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Grand Theft Auto + Crackdown + A lot of blood

The first time I ever saw Prototype was as the cover story to Game Informer’s August 2007 issue. An open-world superhuman game with bloody as hell action, a story full of conspiracy, awesome powers, and a style that seemed to indicate Crackdown meets Grand Theft Auto easily had me hooked from the get-go.  In the two years that I waited for it, complete with all sorts of delays, it became my most anticipated game of 2009 (before Assassin’s Creed II and Modern Warfare 2 were announced that is). But as I found in those two years, my most anticipated game is never my favorite game of the year. So now with Prototype finally out, is it good enough to be the exception? And for those who have wanted to play it as long as I have, was the wait worth it?

Prototype’s story centers around Alex Mercer, a man who wakes up in a morgue with no memory of what has happened to him, but he intends to find out no matter what. Oh, and he has some seriously badass super-powers. Although this is where you technically begin the game, the tutorial is actually set 18 days later and the story is told as a flashback from Alex’s perspective at this time. Overall, this works well and the story is not too shabby itself, full of twists and conspiracies that keep it interesting. I’d recommend having subtitles on though as the dialogue can sometimes be hard to understand with some characters, thus making many of the crucial points in the plot a bit confusing.

In addition to this, is a war being fought in the game’s setting, New York City, between the victims and products of a virus and a secret anti-biological branch of the military called Blackwatch. Although this provides the backdrop of the plot, most of the information on these two factions does not come from the main plot itself. Instead, it, as well as much of the background information for Prototype comes from the Web of Intrigue. This is a collection of 100 people around the city that Alex can consume (I’ll get to the whole “consuming” thing later). When Alex consumes these people, Alex obtains their memories, which provide anything from the history of the virus to the history of Blackwatch. In addition, these are shown in a pretty interesting style as live-action clips that are both intriguing and sometimes even disturbing. This is definitely an area where Prototype’s visuals shine, and the cut-scenes are pretty good too.

However, the city itself is more of a mixed bag, as are the characters. NYC looks very blocky without any real textures and the explosions aren’t very good, which is unfortunate because there are a lot of them. Prototype does have an interesting art style though, with the city too in that military-controlled sections look very different from infected-controlled ones, with clean, intact skyscrapers and red-tinted skies with infected vine-things and some wrecked-looking buildings respectively. It’s pretty cool to be running through a military-controlled district one second and to suddenly see the red-tinted skies of an infected zone the next. In addition to that, leaping off a building from 100 stories up and crashing to the ground never gets old. Seriously, my heart jumps every time I do this and I’m not the kind of guy who’s afraid of heights. It’s just really intense. Alex’s animations are all really fluid as well, which probably adds to that feeling. Finally, the people all react well to what you do. Military personnel will shove and curse at you if you bump into them and pedestrians will run away screaming if you cut one in half. Unfortunately though, there are a lot of clones and you could see ten people all looking alike in one place. The game tries to vary it with different colored clothing but not enough. The military all looks the same but that’s understandable. So like I said, it’s a mixed bag for the city and characters, which I guess makes it an even bigger mixed bag for the visuals overall.

Now something that I’ve been dancing around thus far has been the gameplay, so let’s get to that. Like I said earlier, Alex is a superpowered badass. He’s faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, and if you think he’s ripping off Superman, he’ll drive a tentacle through your chest. Seriously though, Alex is able to run faster than any vehicle in the game, which is why you can’t drive any civilian cars. He can jump really high and also glide but it’ll take him several jumps to get up a building, although you can also wall run up a building or climb it. However, he can still get around the city quickly and efficiently himself. If you don’t think so though, Alex can also hop in, but mostly hijack, a tank or helicopter, which both handle well and are pretty powerful too.

Going back to the tentacle part though, Alex has some pretty unique superpowers that have never been done before…no wait, Carnage from Spider-man. OK, Alex has some powers that have never been done in a video game before (or at least I don’t think so). Basically, Alex himself is infected by the virus spreading around the city, but in a different way (it’s explained in the story). This allows him to morph his arms into various weapons (like I said, like Carnage). There are Claws, massive fists called Hammerfists, tentacles called the Whipfist, a power that makes you much stronger called Musclemass, and a glaive called the Blade. In addition, Alex also has defensive powers that give him a shield or a full suit of awesome-looking armor. To round it out, Alex also has Infected Vision that let’s highlights infected people and Thermal Vision (yes, like the Predator) that highlights military personal as well as letting him see through smoke. It really provides a lot of bloody options for Alex to use to kill people and believe me; you will be doing that a lot.

The power that stands out most though is the Consume power. Alex can consume anyone in the city, which is how one goes about regaining their health. There is a regeneration ability but this is much more effective. However, the real usage of consuming people is that you become them. I already mentioned the thing about gaining that person’s memories but it’s not just that. In addition, you also take on that person’s appearance and skills. So what does that do? Well let’s say you want to take a helicopter that’s landed on the ground, but you don’t know how to drive it…yet. A helicopter pilot resides in a military base who can “teach” you but you can’t get to him without alerting the military. So what do you do? First, you find a soldier walking on the streets and stealthily consume him (there actually is a Stealth Consume action in the game as opposed to just a regular Consume). This allows you to infiltrate the base undetected. Once inside, you stealthily consume the pilot and now know how to drive a helicopter. So off you go to the chopper, which you get it undetected, and fly off into the horizon. That’s the power of consuming people. It helps you blend into your surroundings, evade military searching for you, and learn how to drive military vehicles or better operate weapons. And yes, despite Alex’s vast array of powers, there are guns. Machine guns, grenade launchers, assault rifles, and rocket launchers to be more precise, and all have their uses in combat too.

