It’s an oddly satisfying feeling to simultaneously disembowel a crowd of people by thrusting gigantic spikes out of the ground beneath their feet. You’ll get equal pleasure from slicing people in two, ripping apart strangers for the good of your health and accusing others of being you only to watch them be shot to pieces. Radical’s Prototype is fun – really fun.
Similar to inFamous, Prototype sees you as an average Joe who has unwillingly been granted superpowers and is now left to prance around a large city suffering a virus outbreak, as you try to get to the bottom of what’s happened to you. Unfortunately the story is very poor with poor twists, poor cutscenes and poorly revealed secrets – it’s poor. Just know that despite his given ability being shape-shifting, which makes him probably one of the most powerful superheroes ever, he’s not happy. Why anyone would be unimpressed by the ability to turn their own arm into a blade the size of a post box is beyond me, but our protagonist, Alex Mercer, clearly is and so we are left to guide him on his quest for revenge to kill whoever is responsible – and kill you will.
With shape-shifting, you are given access to a wealth of powers which, over the course of the game, can be purchased and upgraded via an in game menu using ‘Evolution Points’ which are earned through completing missions and side quests. There are five weapon-styled powers and each has its own feel and advantages over certain enemies. It won’t take you long to work out which is your favourite and while you’re encouraged to use them together, it’s just not something that’s going to happen. The hints that appear during loading screens tell you to try out combos and combine powers but the game design simply doesn’t allow it. To switch powers, you need to press L1, select a power with the right analogue stick and then wait a couple of seconds as Alex morphs his arm into the correct pointy shape. It breaks the flow and let’s down what could have made some stunning battles. Not only this but the special attacks you are given access to can only be used after a prolonged charging of two of the face buttons which unfortunately is just not possible when you are fighting in the conditions you do.
To say that battles are chaotic would be an understatement. You will often have tanks, helicopters, soldiers, super-soldiers, infected, hairless-mutated-human-gorilla-beasts, leader hairless-mutated-human-gorilla-beasts and giant tentacles all attacking you at the same time, which is really the only way to balance against your insane abilities. However, despite having so much power, you can’t just go in all guns blazing and will often have to approach a mission with strategy and stealth. Whilst stealth might be an odd mechanic for an over the top action game, it actually works nicely. By walking behind anyone in the game you can consume them, gain health and the ability to take on their appearance. Consuming characters also gives you their memories and in doing so you build up the ‘Web of Intrigue’ which is a series of slick videos which reveal details about the story’s conspiracy. These are very cool, but unfortunately you don’t really care. With your new looks you can walk right into the heart of a military base without so much as drawing the turn of a head. Get out your claws though and you’ll suddenly find a lot of rocket propelled explosives heading in the direction of your face.
While chaotic and often hard to remain in control of, like I said, the battles are fun. Combat generally works and once you get bored of your abilities you can always pick up a dropped weapon or hijack the nearest tank or helicopter. Now moving on to bit you’ve been wondering about, as you’ll have no doubt already looked at the score and are wondering why it’s not any higher. Prototype deals all its cards very early and as a result, you’ll have gained all the powers and met all the enemies by about half way, with the rest of the game leaving you samey missions and unchanging battles. It’s incredibly repetitive and gets a little boring, which is only worsened by the boss fights. They are nothing to look forward to as Prototype hosts probably the worst boss fights I have ever experienced in my life.
Enough of what you can do in New York City, what about New York City. It’s a shame but it doesn’t have a scratch on the near faultless interpretation we were shown last April by Rockstar. It’s all very bland and unexciting. There’s no detail or quirkiness and as a result it just doesn’t feel alive. The fact that the draw distance is so poor doesn’t help the situation, which is particularly evident when you take to the skies in a helicopter. Buildings will magically transform from blocky outlines into bricked skyscrapers as water towers and cars apparate below you. Overall the game just underperforms graphically; they get the job done by are by nothing to write home about.
However, like they tell us in school, looks don’t matter; it’s what is inside that counts and what is inside Alex certainly counts. His powers don’t stop at being able to turn his fists into kitchen appliances. Moving through Manhattan is fantastic, with the R2 trigger held you’ll sprint through the streets and when you encounter a wall, you’ll just start running up it. With a charged jump you can propel yourself across rooftops and up skyscrapers. Once the ability to glide is thrown in you have yourself one of the most enjoyable means of level traversal in gaming. It may not be as deep or complex as some games but its simplicity and fluidity keeps it as one of the most fun around.
As you have probably gathered, Prototype is fun. It’s a great, mindless action game which gives you fantastic powers and some nice situations to show them off in. You can almost hear the meeting in which it was dreamt up. The developers basically sat down and said “You know what would be awesome?!” and made it. Unfortunately they’ve been over ambitious and so in taking in as much as they can, they’ve lost out on what really matters – detail, interesting missions and polish. You feel like you’ve seen everything within the first 4 hours and so finishing the games begins to feel like a chore. It becomes very repetitive very quickly and as the entire map is unlocked from the get go, you never feel any sense of progression. It’s the classic quality over quantity. They’ve just got it the wrong way round.