I looked forward to Prototype the moment I first saw the preview trailers for it, whenever that was. A mutant with the ability to shift his body into all sorts of weaponry whilst leaping over tall buildings and running up walls appealed to me. Prototype did not fail to deliver.
You play the character of Alex Mercer, a man infected with a virus that has increased his strength, speed, endurance and most useful of all, given him the ability to morph his body into various forms. The virus has also allowed him to ‘consume’ any living tissue into himself, gaining health and as a key point to the game – their memories. Mercer wakes up on a morgue table, two scientists about to slice him open for study when he wakes up, not remembering anything about himself. Not too long after, he discovers his strange abilities and sets out to find out who did this to him; and to remember his past.
The only way to describe this game, is to take Spiderman, Grand Theft Auto, add a dash of Crackdown and mix in a hint of Doom. Blend it all together and you get Prototype.
The game is set in the city of New York; the entrances and exits to the city sealed by the military – the cruel and heartless Blackwatch; the military group here to stop the virus spreading; who are one of your main enemies throughout the game. The game free roaming, so the city is your playground, allowing you to take advantage of Alex Mercer’s unique mode of transportation, the super-parkour that allows him to run up the side of buildings, leap massive heights – and later on – glide like a squirrel and gain momentum through the air via short air-bursts. There’s no need for a car, not when your able to move faster than one and climb/leap over obstacles with the greatest of ease.
The second enemies you’ll be facing in the game are the Infected. These are the ones that the virus has taken hold of and started to have it’s merry way with. You’ll face a multitude of them, much like the Blackwatch members, ranging from newly infected to the much stronger and much more mutated Hunters, able to match Mercer for speed, agility and strength.
On the flip side of things, Blackwatch are much more technologically superior. While the infected will beat you to death with fists, the Blackwatch will blow you away. Machine-guns, grenade launchers, rocket launchers, tanks, aircraft – the hardware is there. The Blackwatch are here to stop the virus, specifically out on the hunt for Alex – so if your seen, they’ll call in a Strike Team. Two fast moving helicopter gunships, armed to the teeth and not afraid to fire on civilians. They’re ruthless.
So, you need to escape from one of these strike teams. Here’s where one of the games key parts comes into play – the ability to consume. Any person that is uninfected in the game cane be consumed and their likeness used as a disguise. Find a target – anyone will do – pluck the hapless victim from their feet and get out of sight. Consuming a victim is a gory process, before Mercer’s morphed biology kicks in and adds their mass to his own. As long as your out of sight, you can switch into this disguise and walk amongst the populous freely. If your still in sight however, you’ll not fool the Blackwatch, who’ll still give chase.
There is the other option of dealing with pursuers, mutated or otherwise – fighting.
The virus allows Mercers to morph his body into various weapon forms, be it claw hands, hands that are essentially massive pieces of rock, or spikes that propel themselves through the ground to impale foes. The number of different abilities is quite bewildering, each with a charge up attack that does a bit more damage and a multitude of combos that do chain damage. The unmorphed hands for example, come with charge attacks and combinations, one being a quick two punch combo, followed by an upper-cut, before swiftly landing three more punches into the airborne target of the vicious assault. Attacks can be chained together to create devastating combinations that can leave an area swept clean of enemies. The same basis applies to the morphed attacks. These attacks and abilities are all chosen on a dial based system for ease of use, making it easy to choose a suitable weapon for the situation at hand. Mercer also has the ability, when unlocked, to use a devastator technique. These require a portion of Mercer’s ‘critical mass’ (another unlocked technique); but do catastrophic amounts of damage. The one everyone has seen will be the tendril devastator, where tendrils of black matter erupt from Mercer’s body and destroy everything. Handy in a pinch.
At the true start of the game (not the tutorial section of the game), you start with only your hands – and have to work your way up through the upgrade system to gain more attack functions. The upgrade system works on Evolution Points – gained by defeating enemies, completing missions and completing side challenges. I’ll get onto those in a moment.
The system is broken down into various sections, each new skill or upgrade to an existing skill costing a certain amount of evolution points. Some skills, however, such as vehicle and gunnery skills, can only be upgraded by consuming certain military members within Blackwatch bases.
Bases and Infected Hives (buildings consumed by the virus) are a part of the side quests in the game – they’ll pop up in fixed locations all around the city. You have the option of going and destroying them. Blackwatch bases will provide you with vehicles and weaponry to get the job done, whilst they will also provide when outside an infected Hive – the area a war zone between both sides. There’s little variation here, more often than not you’ll find yourself hopping into a tank to get the job done as simply as possible.
The other side quests are much more like races against the clock. There’s the Crackdown style rooftop races, running through the points as quickly as possible. The ‘consume’ events, which unlock more of Mercer’s memories by getting to targets and consuming them within the time limit. Finally, there’s the glide challenges, where you try to get as close to a target as possible by using Mercer’s glide technique. The other side quests, however, cater to those with a need for violence. There are the ‘Kill’ side-quests, that set you with a power and tell you to kill as many enemies as possible within the time limit. The ‘War’ missions set you on one of the sides, Infected or Blackwatch, and have you kill the opposing side as quickly as possible. In reality, I found myself getting a bit bored of the side-quests, as they are very similar to one another.
Graphically, it’s a wonderful game. Don’t expect GTA4 here, it’s a whole different ball game. There’s masses more people walking the streets, so cuts had to be made. The detail is all there on the character models, whilst it suffers from GTA-style character clones, where there will often be numerous incarnations of the same person wandering the streets at any given time. The infected look like something straight out of Doom; Hunters especially.
I found a few problems, nit-picks that got to me whilst I was playing the game. Firstly, the AI. The Blackwatch are supposed to be here to stop the virus, yet if they see a man scaling the side of a building at a brisk run – or leap off one, hitting the floor with spectacular force, they’ll not bat an eye lid. If you attack, however, or pick someone up in sight of them, they’ll go ballistic.Possibly an aide to gameplay due to the nature of the parkour travel, but it would have been nice to have them raise more interest than a ‘Go check that out!’
As stated earlier, the second problem that got to me was the repetitive nature to the side missions. They’re all the same, in essence, and have been seen before in other games. The War and Kill missions are a violent break from the norm, but it would have been nice to have some more variation to them all.
The third and final problem, is the bland character acting. Mercer is very dry, in my opinion, his sister and a few of the other characters bland. The only ones I actually enjoyed watching during cut scenes were the military characters. This could all be notched up to, however, the nature of the game. Somehow, it doesn’t feel right.
Problems aside, the game has me hooked. The storyline is gripping, if hard to follow due to the nature of how it’s told and had me wanting to find out more and more of how it was all going to end.
Prototype is one of those games you’ll leave and come back to when the mood takes you. Much like Grand Theft Auto. Only with claws.