Game Review: Prototype

I bought Prototype way back on Hallowe’en, so that’s how much I was distracted that I didn’t manage to finish it until moments ago. Basically, I bought this because I wanted to play a creepy game on Hallowe’en and for some inexplicable reason Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth wasn’t on sale until the week after.

Prototype is an action-adventure sandbox type game in which you play as Alex Mercer, a man with with superhuman abilities and a convenient case of amnesia who is trying to figure out who he is and why the military is trying to kill him. While on his journey of self-discovery, he manages to entangle himself in a vast web of conspiracies that have something to do with the mysterious virus that’s been threatening to overrun Manhattan.

When I started the game, I was ready to write off Alex as a completely unlikeable protagonist. It’s hard to feel sympathy for someone who mows down pedestrians as easily as he does the military and infected that are actually trying to kill him, , but over time, I grew to accept that even though I didn’t like Mercer, I was stuck in his shoes, and embraced the fact that it was great fun to throw him off of the tallest buildings I could find and not have him die on impact.

To use an example I’m more familiar with than Infamous. Prototype is like Assassin’s Creed if Altair was on several kinds of performance-enhancing drugs, had tentacles, and furthered the plot by eating people.

The game’s story mode has a mission structure. You start off in the sandbox portion of the game, where you’re free to take on various racing, gliding, and “kill X number of enemies before the time runs our” events. Once you accept a mission, though, it’s a more set path, with a series of objectives to complete. Completing all the objectives brings you back to the sandbox portion of the game, where you can accept another mission, and so on and so forth.

A core mechanic in Prototype is the ability to consume targets, which gives Alex access to their memories (known as the Web of Intrigue) and reveals more information about the plot. Much of the time, your missions will revolve around consuming a particular target, but a great deal of the web of intrigue targets are completely optional, so if you’re a completionist….have fun with that.

Whereas games like Assassin’s Creed focus on climbing, Alex’s version of parkour emphasizes speed and agility and steamrolling over anything that gets in his way. Want to scale a tall building? Simply sprint up to it and just keep moving. Don’t worry about grabbing onto each ledge and painstakingly pulling yourself up, that’s for people who don’t have super strength. Want to throw yourself off of a tall building? You’ll make a cool crater when you land. The game does a really good job of making you feel like an unstoppable superbeing–unless you get shot too many times, then you’re just fucked. I actually nicknamed Alex “gorilla-kitty” because of the way he hunches over when he runs and the ridiculously acrobatic moves he makes when he scales a building. You can also hijack tanks and later, helicopters (the later that you can actually grab while airborne in order to hijack it).

In case you can’t see the “M” rating on the box, Prototype is also ridiculously violent, emphasis on ridiculously. NPCs are cut in two like they’re made of paper, and there’s enough blood flowing to supply every horror movie for about five generations. The gore and the acrobatics are so ridiculously over the top that it’s a wonder that the game takes itself so seriously. It’s the kind of ridiculousness that you find in films like the Final Destination series.

And you eat people to further the plot, seriously.

Story-wise, I probably ruined it for myself by playing it so long after it’s release date, but I already knew the Big Reveal, but even if I didn’t, said Reveal is delivered in such a deadpan way that it was really anti-climactic. I was actually surprised that a very final boss like boss encounter wasn’t actually the final boss.  But, you know, this probably isn’t a game you’ll play for the riveting story. The music is a mixture of techno and rock that can get quite dramatic at times. I also liked the end credits piano tune, but, I mean, it’s no Devil May Cry 3 or anything.

In terms of issues I had with this game, the biggest would probably be the checkpoint system. If you happen to die and choose to reload the game, the game starts you off at the last checkpoint, but if you happen to quit the game, you go all the way back to the mission acquisition portion. I didn’t notice this as much on the earlier missions, but some of the later missions are pretty time-consuming, and at one point, during a particularly difficult mission involving a ton of helicopters, I was seriously considering leaving my PC on all night so I wouldn’t have to start all over again. (I ended up not doing that.) I would have liked the ability to save at a particular checkpoint, rather than having to start the mission all over again. There’s some variety in missions, but most of the time they’re some variation on the formula “go to X location and consume target Y”, and one particular boss would have been much harder if they didn’t keep telling me when they were reloading their gun, which is when they were vulnerable. Also, unless you’re a completionist, there really isn’t any reason to continue playing after you’re finished story mode unless you really like optional challenges, or you really want to find those optional Web of Intrigue targets to get the most out of the story.

In sum, Prototype is good for some ridiculously violent fun and neat acrobatics, and so long as you don’t go into it expecting an awesome story, you should be fine.

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