[Prototype]

If you've often wondered what would happen if the main character in a Grand Theft Auto game was actually a super-powerful, acrobatic killing machine, then you've probably been waiting for a game like [Prototype]. Stepping into the freakishly tough shoes of Alex Mercer, the infected victim of some rather nasty biological experiments, players are given the chance to literally tear apart a city and all those that inhabit it, whether they be infected beasts, everyday citizens, local police or corrupt government officials. The game aims to grant you near-unlimited power and has ambition beyond any Grand Theft Auto game, but has more been bitten off than even these scary monsters can chew?

[Prototype]

Rather than slogging through multiple paragraphs of this review to find the answer to that, the simple answer is: yes. In this game, impressive ambition is never quite met by the realization. It's as though there was an entire wall filled with brilliant ideas from a wide range of highly inventive people, but there weren't enough hands to actually implement everything in the time allowed. Sprinting through New York city, bounding over cars, leaping straight up massive skyscrapers and crashing down upon heavily-armoured tanks, the sense of power is breathtaking, and in those instants, the game exceeds even the exhilaration of a perfect run in Mirror's Edge. Still, there's something missing that doesn't quite complete the perfect superhero feel. Investigating more closely, the game looks a little gritty, lacking the sharp, dazzling quality of exclusives such as inFamous, while the sound effects lack the bite and menace of a game like Killzone 2. The tremendous rampages through the city are brilliant, but they could be so much more if they looked as good as the CG intro, or packed the same audio punch as the weapons in Killzone 2. Instead, players will find that cars explode with little more than a faint phut while, up close, buildings lack the texture to truly bring the city to life.

This doesn't spell total failure for [Prototype] though, it just demonstrates that there's untapped potential in the genre, and so, with a little more development time, it'd be very exciting to see what the team could manage with a sequel. Even without everything pixel perfect though, the game is still extremely good fun. For example, several missions see Alex needing to infiltrate a military base (something that can be done a lot throughout). The game initially points you down a path of subtlety, suggesting that you make use of disguises, while avoiding automated virus detectors. Much like Grand Theft Auto games though, it's down to you how you really attack the mission. For example, you could blast your way in, hurling your victims around and causing mayhem until you reach your target by force, you could hijack a tank and roll in doing roughly the same, you could take to the rooftops and hurtle down to surprise your foe, you could grab weapons from soldiers and shoot your way through, you could take the disguise route or you could even take the role of a commanding officer and patsy lower-ranking soldiers to divert attention from yourself. The range of different ways you can approach many of the missions is quite satisfying, even if it doesn't have Metal Gear Solid-levels of genius.

[Prototype]

One of the best things about the game is the evolution potential though. At the very beginning, you're given a taste of the shear power Alex Mercer grows to possess, before going back 18 days to uncover exactly what happened. As a result, you're gradually able to unlock powers and other upgrades that continually improve your character's capabilities. They're significant upgrades too, causing noticeable increases in speed, strength and power, depending on the type of upgrade. Alex can also unlock new moves such as the whipfist attack, a sweeping, clawed swipe that can take out large groups of enemies. By the time you've managed to upgrade your character fully, you're able to leap from building top to building top, gliding and boosting in mid air, before scything downwards on top of tanks and helicopters that become little more than your own playthings. That's not to say it's easy though, especially on the harder difficulty settings. When things really get frantic, with infected Hunters, police, strike teams and super soldiers in a small area, all shooting at Alex, things get very tricky and a quick escape might often be the best strategy. Besides, once out of sight, Alex can transform himself into the last person he absorbed, both of which are abilities developed as a result of the no-doubt-evil testing he underwent at the start of the viral outbreak. Once again though, the idea is great, and the implementation good enough, but it's easy to feel that even more potential could have been exploited, but I suspect that conversation, in streets as densely packed as those in [Prototype], would have been a large step too far.

[Prototype]

The main plot is likely to take a reasonable amount of time to complete, perhaps 12 hours, which is about average for a modern game, but there are a significant number of other things to do that really bulk the game out. Firstly, the standard collectibles, strewn across the city, make an appearance, and there are numerous events, ranging from speed trials through to consume challenges, with various medals associated, giving players a tricky set of criteria to meet if they want to get everything from the game. There's also something called the Web of Intrigue, which Alex attempts to populate, in order to fully uncover the truth behind the outbreak and his treatment, by absorbing the knowledge from all those with any involvement. Spread across the city, military personnel and government officials will hide secrets that only Alex can uncover, and only then by consuming them. With so many side avenues to explore, you could find yourself playing the game for easily 30 hours or more.

Despite the lack of polish graphically, with a few foggy smudges to avoid problems with draw distance, there's no noticeable frame rate stutter or major glitching, so the immersion in the game tends to be quite good. In addition, any lack of graphical prowess can be forgiven for the impressive sense of style, with massive ground spike attacks proving one of the more visually impressive moves to watch. It's somewhat disappointing that the narrative elements of the story are relegated to distant, detached cutscenes. Just a few elements of the story played out in a busy crowd would have really added to the believeability of the story but, instead, much like Mirror's Edge, the story feels separated from the game's own reality, with the massive city there only as a backdrop, unlike the truly interactive nature of cities like Rapture in Bioshock, which are as much a character as the main leads.

[Prototype]

Overall, [Prototype] is a very good game, and one that gives players an almost-unrivalled sense of power. With the recent release of inFamous, comparisons are inevitable and it's difficult to pick a winner, with both games providing an enjoyable take on the free-roaming superhero romp. Arguably, [Prototype] is the more gritty, powerful and sinister of the two, perhaps possessing more inventive ideas, but the implementation is nowhere near as polished. Such rivalries aside, [Prototype] is a game that, despite a few flaws, is enjoyable to play. When Alex is in full motion, powered up completely, it's like playing a nuclear-powered version of Mirror's Edge, and for that alone, it's worthy of a look.

Game details

Game logo

Publisher:

Activision

Developer:

Radical Ent.

Players:

1

Online:

None

Release:

2009-06-05

Trophies:

41

Review summary

Gameplay:

Tremendous, conveying a real sense of power

Graphics:

Somewhat shoddy compared to inFamous, but good

Sound:

Decent voicework, but dampened effects

Lastability:

Lots of collectibles and challenges to beat

8.6

Supernova

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