Game Review: Prototype
Release: June 9, 2009
Developer: Radical Entertainment
Available Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
MSRP: $59.99 ($49.99 on PC)
ESRB Rating: Mature for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, and Strong Language
It would seem that sci-fi/action games, set in a sandbox environment, are all the rage these days. The strongest examples–and the games that are drawing the most comparison–are InFamous (a PS3 exclusive) and Prototype (a multi-platform release). Since I haven’t played InFamous, I’m not qualified to make any comparisons. Instead, here’s a straight-up review for Prototype.
Taking on the role of Alex Mercer, you begin the game 18 days into a viral outbreak that is ravaging Manhattan Island. After a brief taste of the big badass you will eventually become, the game takes you back to Day 1. Waking up on an autopsy table, Alex discovers that something is…different. Somehow, he has changed into a shape-shifting weapon of mass destruction. With his new found powers, Alex rampages through the increasingly chaotic New York City streets, searching for those responsible.
The main appeal of Prototype is that it gives players the chance to do the incredible. You can transform Alex, giving him razor-sharp claws, rock-solid hammerfists, rhino-like armor, an infected-cleaving sword arm, and more. His mutated body gives him incredible speed and strength, allowing him to run up the side of buildings and over the stagnant NYC traffic with ease; he can even pick up and toss cars as if they were Tonka toys. On top of that, whenever Alex takes damage, he can simply walk up to someone, military or civilian, and consume them; not only does this regenerate health, but Alex can also gain knowledge–things like how to drive a tank and fly a helicopter–as well as the ability to morph into that person, giving him a handy disguise for infiltrating hostile areas.
As if all of this wasn’t enough, we finally come to the Devastators. Top off your health bar and a segment of it will turn blue–this means Alex has reached “critical mass”–allowing him to unleash a Devastator. There are only a few, but these moves are extremely powerful. For example, when Alex unleashes his Tendril Barrage Devastator, time slows down and the camera begins revolving around him as scores of tendrils shoot out of his body in every direction, impaling anyone or anything in the vicinity. Truly, the extent of Alex’s powers are astounding. In fact, there are so many upgrades–which are purchased using experience points obtained throughout the game–it’s almost too much.
Still, don’t take the abundance of powers to mean this game is easy; Prototype moves at breakneck speed, constantly throwing enemies at you. My initial play-through was on the normal difficulty, and although it started gently enough, by the second or third hour, the stakes had risen. By hour ten, I found myself retreating as often as I was attacking. Assault rifle-wielding soldiers were bothersome, like gnats, but the rocket launcher guys really put a damper on my awesomeness. Then the game introduced hunters, mutants that were nearly as fast and as strong (minus the shape-shifting powers) as Alex, to knock me down a peg or two. Next there were leader hunters: stronger, faster, and bigger than the regular ones. Super soldiers, tanks, strike teams comprised of multiple, rocket-firing helicopters…the rate of escalation is nearly crippling at times; so much so that I’d considered restarting on easy more than once.
The range of powers, the speed, the maneuverability, it all contributes to this wow factor, this feeling of being god-like. Setting the game in a real-world location like Manhattan and allowing players to openly explore that environment is a nice change of pace from the fictional cities we’re used to seeing. While roaming the city streets and skyscraper rooftops, there are plenty of things to discover; hidden orbs, challenge side-missions, and people of interest are littered throughout the city.
Prototype does have its downfalls, though. The same expansive environment I just praised is now going to get a slight knock. Although Manhattan is huge, it isn’t that believable; the building details are lacking and it feels like the city’s population could have used a few more character models. The game does suffer from some pop-in issues, and a lot of the graphics could have benefited with a little more polish.
Cutscenes, especially early ones with Alex’s sister, feel like they’re missing something (usually at the beginning and the end). Then again, the story ultimately seems throw-away, like it exists only to move the game forward.
The awe-inspiring power Alex wields isn’t without its flaws, either: besides the fact that some of the moves you can unlock feel superfluous, the ability to control Alex’s powers could use a little fine-tuning as well. For instance, one mission had me chasing a leader hunter across the city. Holding the right trigger allowed me to hurdle cars and climb the sides of buildings with ease, but more than once I found myself unable to avoid running into an alcove, running up the wall, and doing a back-flip, stopping me dead in my tracks. The animation makes sense, but it’s one of those frustrating nitpicks that you can’t help but gripe about.
And that brings me back to the big one: Prototype, for all of the fun that there is to be had, can be extremely frustrating at times. Whether it be that the controls send you off of the side of a building when it’s least convenient, or that it’s now 3 in the morning and you have been trying to beat the same boss for nearly an hour and a half, the game can really wear on your last nerve.
Even as I wrote this, I kept thinking that Prototype really messed with my judgement; it was utterly awesome and yet, in many ways, broken. But when it comes right down to it, I liked it–a lot. It challenged me. It kept me coming back for more. Sure it had it’s fair share of problems, but, like a lot of games, they’re problems that can be improved upon. It’s far from perfect, but that doesn’t mean it should be panned. After 15 hours in Alex Mercer’s shoes, I’m ready for Prototype 2.