First things first: Prototype and InFamous are completely different games. On the surface they look similar, and sure they both came out around the same time leading to many, many arguments on forum boards over which one is better; but I’m here to preach the truth and tell you that they couldn’t be further apart in terms of gameplay mechanics, powers, visuals and so forth. InFamous focuses more on shooting – with long-range lightning zaps – and great platforming mechanics, whereas Prototype is more about blowing crap up in the most outrageous ways possible. There are no moral choices here, everything is expendable – collateral damage is out. Something bad has happened to you and no one is going to stop you getting to the truth, be it the military, the deadly virus spreading through the city or even the multitude of frustrating missions on offer here.
You’re Alex Mercer, and you’re one pissed off dude.
Waking up in a morgue can do that to you, but I suppose finding out you have crazy powers soon after can’t be that bad. Alex Mercer doesn’t think of it that way; he’s angry and he’s going to use these powers to chomp his way through the zombified residents of Manhattan to find out just how he ended up like this. Cue a relatively simple story that’s surprisingly difficult to follow and you’re just as confused as he is.
“Prototype is all about rewarding you with these malicious super powers as you dig deep to reveal your most malevolent tendencies.”No doubt you’ll want to ignore it and take Mercer’s approach to things then. Kill, kill, kill and never stop. Prototype is all about rewarding you with these malicious super powers as you dig deep to reveal your most malevolent tendencies. From Wolverine style claws to a mammoth scythe-like blade, the things that grow out of Mercer’s body are here to massacre by the bucket load. The amount of gore may seem a tad over-exuberant at times, but there’s no denying the satisfaction of using a whip-like blade to cut people in half horizontally and vertically simultaneously; each kill and action piling on the experience points to make these ferocious powers even more devastating. There’s plenty of fun to be had cruising the city, laying waste to the residents, but as Prototype progresses it never gives you that feeling of supreme dominance. Sure, you feel powerful, but once the enemy count is raised and some of the stronger foes are levelled at you, your powers lose some of their shine. You’re constantly bombarded by helicopters, tanks, homing missiles and the infected Hunters who seem to take great joy in unleashing an unblockable fury of aggravating punches at you. You can fight them off with a combination of different powers, but when you’re having to run away to regain your health it takes away that feeling of power.
What’s on the menu tonight?
If all the gruesome powers weren’t enough to tell you this is a dark game then protagonist Alex Mercer’s way of gaining health should help sway you in that direction. To keep alive you actually have to consume other people – which, in other words, amounts to eating them. It’s a cool aspect, albeit an odd one when you consider you’re always killing your only way to stay alive. But it works well and is certainly interesting, especially when you can consume certain targets and view their memories – adding some much needed back-story to what is a generally uninteresting tale.
In truth this isn’t as bad as it might seem. On the whole you’ll feel all mighty, but towards the end the frustrating missions pile on and you feel at your weakest when you should really be at your strongest. It’s a case of the player progression system not quite working properly, but there’s just so many abilities to upgrade it’s hard to know which ones will benefit you in the future. It definitely seems overambitious once you enter the upgrade screen. Move after move after move, there are a few pages shoved in your face, each scrolling down to reveal even more upgrades. It’s quite daunting just trying to remember what you can do, let alone the button combinations to do it. With so many the control scheme can seem a bit clunky at times, for instance, to change powers mid-battle you need to use a wheel system to select everything. It isn’t ideal but it’s probably the best way to handle everything – testament to the myriad moves and abilities on display.
One of which is your over-the-top-look-at-me-I-can-run-up-buildings preference of travel. Developers Radical Entertainment worked on 2005’s Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, and if you have any recollection of that game then the platforming – if you can call it that – will feel strikingly familiar in Prototype. In fact, it’s pretty much the same system, aside from the flying squirrel-style gliding Mercer can pull off. It may seem like lazy game design but it’s still a fantastic way to travel and engage in some mid-air combat with the plethora of attack choppers on your tail. Just like the combat there’s no room for finesse here, which while enjoyable, can become frustrating during one of the games’ side-missions that has you dashing across rooftops, through checkpoints, trying to set a good time. Although, generally the side-missions are disappointing anyway since they don’t really tie into the story in any way, they’re more like mini-games as you try and glide your way to a giant target on the ground, or kill a certain number of enemies in any given time limit. It’s basically a way to try and hone your skills whilst raking up experience and competing for bronze, silver and gold medals. It’s a nice distraction but you’re unlikely to spend much time doing them.
“The visuals here are so poor that they actually manage to disrupt the gameplay experience.”The city does offer some other diversions if you’re up to the task, though. Just like any sandbox title there are plenty of hidden items spread throughout Prototype‘s rendition of Manhattan. Much like the orbs in Crackdown, there are 200 to find, offering some extra experience points and Achievements. It’s not the most engaging task but it does go some way to showing you how out-dated the visuals are in Prototype. There could be a hidden orb across the street from you but you’ll be unable to see it because the draw distance is so poor. As you progress through the game you’ll eventually gain the ability to fly helicopters; a seemingly great way to look for orbs from up high. Sadly the game restricts even that as the draw distance comes into effect again. As you gain altitude the city will be cleansed in a deep fog, only for it to dissipate as you descend, revealing plenty of texture pop-in as entire buildings and street details appear before your very eyes. Prototype may run smoothly but the visuals here are so poor that they actually manage to disrupt the gameplay experience.
In the end, Prototype has plenty of fun snuggled behind its not-so-pretty exterior – both in terms of the visuals and general consensus of it’s main character. The vast amount of powers on display is a bit daunting – and the game can feel overambitious at times – but there’s no denying the amount of fun that comes from combining them all together to wreck havoc on the helpless inhabitants of New York City. That joy can turn to frustration later on in the game when your powers lose some of their excitement from the relentless amount of obstacles thrown your way, but there’s enough variety in the missions beforehand to keep you interested till the very end. It’s just a shame there wasn’t a bigger focus on the direction of the game and the graphics engine, otherwise this could have been a real gem.