of here is the level of bloodshed.
Deaf & hard of hearing: You shouldn't have any problems. Subtitles are available for all dialogue in the game, and when the action starts getting crazy on screen, no amount of hearing will help. However, one unusual omission was that there are no subtitles for the voiceovers that play during the credits. It's basically the voices of people from the aftermath in the city and not vital to enjoying the game itself, but an unusual omission nonetheless.