CES 2009: Prototype Impressions

DontKnowMe

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Oct 19, 2006
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http://ps3.ign.com/articles/942/942765p1.html
Cut 'em in half, slice 'em apart, and then body-surf their entrails.

In Prototype from Radical Entertainment (Scarface: The World is Yours, The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction), the story begins with death. Yours, actually -- or so it seems. You are Alex Mercer, a hooded mystery man with a loving sister, a mother and a father. And you awaken to find yourself the subject of a bloody autopsy, a team of doctors about to dissect your corpse. But you haven't passed on. In fact, as you sprint from the hospital into the crowded streets of New York, something amuck in the distance, you discover that you are more powerful than ever, able to run at speeds exceeding 60 miles per hour, to leap up buildings and to hurl two-ton objects with the greatest of ease. Yet you have no idea how you came to possess these fantastic abilities because you simply cannot remember anything that transpired before this fateful morning. Are you a super hero? The villain? You don't have the answers, but you can be damned sure you're going to find out.
This is the motivation powering Prototype, an open-world "sandbox" game that challenges you to discover who or what Alex Mercer really is and exactly why he is able to do the things he can. The quest will take up and over city skyscrapers, through military bases, into zones infected by a deadly virus and even against full-blown war zones. Along the way, you will also develop your powers, becoming ever stronger, and you will interact with a variety of subjects who know more about your condition than you do, revealing in flashbacks tantalizing secrets of your past, hints at your unknown mission, and maybe even glimpses of those who made you the way you are.
We last saw Prototype, scheduled to debut for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC during the first half of 2009, nine months ago. Back then, the game was representative of its title at barely 20 percent complete and lacking all kinds of polish. The version of the project we glimpsed this week from CES 2009 has seen a number of tweaks and improvements, but mostly it's just a lot more refined, finally nearing alpha stage. According to publisher Activision, at long last and the content that comprises the experience is done, which means that testers can play through versions of the complete game without any limitations, unlocking its many secrets as they go.

We've written about Prototype four times now and in preparation for today's piece, we looked back at all of our old articles, determined to present current readers with something new -- a task easier said than done where storyline is concerned because, by the publisher's own admission, it's difficult to reveal much without unwanted spoilers. What we do know for sure is that Mercer remains the anti-hero on a mission to discover who he is and, more importantly, who made him this way. It's a tale of revenge, his driving motivation, and Mercer does not particularly care who he hurts as he makes his way toward his ambition. Military, infected, or civilian -- if they get in his way, they'll die (violently), and he won't give it a second thought. But he is not a monster entirely detached from humanity. He remains in constant contact with his sister, Dana, who uses resides in her apartment and uses the Internet to help him find targets. His shadowy mother also plays a far more sinister role, we presume -- when asked, Activision representatives would not divulge details, but indicated some twists await players.
Somehow, Mercer's present -- and the unexplainable powers he awakens to -- relate to the distant past. Some 40 years ago the town of Hope, Idaho was inexplicably wiped off the face of the planet. Somebody knows why. Alex will eventually find out for himself, of course, but the story unravels dynamically, ejecting a linear plot for a yarn that mimics the open-world nature of the play mechanics. The developer calls it the Web of Intrigue, but what it boils down to is this: as you explore the virtual recreation of New York, modeled to nearly 70 percent accuracy, you will inevitably interact with more than 100 targets directly linked to story elements. Alex has harnessed the unique ability to consume and become the people around him and he does so absolutely, taking on not only his enemies' bodies and physical strengths, but their memories, too. These skewed flashbacks reveal bit by bit the intriguing details surrounding Mercer's present predicament. About 30 of these targets are critical -- the remaining are just there for those who want to understand the full story.
They're also tied to gameplay mechanics. Mercer is not a trained operate airborne vehicles, but if he kills and consumes a helicopter pilot in a bloody display of alien tentacles, he will immediately gain the character's knowledge of flying and will then be able to take command of the crafts himself. The same goes for certain tanks, but the mechanic runs deeper. Alex is like nothing mankind has seen before. His body is dozens of times denser than the average human; when he jumps from a building, the ground beneath him will crack and crumble beneath his feet. He can slice opponents in half. He can toss cars into the air. But he needn't always run headfirst into war zones because he can also use stealth to keep the peace when necessary. For example, inconspicuously consuming a high-ranking military general so that he can alternatively sneak onto a base and give commands to various grunts without all the bloodshed. Prototype has more in common with a game like Crackdown than it does Grand Theft Auto 4 simply because of the game's vertical nature -- the ability for Mercer to go upward just as easily as forward. And Radical has spared no expense in creating a gargantuan version of New York CIty. You will find recognizable skyscrapers, of course, but the developer has also taken many liberties, recreating the location where necessary in order to keep the experience fun. After all, realism at the sacrifice of enjoyment doesn't make a lot of sense. During the latest demo, we noticed a few details about the city. Most of the structures are not destructible. However, you can break and hurl secondary objects like cars, trees, benches, and more. Meanwhile, various billboards located throughout the world already feature ads for retailers like GameStop and USA Today and new promotions will be streamed in regularly when the final game ships.


