This past weekend I spent quite a bit of time with the new title, Prototype, and I have to say I was actually pleasantly surprised…
Before purchasing the game, I thought it to be another gung-ho-run-around-destroying-everything-in-sight-mindless-action-adventure game. I thought it was going to be a game filled with the same thing over and over again. And to a degree it is. But what sets it apart from previous titles with similar mechanics, is a description that I haven’t used in quite some time to describe a game. This game is fun.
The story plays out as follows: The protagonist is a man by the name of Alex Mercer. We join his story where he escapes from a facility where goodness knows what was happening. Only to come face to face with horror unfolding before his eyes and a couple of guns pointed at his head. He gets shot ala execution style, but miraculously gets to his feet, vaults a 7-foot wall and immediately left in the capable hands of the player. An interesting start then to this adventure one will embark on. What is this man ? Yet more importantly you might ask (with an evil grin on your face): what is he capable of ?
As the story progresses, it comes to light that Alex has been infected by some kind of virus. Yet for unknown reasons, it’s lending him super powers beyond the man in the street’s wildest dreams. These powers include: fashioning his arms into blades/claws/hammers (described as moving biomass to his arms), covering his entire body in a suit of thick armor, jumping over buildings, high speed and gliding. To name but a few. And with these powers, is exactly where the fun (and the heart) of the game lies.
Moving around the city is as easy as pointing Alex in a direction, and holding the sprint button. Alex will start running, picking up speed as he goes along. There’s a certain kind of satisfaction watching him tuck his head in, picking up speed and watching the ground crack under every step with the sheer force with which he pushes himself onwards. Holding down the sprint button also enters “parkour mode”. If you’re sprinting, Alex will automatically vault over any obstacles that happen to be in the way. Be it cars, rubble, low walls etc. But the final nail in the coffin of fun, is when sprinting up to a building. Alex simply won’t stop. He’ll attach himself to the building and start running up the side of the building. With the same glass shattering, wall breaking force his footsteps produce, you’ll speed up any and every building to perch yourself on the top to have your share of a bird’s eye view of the city.
Holding down the jump button, biomass will build up at Alex’s feet and once reaching critical mass and releasing the button, will vault Alex up to ridiculous heights. Add to this a movement upgrade (we’ll get to upgrades in a bit) that allows Alex to glide, moving through the city is both effortless and huge amounts of fun.
But this game isn’t only about movement. Combat has more than a 50% share in the festivities. Combat is normally a collection of punching and kicking combos with some special moves thrown in for some extra flavour. Add to that upgradable abilities and attacks, and you’ve got something that won’t get old very soon.
As mentioned before, Alex can fashion his arms into blades, claws, a flexible arm with a pointy bit at the end, large fists (that act like huge hammers) or an immensely strong pair of arms. Each of these “weapons” has a combo set of it’s own. From slicing and dicing, to creating huge shockwaves of damage, to swinging your arm around and damaging enemies in a large circle around Alex. It’s all fun on it’s own, but that’s not where it stops. As you unlock every weapon, you gradually unlock new moves for each which are up for purchase in the upgrades menu.
Throughout the game, Alex is awarded Evolution Points (EP) for just about everything he does. From completing missions and side-missions, to collecting collectibles scattered around the city. These points are then used to upgrade Alex’s abilities. Sprinting speed and general movement abilities can be upgraded (jump higher, run faster, glide further etc), defensive abilities can be bought and upgraded (shield and armor abilities) all the way through to attacking abilities (one ability which I found quite neat, is to allow Alex to enter Critical Mass mode – gaining health over 100%. In this mode, Alex can initially execute one Devastator move – a special move that does HUGE amounts of particularly satsifying damage. This can be upgraded to 3 Devastator attacks before critical mass is expended. Fun!).
An important mechanic to the game, is Alex’s ability to absorb anybody he encounters in the streets. Walk up to a citizen / marine, pick them up and click absorb to physically absorb and become them. This power can also be upgraded resulting in faster and stealthier means of absorbing others. This mechanic directly fuels the web of intrigue which facilitates filling in the blanks of the story for the player. Scattered across the city, are citizens of interest. People that know something related to what’s happened to Alex. These targets can be absorbed and their memories used to piece together the bigger picture. It’s an interesting way of furthering the story.
This absorb ability also allows Alex to hide from the military if he’s being hunted. Get out of sight and absorb a citizen to get away. Alex can also switch between his normal form and the last citizen he absorbed at will. Useful for quick getaways.
Scattered throughout the city, are events that Alex can partake in. As you complete main missions, more events become available. These events are simply there to earn more evolution points. They range from attempting to glide and land as close to a target as possible; running across rooftops and up buildings through checkpoints as fast as possible; absorb a certain amount of marked individuals within a time limit to fighting alongside the military to kill as many infected as possible. These events serve their purpose of breaking the story grinding a bit, but they can get a bit monotonous after a while.
As the game progresses, military bases and hives will pop up throughout the city. From time to time, a military base can be infiltrated and soldiers inside the base absorbed to up Alex’s efficiency with weapons, tanks and helicopters. These abilities appear in the upgrades menu, but the only way to obtain them are through absorbing the appropriate soldiers. The hives on the other hand, can be described as a “nest” of infected. The area surrounding a hive also becomes more populated with infected the closer to the hive you get. These hives can be destroyed for lots of EP.
Overall then, there’s a lot to do in the game. A lot that will keep you busy, but some of which might get old pretty quickly. But the game more than makes up for this with an engaging story. Something I think most people will be tempted to do, is hunt through the city for all web of intrigue targets (131 in total) before finishing the main missions. To find out the story behind the story will probably be worth it.
So my initial thoughts of this game being a gung-ho-run-around-destroying-everything-in-sight-mindless-action-adventure game is halfway correct. The words that can be salvaged from that description are “destroying, everything, action, adventure”. It really is a fun game to play. Even if it just serves for the player to come back from time to time to cause some chaos. I think the reason for my initial thoughts on this game would be that so many games are following this formula of sandbox environment with lots of destruction, upgradable powers and a hero shrouded in mystery. A game that’s soon to be released which is basically a carbon copy of Prototype, will be Infamous. But that’s only speculation on my part. The initial descriptions of the game seem to follow the exact same mechanics as Prototype, but it obviously remains to be seen.
I’d recommend Prototype to anybody looking for something that’s fun, hiding a good story and not too difficult to get into. It was a refreshing “waste” of a few hours that I haven’t felt in a long time. I think everybody who plays this game, will be walking down the streets eyeing every building for possible escape routes if the cops were to jump out from behind a bush…