Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Prototype is ultra-violent

Lots of games are violent, but Prototype is ultra-violent, filled with bloody carnage that leaves no one safe. I was a little upset at first that I couldn't even try to be good, but I felt pretty liberated once I simply accepted that I was going to kill innocents as often -- if not more so -- than I killed enemies. Turning people and objects into baby food is actually a lot of fun in a ridiculous sort of way, and almost make Prototype a game I could recommend to lots of people. But a host of flaws -- in the gameplay, the storytelling, and the design -- repeatedly brought me down throughout my time with it.

The two things Prototype does best are traversal and combat. Running around the city on foot could've been a drag, but I had a lot of fun doing so thanks to main character Alex Mercer's abilities to run up buildings, jump like a super human, and glide. Getting from place to place became its own sort of game, and I never once missed having a car or motorized transport (later you can use helicopters and tanks, but why bother if you don't have to?). Fighting as Alex is invigorating and fun (until the latter missions, anyway), and running into hordes of enemies and slicing them to pieces appealed to the same parts of me that love the God of War games. Prototype also throws a mix of enemies at you, making you change up your combat strategies enough that it doesn't feel like you're just mashing one button through hours of fighting.

Prototype does a great job at continuously empowering your character to be an action star. From the moment I started I was running up buildings, throwing cars, and taking on waves of enemies without a problem. And thanks to the Evolution system -- where you can spend points earned from missions and enemies on upgrades like new weapons or the ability to jump higher -- I had plenty of ways to keep enhancing my character to make him feel more powerful as the game went on. The upgrade system is pretty extensive, too, and points are given generously enough throughout the story portion of the game that you can get most all the abilities you want, with optional side missions giving you more points for additional abilities. Most importantly, upgrading keeps the action fun, giving the player choices in how they want to tailor their character for their play style (I was big into hit-and-run tactics, and upgraded my character with abilities to get around fast first and foremost).

When you're in the middle of some balanced combat, or doing a mission that involves chasing someone, Prototype is a lot fun. But all too often other missions frustrate. The first half of the game is relatively easy, but as things proceed it becomes increasingly more difficult in a way that just feels cheap; instead of offering more skilled opponents Prototype simply throws increasing amounts of them at you, making it so you're eventually wading into a hail of bullets and fists. Between boss fights and the final missions I think I spent more time running away and gathering health than I did actually focusing on the tasks of the mission itself. I'm not saying the game should be easier, but it was maddening how hard the missions towards the end of the game were compared with those at the beginning, and they were made so in such an artificial-feeling way.

"Artificial" is actually a good word for how Prototype's New York City feels as well. The city is heavily populated, yes, but unfortunately it's with the same five or so character models for the cars, people and zombies. Even the buildings look the same (especially at a distance), resulting in a city that feels fake and devoid of actual life. Moreover, animations for both civilians and soldiers are often pretty bad, resulting in some pretty comical instances of people moving around in exactly the same way, as if they're a part of a synchronized walking troupe. In this way Prototype looks and feels a lot like a game from late last-gen, and it feels out of place in comparison to its contemporaries.

Regardless of looks, what kills me about the soldiers and civilians in Prototype is their AI. Sometimes the AI is incredibly dense, not noticing me even as I'm running down the street throwing civilians into the air; at other times the highly alert military quickly cracks down on my abnormal activities. The dichotomy makes everyone seem like they're toys running around in a sandbox, which would be fine except that the story the game's trying to tell makes it seem like everything should be taken more seriously than the world makes it feel.

Despite all the silly antics you'll pull off, the story of Alex Mercer is supposed to be anything but. He's not exactly a character you can identify with, partially because he's a jerk and partially because the story is just kind of hard to follow. The game constantly moves your character from places in the cut-scenes to environments in-game that leave you wondering how he got there, and often the cut-scenes themselves stop in places that leave you wondering what the hell had just happened. At some point I got a recap on the story, but even this clarification didn't make the story feel less shallow or ultimately pointless.

Prototype's combat and world traversal alone can provide more than a few hours of entertainment, I just can't get over how cheap a lot of the game feels. Whether it's the dated looks, its frustratingly difficult latter portion, or its awkward storytelling, Prototype often feels like a budget title that unfortunately doesn't have a budget price.

The general feeling about Prototype is that it's just ok, but nothing special. Lots of reviewers found the same technical flaws I did, but most everyone still had fun with the action. Below is some of the notable commentary...

The Critics Agree

"It's an age-old issue exposed here by the sheer chaos of the battles. All the abilities in the world can't help deal with the hordes of viral mutants and soldiers and military hardware engaged in the fight. Too many times, you wind up at the restart screen feeling like you got there because Alex didn't do what you were trying to tell him to." -- Garnett Lee, 1up.com

Quite often Prototype follows the design philosophy of everything and the kitchen sink. Instead of fighting a few enemies, the game tosses dozens upon dozens at you. Then it throws in a few tanks and helicopters as well as a couple dozen innocent bystanders for good measure. It's a design that creates a lot of tension, though I found the action too chaotic at times. -- Erik Brudvig, IGN.com

"The upgrades screen includes dozens of abilities spread across numerous pages, and not only did I get nowhere close to unlocking them all during my first playthrough, but I didn't even think to use all of the powers and moves I did get access to. The number of button combinations you'd need to remember and bust out on the fly to utilize every last ability is too overwhelming for them all to be useful concurrently while you're in the thick of the game's often dizzying action." -- Brad Shoemaker, Giantbomb.com

The Critics Disagree

"I encounter more satisfying action and memorable unscripted moments in the first five minutes of Prototype than I have in the entirety of many lesser action games, and the whole experience is serviced by a sense of flair and meaning that's compelling without ever becoming suffocating." -- Cameron Lewis, Gamepro.com

"Prototype is a game with many cool features. However, it lacks many of the finishing touches that make for a great and memorable game. To say the graphics and game engine need work is a massive understatement and many of the missions are cookie cutter in design without any real focus or attention to detail." -- Erik Brudvig, IGN.com

The Word of Twitter

"Prototype is one hell of a drug...can't stop playing that messed up game, even tho I know I suck for doing so... :D" -- Kakts from Twitter.com

"If your a gamer, try out Prototype, it's extremely fun and addictive." -- Joey_Wilkinson from Twitter.com

©2009-06-22, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved
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