The chopper begins its descent, and the ricochet of a trailing chain gun forces you over the edge of the building. You plummet to the streets below, and hit the surface hard, sending chunks of tarmac flying into a scrambling crowd of panicked people. You morph your arm into a mass of whip-like tendrils, cast out and reel yourself toward the military bird. As you smash through the cockpit, blood spatters the interior while you consume the pilot. With the chopper at your disposal, now’s the time to wreak havoc.
You are Alex Mercer, an amnesiac protagonist- awoken from the dead mid autopsy, only to find he’s become a human form virus, genetically altered anti-hero.
Prototype is part of the open-world sandbox genre, and is developed by Radical Entertainment, who is responsible for titles such as The Incredible Hulk, and draws obvious parallels from other recent superhero titles in the genre. Prototype brings something new to the table though, as this time around- you’re the antagonistic, grossly overpowered bad-guy, which you’ll soon discover is much more fun than trying to be the pre-pubescent, web-slinging Peter Parker.
The game play is intuitive and fluid, although begins by throwing you in the deep-end, being forced along a very linear path dodging an array of militant power, with limited knowledge of abilities. Once the initial ‘taste-test’ is over, you step back with Alex echeloning the last 18 days to a masked stranger on the rooftop of a skyscraper. You replay each day, searching for answers, unlocking secrets, and a unique set of superpowers.
Alex’s initial ‘powers’ including a somewhat disturbing consume ability, acrobatics, speed, strength and shape-shifting. As the game progresses, you are able to hone and intensify individual abilities using an experience currency called ‘Evolution Points’ (or EP). Alex’s ‘consume’ ability also allows him to possess the skills, memories and appearance of any character, which is very similar to that of Paul Sylar from the hit TV show Heroes. This fosters Alex's effectiveness with military weapons and vehicles; the memories help progress the story through the ‘web of intrigue’; and shape-shifting aids in avoiding detection. Another bonus is each consume restores a portion of health.
All of these abilities are perfectly balanced, with certain missions requiring you to problem solve, and utilize a specific skill to complete the task at hand. One example is during a military infiltration mission, where you are required to consume the base commander. Once you have stolen his identity, you are able to enter the base, and consume personnel within the confines of the base, who provide you with ‘upgrades’. Consuming multiple helicopter pilots will provide you with the ability to fly different grades of choppers, and the same is available for all weapon and vehicle abilities. You will need to upgrade these abilities, as the intensity of foes increases as the story progresses. The smorgasbord includes standard military infantry to genetically altered super-soldiers; several grades of tanks and helicopters; infected citizens to supreme hunters. The only issue seems to be the difficulty ramp, which is sporadically uneven, at times requiring you to repeat specific missions several times. This usually means you’ll have to adjust your approach and style of play to try and overcome a scenario.
If you do become frustrated with the main story-line at any time, a plethora of additional content is offered through ‘events’. These events unlock as you progress, including collecting glowing orbs; several running, gliding and consume based missions. Each of these events will award you with a rating and/or experience points. You also have the opportunity to participate in these events again to achieve a Platinum or Radical rating, providing no real benefit, apart from being able to boast to your mates.
Prototype’s control style is referred to as an ‘adaptive parkour’, meaning Alex can perform smooth and seamless acrobatics, lunging over obstacles and sprinting up buildings with fast-paced free running through the city streets. Although it may sound like a simplified control system, it works well; with effortless control from the player and a very short learning curve.
Those of you who have played recent non-linear, open world titles, such as Assassin’s Creed or even Fallout 3, may be somewhat disappointed. Prototype does not deliver overwhelming visual beauty, and with a less than impressive draw distance, there is no excuse for a lack of sharpness to detail we have come to expect. The draw distance may also deter you from attempting to collect all the glowing orbs in the game, as you need to practically be standing directly in front of an orb for it to appear on screen. Instead, Prototype projects a bland and sometimes ugly appearance. Point in case: ‘Hives’ (buildings infected for breeding). These Hives are littered around the city of Manhattan, and are the core of an infected hot-zone. Unfortunately, no matter what building previously existed, or where the building is located, they all appear to be the same generic rectangular box, covered in an unflattering, blocky skin.
I initially had high hopes for Prototype’s sound presentation, as it is the first Xbox 360 title to feature DTS Neural Surround™ Technology, which allows the output of full 7.1 surround sound to supported AV receivers. Unfortunately, my expectations were shattered, as the overall sound provides little relief. There is little ambience to immerse you, with the only exception being the distorted military voices over a radio, resulting in an unnatural and sterile feeling world. A decent soundtrack definitely would not have gone astray, and titles like this make you thankful for the Xbox 360’s ability to play your own music in-game. Luckily, the voice acting adds a convincing level of depth, with several well scripted and voiced characters to add a positive element to an already solid storyline.
Most experienced gamers will complete the main storyline within six to eight hours, but the additional events and achievements add hours of extra play time. The achievements are varied, but unless you are concerned about your gamer score, it’s not likely you will return to Manhattan to complete the full story again, or persist in collecting the sometimes invisible orbs. There also seems to be a growing trend, of developers neglecting the addition of decent multiplayer. A cooperative or versus mode would definitely have been welcomed to add some replay value, but unfortunately it appears to have been overlooked.
Prototype is definitely worth a purchase for fans of the open world genre, and although there are obvious flaws, the detraction isn’t so great that it will put you off playing altogether. Much like Crackdown and Saints Row, this is a title that you can sit and play for a half-hour before dinner, but the lack of additional content may encourage most to trade this out of their library.
AAG Score 7.5/10
1. One of the few titles release this year with an original storyline and concept.
2. Short learning curve
3. Everyone knows its fun to play an overpowered bad guy!
1. Visual issues can affect gameplay.
2. Lacks multiplayer
3. Uneven difficulty curve
4. For the first game to feature DTS Neural Surround™ Technology, it can feel underwhelming
Reviewed and Written by Luke Brook