Game Review: Prototype

Written by Richard Brown

If you watch TV these days, you’d think gaming is for kids, families and grannies. Thanks for that Nintendo. So, it’s nice to find a game that clearly isn’t aimed at that target market. But is Prototype actually any good? Read on to find out.

The Basic Plot

Alex Mercer is having a really bad day, and amnesia isn’t even the half of it. First, he woke up at the start of his own autopsy. Then some soldiers tried to kill him. Repeatedly. Then he realised he had strange powers, and whatever had happened to him, it wasn’t good. Revenge will be his, no matter how many bodies he has to step over in order to get it. And there will be a lot, as Manhattan Island is just about to experience biological warfare.

Hit & Run Fun

You know you’ve done it. You’re playing, say, Grand Theft Auto, and you get bored with the missions and decide to start a war with the Police to see how long you can last. Or, maybe, you are playing Fallout, and you always aim to shoot people in the groin. Or, maybe, you play Metal Gear Solid 4 and like leaving landmines by porn magazines. TV Tropes calls this “Video Game Cruelty Potential”, the possibilities in a game that play to our sadistic sides.  Now imagine a title, which not only allowed for this behaviour, but also encouraged it. This is Prototype, a game where you can throw cars at people, people at cars, people at helicopters, take the identity of a soldier to kill his mates, take the identity of a wife and kill her husband by drop kicking him off a skyscraper, take the identity of a soldier to accuse another soldier of being you, go surfing with his corpse, and finally eat people for health power ups. It’s a game featuring massive collateral damage that is not the slightest bit cartoony, and it deserves its 18 certificate.

If you are of the opinion that the entire point of your typical sandbox game is to periodically go on a killing spree, you will enjoy this game. Manhattan Island very quickly becomes a full-fledged war zone, and the potential to butcher your way though the streets is ever present. Its almost impossible to avoid civilian deaths, the Black Watch soldiers and Infected that you face follow no rules of engagement, plus the streets are crammed with suicidal New Yorkers. The downside to this is that while Prototype is a sandbox game, it doesn’t offer much reason for you to explore or divert from the main storyline. There are no side quests as such, just a lot of time trails and achievements type things, nothing you couldn’t get from the playing the game proper. One of the event types is called “War”, well, I can start one on any street corner already thanks, so that is a bit redundant. The only diversion worth mentioning is where you eat the brains of military types and scientists to get snippets of plot background and skill upgrades, basically giving you something akin a stealth mini-game and scavenger hunt, which is pretty fun. However, the main selling point of this genre is that you don’t have to follow a linear path to have fun, and the game doesn’t really offer that, as the way to vary the experience is to follow the storyline. I am also a bit indifferent to the assorted powers you can obtain, with the exception of the whipfist, which eventually allows you to hijack helicopters in mid-air. There are a good variety of abilities and attacks, but little real reason to use most of them. The game just gets too chaotic to do anything fancy; either you face hundreds of mooks that can be killed in one punch, super agile monsters you want to keep your distance from, or more tanks than Heinz Wilhelm Guderian. This is not a game of skill, it’s a game of frantic crowd control and if you aren’t really good (ie. a lot better at this game than me), the only powers that make sense are the simple ones, or those with an area affect. So, here’s a tip for beginners, power up the whipfist first, as it does all of the above, then start experimenting.

Given the review so far, and my recent Elfin Lied review, you probably think I didn’t like Prototype, but that just isn’t the case. Random destruction is fun, and we all know that, and Prototype delivers in bulk. Its nice just to smash things occasionally, to work off stress harmlessly, and its nice to have a totally no-brainer gameplay experience. There’s a real sense of power and freedom that this game gives you. Be it fighting off an army patrol, or running up buildings and jumping from rooftop to rooftop, it’s a uniformily fun experience. Its also got the graphics engine to support all this. Prototype is  pretty nice to look at, and this is all the more surprising when you realise that its not only generating the buildings and cars, but dozens, scores, of soldiers and monsters fighting each other. There is some slowdown, usually when a missile hit sends you flying, but its clearly doing more than most games of this type. It is also the only sandbox game I’ve came across to have a plot that is any way compelling. Alex Mercer’s quest for revenge gives the game direction, and there are some good  twists along the way, as well as actual character development, as by the end of it he isn’t the murderous monster he started out as. Its got a hint of brains to match the brawn, and all things being equal, I like this game.

Conclusion

A guilty pleasure, Prototype gives the impression of being a good first try, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some future sequel, or spiritual sequel, took its themes and gameplay to greatness. Right now though, it’s rather average. Despite this, if you see this second hand, pick it up. Its not the best game ever made, but it’s a lot of fun and a cracking way to deal with stress.

6/10

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