Speaking of combat, Alex has a vast array of moves to use whether or not he’s using his powers. These moves are unlocked as upgrades by spending EP (evolution points). EP is given out for doing just about anything, which is good because that allows you to accumulate large sums of it quite quickly and spend it on the many upgrades there are. However, there are almost too many upgrades. Look, I don’t mind a character having a lot of moves as it adds a lot to the combat. But when that means you’ll have so many moves that you’ll have to resort to strange button combinations or even just forget you have half the moves you purchased, it doesn’t work as well. You won’t forget moves that you use a lot, like Glide or Airdash, but you may not remember you purchased something like Palm Strike that you don’t use as much.  At least the powers are done well, you have X (Circle) for your basic attack and Y (Triangle) for your special attack and it’s the same for each power so although you’ll be using different attacks, it won’t get too complicated and you’ll never forget anything.

Speaking of powers again, selecting powers is also pretty easy. By bringing up the power wheel, you can select any power you want with the right stick. Sometimes you may accidentally select the wrong power but generally it’s pretty precise. You can also use the D-Pad to toggle your active powers, which is generally preferable if you don’t plan on switching to another power anytime soon. There’s also a separate wheel of actions that can be done while you are disguised that relies on the face buttons instead of the right stick so that works very well too. Those include things like Stealth Consume, Patsy (which means accusing someone else of being you), and Air Strikes.

Finally, you can also unleash Devastators. These are incredibly powerful attacks that can clear entire city blocks in a few seconds and these are pretty easy to pull off and each serve their own purpose. However, they drain an extended part of your health called Critical Mass, so it balances out nicely. So overall, the combat in Prototype is very good and very varied, if not a bit complicated at parts.

Devastators Prototype

Devastators like this one are pretty damn powerful

With all those combat options though, there has to be some pretty good enemies to stand up to you and indeed, Prototype has that as well. On both the military and infected sides, you have your basic soldier and, well let’s just say zombie-thing respectively. However, the military also uses tanks, helicopters, and eventually super soldiers to kill you off while the infected use monsters called Hunters (with a stronger variety called Leader Hunters eventually appearing) as their bigger units. These enemies provide a good deal of challenge and you will find yourself dying, especially at some more challenging parts of the game. However, these parts are often challenging because so many enemies are thrown at you at once. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but sometimes it can be overwhelming and you’ll often find yourself retreating to regenerate lost health, taking away from the fast-paced action of the game. Plus, the Hunters have ridiculously cheap juggling attacks. Thankfully, time will slow down when you’re switching powers or locking onto an enemy, allowing you a bit of time to adapt to your situation. Still though, the enemies will still be swarming all over you.

Conflict can also sometimes be avoided by using a disguise to slip by military personal, or fight along side them without them attacking you. There are often detectors positioned by the military that can see through your disguise and alert the military but they can generally be avoided. However, if your just in free roam, these can be particularly annoying as it limits the amount of fun you can have in the city without alerting the military, as does the amount of military units patrolling the streets that will attack you if you try to consume an infected person. Not that it’s so ridiculous but it’s just too much at points.

Did I mention this game was bloody?

There are also several boss fights in the game and each is pretty challenging until you get used to that boss’s patterns. These work out well and never feel too easy or too challenging, but some of the later ones do still have you swamped with enemies. So even then, the whole “Too many enemies” thing is still a problem but at least the boss fights are good.

So what else is there to do beside killing people and the story? Well there’s collection landmark tokens and hints (ugh) as well as events. The events vary from killing as many enemies as you can with a specific power or weapon, taking a side in a battle between the military and the infected and killing the opposition, gliding as close to a target as possible, or reaching a waypoint as fast as possible. There’s also a medal system involved, which can keep you hooked to these events for a while (and they award you a good amount EP too). The events are pretty good too, and are both fun and challenging at times and the medal system will keep you inclined to keep trying the event. I’ve actually spent hours on one event trying to get gold but your patience with that is your own. Overall, the events provide a nice side thing to do…as opposed to those damn token collection things. In addition to this though, you can also replay the game but with all your upgrades unlocked as well as your Web of Intrigue targets, race medals, etc. You can blow through the game pretty quickly like this but it’s still fun.

As a last note to Prototype, the game has some bad technical issues.  Now, I realize this is an open-world game so there’s supposed to be no loading but still, these issues can get pretty bad.  However, much to my suprise, there is actually loading sometimes, which makes this even worse.  While this will happen every once in a while when your traversing the city, this generally occurs when the game is saving, which is also weird. Besides the 14 seconds or so it takes to save, a bit long if you ask me, the audio is silenced and the screen freezes up. Several times actually, I thought my Xbox crashed or froze but no, it’s just bad saving mechanics. Now recently, my game hasn’t been doing this, saving in about three seconds and not looking like it’s crashing so I don’t know what that’s all about but for the majority of my experience with Prototype, the saving was pretty bad. Really, I could not imagine this game with the co-op it was originally supposed to have, as the tech issues would’ve been even worse than they are.

Prototype is a game with a lot to it, sometimes too much in fact. The combat is varied and there’s a lot to it, which can over complicate it, the city is huge but has a handful of technical problems and doesn’t look too great at that, and the game has a lot of challenging enemies but it often throws too many of them at you at once. That said, the game has a good story told in an even better way with the Web of Intrigue and the events are all pretty fun, all of this brought down a bit by technical issues. With all that in mind, Prototype is a great game that just has some issues it needs to work out that keep it from reaching it’s true potential, but nothing that keeps it from being fun at least. It’s still a solid buy and if you’ve waited this long to get it, I’d still recommend doing so.

+ A good story told in an inventive way, lots of variety to the combat, addictive events, and a good level of challenge.

– Technical issues above all else but otherwise, some mediocre graphics, an often overload of enemies, and the number of moves can sometimes be a bit too much to remember