If ever you needed a way to let off some steam quickly after a hard day at work or school, then Prototype is for you. Unapologetically loud, brash, violent and over-the-top, Radical Entertainment’s sandbox-style action game may be a bit rough around the edges, but it has a heart like a lion. At times, combat isn’t pretty and the presentation is a little grubby, but when you’re picking up a New York City cab and tossing it toward the cockpit of a helicopter, or using your razor sharp-claws to rip the limbs off anyone who happens to be get in your way, we can guarantee you’ll be doing it with a grin of perverse satisfaction across your face.
Prototype’s new antihero, Alex Mercer, is ruthless. There are no good or bad paths to follow throughout the campaign; he’s a killer, and that’s all you really need to know. Prototype’s storyline is an interesting enough premise, but it’s the molding of Mercer into a powerful killing machine that really takes center stage. Alex isn’t worried about who gets in his way on his quest to discover the truth, so you don’t need to worry either. Sit back on your sofa and whack up the 5.1 surround sound, because Alex doesn’t do things quietly. He’ll kill anyone that gets in the way and tear New York City apart in the process.
Prototype follows the story of Alex Mercer, who, after presumed dead and placed in a morgue, wakes up out of a coma to discover that he lost his memory. Alex has been used as a host for a deadly genetic virus that has now infected the whole of New York City. To his surprise, Alex now possesses a devastating range of superpowers, including brute strength, speed, and the ability to shape-shift by changing his appearance and taking on the powers of anyone he consumes. Furthermore, he can absorb people’s memories and initiate flashbacks, which helps him discover the truth behind this deadly disease and find out why the city is now controlled by the oppressive BlackWatch forces and populated with mutated freaks.
Prototype features a bustling, open-world metropolis that is jammed to the rafters with typical sandbox-style missions and side objectives that you can complete at your own pace. There’s nothing particularly innovative about many of the missions types that you carry out in Prototype, so you can expect the likes of point-to-point races and rescue, escape and protect missions, but more often than not you’ll be fighting tooth and nail against BlackWatch guards and some of the city’s mutated creatures. One of the major new ideas in Prototype is the concept of shape-shifting, but it hasn’t been implemented as well as we’d hoped. In fact, it wouldn’t have really made any difference if had it been left out completely.
Shape-shifting allows you to blend into a crowd when the enemy is searching for you, or sneak into a facility undetected. You can tap on the D-pad and instantly switch to a different guise. The scenarios used for this particularly ability aren’t that interesting, though. Whenever you transform into another person, the disguise meter lets you know if enemies are aware of your presence. The problem is that the A.I. just isn’t that clever, so when you do get spotted and your pursuers let off rocket launchers and send their tanks heading your way, you can simply use Alex’s parkour skills to zip up the side of a building and hide it out on the rooftops until the coast is clear. It feels like a wasted feature.
Nevertheless, this pointless feature doesn’t distract whatsoever from the enjoyment of the game. Where Prototype really shines is in its vast range of exciting abilities and how you can evolve and better Alex throughout the game. Overturning tanks and plucking helicopters right out of the sky are among Alex’s special powers, but the combat system goes much deeper than that, with pages of upgrades and abilities to unlock. From physical abilities, such as being able to jump higher or glide across the city landscape, to offensive abilities such as ground spikes that allow you to skewer a dozen enemies standing yards away, there’s plenty of variety. How about morphing into a walking shield? Maiming enemies with the Whipfist? Or using one of the devastator attacks, such as Tendril Barrage Devastator, where tendril ejects out of Alex’s skin and impale everyone around him?
The freedom of choice in Prototype means that you rarely see any scripted moments outside of the cut-scenes. There’s so much going on at street level, and you can change it all in the space of a second by firing a rocket launcher at a row of parked cars, or calling in an air-strike. The action is fast, frantic and exciting, though it can get a little confusing and a bit messy at times, especially when you’re in the middle of a heated battle. There are certainly tweaks that could improve combat. The lock-on function, for instance, can behave erratically; you don’t always target the person you wanted to. Still, the targeting works acceptably for a game with dozens — if not hundreds — of targets on screen at most times. On that note, however, the developer could also be accused of throwing too many enemies at you at one time, focusing on quantity rather than quality of enemy A.I. We’ve often witnessed enemies running about aimlessly, not appearing to really know what they’ve supposed to be doing. Nevertheless, when you have so many powers at your fingertips, combat rarely feels like a chore. Prototype has fun-factor nailed down, even with some of its technical inadequacies.
Aside from the exciting superpowers and the streamlined upgrade system, there are a couple of other features worth mentioning. The ‘Web of Intrigue,’ for example, pushes the narrative forward superbly by tasking you with hunting the streets of the ‘Big Apple’ for targets that may hold memories that are of interest to you. You can spend time tracking down and consuming these people to trigger flashbacks that advance the story. Alternatively, you can partake in many of the other side missions, such as jumping across roof-tops and weaving in and out of the busy city streets in search of collectible orbs. As with any sandbox game, you can play Prototype at your own pace and there are tons of objectives to get stuck into that add hours worth of gameplay onto the campaign.
One area of Alex’s superpowers which we are slightly disappointed with are his parkour skills. Alex can leap over cars, run up buildings, barrel roll over trees and the like. Though this can be quite exhilarating when he moves fluidly at such a lightning pace, poor camera angles alongside some glitchy animations can cause irritation. Our initial excitement of traversing the rooftops and exploring the city was also somewhat dampened due to the ugly textures and dismal looking districts. Many areas of the city are indistinguishable from the next, and despite the scale of the New York we frequently lost our bearings.
In other games those would probably be major issues, but Prototype is so much better than its "rough around the edges" look. In fact, in some ways it works perfectly with Alex Mercer’s rugged antihero abilities. Prototype isn’t the complete sandbox package, but it does offer dozens upon dozens of hours of unscripted and explosive fun. Becoming an awesome one-man killing machine doesn’t get much more satisfying than this.