Alex Mercer stands on the roof of a New York skyscraper. He wears a dingy hoodie, his clothes are soiled with blood, and he looks as pale as death. Peering down at the traffic below, he can see expensive cars chugging along narrow lanes, and pedestrians strolling busily along sidewalks. Alex gives no thought to them. He does not brace himself or even take a deep breath. He simply jumps. Eighty stories down, he plummets through the air. With a mighty crash, he lands on the asphalt, smashing through concrete like a massive wrecking ball. The resounding quake sends people running, screaming for their lives. They think they’ve witnessed a suicide or some natural disaster, but no – Alex merely crouches for a moment, then rises to his feet, as though recovering from a mere two meter drop.
And just like that, he’s off and running, vaulting over incoming taxi cabs and cracking concrete with supernatural dismounts. Up ahead is a solid wall, the broad side of a massive warehouse. He never slows. Alex charges straight toward the wall, and is suddenly running right up the side, perpendicular to the ground. Before reaching the top, he kicks both feet, propelling himself high into the air, landing on his new rooftop haven and preferred vantage point.
Now he’s ready to begin.
This scenario is quite typical in Prototype. The protagonist, as the game’s cover art suggests, has become imbued with superhuman abilities. He doesn’t know how, or why, but he aims to find out. And he will kill anyone who stands in his way.
Alright, so maybe the premise isn’t exactly brimming with originality. It sounds similar to the many comic-to-film adaptations we’ve been bombarded with in the cinemas these past few years. Is this a bad thing? I would say not. After all, when a hero passes through several mediums (book to film, then film to video game), he’s bound to lose a lot of his original luster. Since Prototype’s antihero was born digitally, he has lost nothing. This is his original playground, and it suits him perfectly.
I say “playground” because I do believe this is the feeling players will get once dropping into the world of Prototype. Remember when the teachers waved you off, and you were set loose upon a verdant landscape with interesting terrain, free to roam and explore as you choose? It’s kind of like that. Sure, Prototype isn’t an RPG; you won’t be chatting up the locals or anything. You will, however, consume their very essence and invade the neurological fabric of their bodies to read their minds and memories. Not a bad tradeoff, yes?
The real “playground”, I suppose, is used in the acrobatic and combative sense. While Alex can pick up weapons from fallen foes, this is not a particularly great temptation for someone of his power. Why crouch behind a car and fire bullets into an attacking soldier when you can simply pick the car up and throw it at him? Can you honestly say that option holds no appeal? I thought not.
Of course, that is but one option available to you. Alex might decide to charge at him, smashing through bones with brutal punches and kicks. Or, if some deadly scythes happen to grow from his arms, Alex might carve the soldier into a gory mess, until there is nothing left of him but a red puddle on the concrete. Maybe a few tanks show up. If he’s feeling defensive, a hardened carapace can be grown over his body to keep him safe until he makes his next move. Or maybe he just doesn’t want to be bothered, so he dashes away from the soldier and lingers on a rooftop, Batman-style, until the enemies lose interest. This, of course, is a great opportunity to utilize the disguise power and sneak up behind the relaxed soldier for some stealthy action, followed by an exciting evisceration or two. Or three. Or twenty.
Truly, no combat scenario plays out exactly the same in Prototype. The developers appear to have a firm understanding of what it means to place a “sandbox” combat system within an urban “playground” for the player. Getting pleasure out of each and every unique action, which can be done a dozen times over without getting repetitive, is what fun combat is all about. We seem to know this well, yet many games have difficulty getting it right. Prototype delivers the perfect superhero-battlefield experience that similar titles offer only a taste of.
Without giving anything away, I can promise you that this is one of the better campaigns you will find in an action game. Prototype is perfect for getting through those treacherously hot summer days. It’s visually exciting - dense with neat effects and striking imagery, moody and atmospheric without straining the eyes, and surprisingly smooth despite the scale of the world. Audio is also strong, from the grinding metal of a crushed automobile to the thrumming score that underlies the terrific action. This is the sort of game you simply have to play to understand – all your cares seem to melt away when you’re hopping from rooftop to rooftop in the amber glow of an urban sunset. Sure, the enemies are a bit limited in their variety, and there isn’t any multiplayer, but are these problems glaring enough to detract from the overall experience? Absolutely not.
Prototype perfectly embodies everything you could want from a summer game. It’s exciting, beautiful, liberating, and most important of all, it’s tremendous fun. If you can spare the cash, go buy it, no questions asked.
Nine out of ten