Alex Mercer can pride himself on being the videogame equivalent of Rambo, if such a feat can be deemed pride worthy. He may possess the gift of coherent speech and favours his weapons of a little more unconventional nature, but at heart the two men are uncannily alike. Neither character care for colour, creed, race or religion, all that matters to these men is that everybody is killed and that every single mortality arrives via the glorious form of a fountain of blood, detached body parts, and total unadulterated gratuitousness.
[PROTOTYPE] – here in known as Prototype – is not the kind of game to flirt between genres. The word ‘freedom’ isn’t proudly stamped anywhere on its case and yet it’s a sandbox title, just like inFamous, in which you can do almost anything. Anything except drive cars, but when you can hijack a tank, sprint up the side of a skyscraper, surf the corpse of a zombie and fly through the streets of New York, it’s a small sacrifice. Prototype serves little more purpose than to present the player with fifteen or so hours of fun, but it knows it and is all the better for the realisation.
As such, bludgeoning pavements with the crushed residue of terrified characters is commonplace. Scaling the Empire State building with a soldier in hand and launching him off into the distance equally so. Catapulting lorries at a helicopter is no rarer sight than Alex himself leaping from skyscraper to skyscraper with the deftest of touches, back flips, and slides before severing several soldiers in one slick swing with some form of hellish – blade laced whip (Whipfist though the weapon itself is of a less eyebrow raising nature.)
With so many weapons and skills at your disposal, Prototype could have easily become convoluted in the control department but Alex is liquid in his movements (which presents some issues in smaller areas of the map) and a familiar menu wheel keeps weapons, disguises, and armour within the touch of a few buttons.
Scaling buildings, or even running through the streets, requires nothing more than holding the R trigger and directing Alex. He does the hard work flipping over abandoned vehicles or defying gravity, which can leave you feeling disconnected from the action but it’s a worthy sacrifice, one the cinematic experience more than makes up for. It’s almost God Mode incorporated, though frequent difficulty spikes leave some of the more textbook missions (protect the doctor, escort the tank) on the wrong side of mediocre.
Where the controls don’t suffice however is with the lock on. With so much going on screen at once the automatic lock on rarely chooses the same target you’re looking to kill (which is usually the one most likely to knock you back to the previous checkpoint). At its worst it scours civilians, cars, and enemies. Luckily Alex’s attacks usually deal area damage but taking to the skies or stuck within the hull of a tank, as some missions force, the lock on system is woeful and frequently the cause of death.
Like cars under a tank, any narrative coherence is shattered reasonably early on. There’s something about a violent military attempting to control a viral outbreak. That itself is spawning savage mutants and leaving the general populace a little insane. But in Layman’s terms it translates into: Kill. Kill. Kill. Explosion. Cut scenes rarely last more than thirty-seconds and the majority of the narrative is locked away inside the minds of NPC’s scattered across the city. With the ability to consume, Alex not only restores his health by leeching the innards from anyone ill fated enough to spawn near to him, but also gains access to their memories. Obviously this means much of the story can be ignored, missed, or never found but it’s reasonably disjointed and dysfunctional.
Which is fine because Radical Entertainment acknowledge this and keep Prototype fresh with a vast list of weapons and upgrades spread evenly through the course of the game.
Like inFamous, Prototype utilises an experience system dictated by the players actions: finishing missions, killing enemies, escaping strike teams, completing side quests, and discovering the proverbial hidden items scattered about the city, all tie into the evolution points total which can then be exchanged for increasingly malevolent upgrades to weapons, or other useful enhancements and abilities.
All of which are useful traits as Liberty City, from a design perspective only, is fantastic; allowing Alex to utilise the abundant skyscrapers as escape routes as well as the lower buildings to isolate enemies or scout for stealthy entrances or quick hijackings.
At first the monochromic aesthetic is somewhat disappointing, so to say you won’t find yourself perched at the top of the Empire State building looking out over a richly detailed landscape. But as the game progresses and more of the population succumb to the virus, circling ravens, smouldering buildings, and the general anarchy make for an engrossing backdrop. Even if they are only witnessed momentarily as Alex drops to the ground to consume a doctor, or hijack a tank. The lack of notable landmarks is unlikely to persuade you to return once the game is over, particularly if you’ve finished the side missions as well as the story, but makes for an ideal setting for the fifteen or so hours the game lasts.
And Prototype could easily last longer should you choose to engage in all it has to offer. Whilst there’s no superfluous karmic choices to be made throughout and there is little inspiring a repeat play, there is plenty to do. Military bases scattered throughout the city contain key personnel who can be consumed to learn new abilities. Most revolve around the weapons the military use and so in the face of your own overpowering arsenal are redundant, but sneaking inside and the consequent massacre is enough fun to warrant doing at least a few.
Other missions involve murdering as many enemies in the time limit as possible (usually from within a tank or helicopter), races and more killing. For those looking to spend more hours than Prototype probably warrants, there are four medals assigned to each mission, so those not happy until they’ve reached 100% have plenty to play for.
It’s unlikely you’ll stick around that long though as by the time the final missions come round Prototype’s appeal is already wearing thin. Despite offering plenty of new tools and upgrades to maim with, the core gameplay doesn’t stand the test of time, particularly throughout the later game where missions are drawn out much like inFamous’ by repeating the same objective over and over.
Regardless of its flaws Prototype still achieves that which so many sandbox games fail to; it makes you feel powerful. Missions may be variations on the familiar: go here, fetch this, kill them, but the fusion of liquid controls, a formidable and sadistic array of weaponry, and the naturally cinematic aspect that accompanies it keep them enjoyable throughout the majority of the game. There’s no throwaway karma system obstructing the brutal gameplay and little in the way of an immersive storyline but the developer knows it. As a result Prototype is gratuitously violent, equally slick, and a hell of a lot of fun.