Controlling Mercer is intuitive, meant to be simple. As he runs through the city streets, he will automatically gain in speed and he will likewise automatically jump over cars or ram through civilians. There's a certain flow to it -- it's just fun to run and jump around and in that way, it kind of reminds us of games like Mario 64 or, yes even Crackdown (again). Simply hold a shoulder button and he can run up skyscrapers. Tap another button and his quick-select wheel appear on-screen even as time slows momentarily. Here, you can rapidly toggle new abilities and weapons -- infected vision (to spot those overcome by a deadly virus sweeping through the city), hammer fist, bade, whip fist, muscle mass, and more. Quickly select whip fist and you'll be able to shoot forth a tentacle able to latch onto helicopters so that Alex can swing upward and pull the pilots out (who plummet to their deaths), taking operation of the crafts. Toggle blades and he can cut people in half. Muscle mass will add power to his hand-to-hand combat. He can erect a shield and barrel through traffic. It's also very easy to cycle through.
Mercer also has devastator moves -- special powers that will grotesquely dispose of foes in one epic attack. Take, for instance, one maneuver in which spikes spring from the ground in a 360-circle around the character, impaling any nearby enemies. Or tentacles that shoot out in every direction, inflicting massive damage on the opposition.
The game employs a unique balance between three different factions. Alex, who is the mysterious prototype; the military, which enlists the aid of the Blackwatch group, a high-tech team of super soldiers whose morals are, shall we say, unrefined; and the Infected, normal civilians who have, having come into contact with a virus, transformed into enraged zombies. Mercer doesn't take sides -- he uses both groups to his advantage. He might string the military along through the city and directly into battle with the Infected, passing them off to do his dirty work. But he'd just as soon kill a general as a zombified civilian. Accessing an area map, you will be able to see which parts of the city are controlled by various factions. You can also see them in real-time. Military zones feature at least one base. Infected zones are generally in chaos, buildings afire, people in terror. How you proceed is up to you.

There's the storyline, the factions and the sandbox world, but there are secondary missions, too. Kill events. You're given a grenade launcher and charged with the task to kill as many Infected as possible within a certain time limit. Agility events. You might have to soar across the city using the newly implemented glide mechanic in which Alex can temporarily hover and strafe in mid-air. Imagine a target on the ground, your goal being to glide to it. Or in another agility test, you might be presented with a series of rings that Mercer must leap back and forth through, using nearby buildings for footing. All of these tests award bronze, silver and gold medals that are, naturally, linked to achievement points. They aren't necessary, but die-hards will undoubtedly love them.

We've barely touched upon the violence in Prototype mostly because we feel it unnecessary. Watch any of the exclusive new videos we've uploaded to see the blood and guts for yourself. If you lust after dismemberment and gore, consider your appetite thoroughly satisfied because Radical's game has you covered. Just about everything Mercer does results in a spray of blood as a body part goes flying in the wind. The character basically devours his foes in a pulpy mess order to take on their abilities. And yeah, if all of the above weren't enough, he can even stomp on them from above, squish their bodies and then surf their entrails around the city streets, sliding across pavement, a red pool of blood in his wake. He can even kick-flip out bodies like a skateboard when he's done with them. This game is not for grandma.
So what's left to be done? Well, the polish work continues. Radical will spend the remaining months making tweaks to the presentation. Gorgeously cinematic cut-scenes have yet to be fully finished. The camera is occasionally too close to the action and will need to be pulled back. The framerate hiccups in high-combat scenarios, particularly with dozens of enemies and massive particle explosions on-screen. Occasionally, the action is shot from a forward angle so that Alex appears to be running toward the screen. The hard work is done. Now the developer needs to pull it all together.
Radical is no stranger to sandbox games, but we think with Prototype it may have really hit upon a winning formula: specifically, an open-world experience surrounded by a truly compelling storyline -- one that's certain to drive players to keep playing long after the novelty of dropping an elbow from the Empire State Building or surfing a civilian's mutilated corpse wears off (supposing it does). When we asked Activision if Mercer's father had a part to play in the game, company reps only looked at us knowingly. In an industry where stories are spoiled shortly after titles are announced, we are -- in stark contract to Alex -- quite happy to remain in the dark. We've posted lengthy new gameplay videos and screenshots of Prototype in our respective media sections and highly suggest that you consume them all so that you may better understand the scope of the project.
inFamous or Prototype, inFamous or Prototype, inFamous or Prototype.............