If you were to ask me to sum up my impressions of Prototype, those words would be: “so close.” The gameplay elements of Prototype, with one glaring exception, are dead-on. Maneuvering about the city is not just a breeze, it’s one of the most fun activities I’ve done in a videogame this year. Switching between powers is one-button-simple, allowing you to claw through a crowd, flip over to Muscle-Mass and toss a car (you can toss a car without Muscle-Mass, and then switch into Whipfist to conveniently consume a bystander; literally, a power every second if you wanted to. But then the game is hamstringed by so-so graphics and an okay plot tethered to pretty terrible cut-scenes. What’re you trying to do to me, Radical?
As far as the plot goes, Prototype isn’t half-bad. Our “protagonist” is Alex Mercer, who wakes up in the morgue to find a New York City infested with zombies and monsters, with no memory of how he got filled with lead. Alex’s quest to find out who he is and how he’s wrapped up in this nightmare forms the narrative core of Prototype; he’s assisted/directed by various supporting characters, including his sister and former girlfriend. In Alex’s way stand the United States Marine Corps and a covert organization called BlackWatch, who are looking to contain the infection, even if that means killing every civilian on the island.
It’s hard to call Alex a superhero, or even Prototype a superhero game, because it’s impossible to avoid killing civilians. The game rewards you for it, in fact; a good portion of the “consume” game mechanic is used to restore Alex’s health, and innocent bystanders are a main source of Alex's diet. That and the wanton killing of U.S. Marines makes it hard for me to call him a superhero at all, but Alex is pretty consistently billed as anti-hero throughout the development process. The player ends up killing civilians not only via consumption, but thousands of deaths occur like accidental clawings,slashings, and flying motor vehicles. I spend a good portion of the game repeatedly apologizing to e-people for their untimely, accidental deaths.
The powers Alex uses to hack and slash his way through both regular armies and armies of infected are varied and generally interesting. The Claws are Wolverine-like appendages that are best used against crowds, Muscle-Mass is general super-strength, Hammerfist and The Blade are for use against armored vehicles, but my personal favorite was the Whipfist, mostly because it allows you to lasso a helicopter. You heard me: lasso a helicopter, swing up to it, and steal it. It’s these moments of ridiculous awesomeness that make up for all of the other mediocre moments.
The other non-mediocre element in the game is a by-product of the consumption mechanic. Via consumption, Alex can absorb other people’s memories and knowledge, adding not only to his skill-set by allowing him to drive tanks and pilot helicopters, but adding to the Web of Intrigue, a neat way to keep track of the memories Alex absorbs (what I like to call the “good cut-scenes”) and expand the story. Web targets are scattered throughout the city, popping up on your radar as your soar over their location, or as an objective in one of the mini-missions.
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