NYCC ’09: Prototype
Alex Mercer has no memory, and it has become apparent through some time with the Prototype demo, the only way he might be able to regain it is to kill anything that violates his personal space. Notably, Alex isn’t a normal man and he packs a large arsenal of abilities to not only dispatch enemies, but eliminate them in a number of extremely brutal fashions.
The Prototype demo drops you into Alex’s shoes smack dab in Midtown Manhattan. The city is in a state of chaos and people aren’t acting in the friendly manner you might expect from a New York City street. Upon closer inspection it’s evident that the citizens running through the streets have been ‘infected’ by some sort of mutagen, theoretically related to your own mutation. Most of the ‘infected’ are content to worry about their own problems, but once in a while they’ll attack you. As Alex you have immediate access to a range of normal attacks including a variety of strings. You can also pick up most anything at arm’s length, including cars and other larger objects.
As you’re getting accustomed to fighting as Alex a group of Blackwatch military personnel begin to fire on you. Combining Alex’s huge jumping ability and Prototype’s handy lock on feature the Blackwatch fighters are easily dispatched through a series of normal attacks and a move that can only be described as face surfing. Once you’re finished with the soldiers the game will prompt you to head towards Times Square.
Navigation in Prototype is handled much like most sandbox titles. The game will provide on screen prompts to keep you headed in the right direction while a small map keeps you aware of your overall surroundings. What differs between Prototype and a game like Grand Theft Auto is Alex has no need to hijack a vehicle to travel, being the super powered mutant he is, Alex can run at incredible speeds as well as scale buildings with little to no effort. Running up the sides of buildings and grabbing cars on the run is handled beautifully thanks to Prototype’s slick and fluid animations.
Once hitting Times Square you’re greeted by yet another wave of Blackwatch soldiers. Before the engagement starts the game takes a brief pause for Alex to mutate his hands into a pair of oversized claws. The claws net you more damage for your normal attacks and also create some interesting new kill animations, such as stuffing enemy’s heads back into their torso.
Following hot on the heels of the Blackwatch agents is a trio of tanks that quite obviously pack a bit more wallop. To compensate, Prototype triggers another cut scene where Alex’s claws mutate once again into a pair of oversized stone fists. Alex’s attacks become appropriately slower but deal noticeably more damage as you attempt to physically beat the tanks into submission. While pounding the steel beasts on foot works it’ll become apparent that trading damage with their huge cannons is less than advisable, leading to taking the fight airborne.
While jumping or wall running you become a lot more difficult for the ground based tanks to not only track but shoot. Jumping high above them, locking on and unleashing the stone hand air special move leads to one of the more satisfying attacks found in the demo. We’ll just say it’ll put a smile on the faces of legions of WWE fans.
After the tanks have been disassembled a group of mutants will show up, looking like they leapt out of a Resident Evil laboratory. Alex mutates for the final time in the demo, returning his left hand to normal and changing his right arm into a huge dual sided blade. Much like the tanks, it behooves Alex to start most of his attacks from well above his enemies. Utilizing his new blade arm, you’ll dive at the mutants in an attempt to impale them on the streets below. While you engage the mutants Blackwatch will begin to fill the streets again with a few more tanks, soldiers and even a couple of helicopters. While you can climb the buildings to dive impale the choppers it seemed an interesting proposition to commandeer one of the fresh tanks and blast the ‘copters out of the sky. Maneuvering the tank is a breeze and the destruction unleashed with every shell both looks and feels incredible, thanks to huge explosions on close hits and even on the errant shots careening into far off buildings. Following the choppers you’ll confront the leader of the Blackwatch team and ‘consume’ him, which in the full game promises to impart abilities and memories. The consumption like most deaths in the game is somewhat graphic and really nails home the overall tone that Radical Entertainment is aiming for.
I have to say that my time with Alex Mercer and Prototype really surprised me. I am very much not a sandbox gamer but found myself really enjoying the wide arsenal of Alex’s quirks and abilities. On the flip side of that, I did find the overall aesthetic and mood of Prototype to be a bit much. Playing as the wandering amnesiac with super powers is not my first choice for a protagonist, and tearing ‘infected’ civilians limb from limb isn’t exactly my idea of fun. The other main concern the demo left me with was whether Alex’s mutations would always be dictated by story or if the player would have the ability to use whichever mutation suits you. Despite these problems, Prototype is now on my 2009 radar and if Radical Entertainment can find a way to vary its missions and craft a compelling narrative it could be one of the great games this year.