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Before The Anti Third-person brigade pickets our offices, let's be fair about this: Prototype does actually do a lot of things right. The game is crammed with great ideas, plus a load of features other people had years ago that Radical are (to put it diplomatically) paying tribute to. The problem is that you get a distinct feeling that Radical have erred too heavily on the quantity side of the quality argument.
The first thing that might strike you is how underwhelming the visuals are. While not affecting the gameplay, it would have been nice to have at least a little bit of an improvement in the visuals over the console versions. That said, when you get high above the city on the tallest buildings, there is a great sense of scale. You do genuinely feel a "Top of the world, ma!" moment hitting you. When you leap off, you do also feel like you are travelling a long distance to the ground. However, I digress.
The concept of Prototype is that you, the hoodie hero Alex Mercer (who we are supposed to believe worked at a genetic research corporation) are on a quest to find out who turned you into a scientific aberration. Dead on a slab at the beginning of the game, you come to life and gradually develop superpowers, like the ability to sprout large claws from your forearms and usurp the bodies of innocent (and not-so-innocent) civilians.
To the game's credit, three or so hours into the game and you are still finding new concepts and ideas thrown at you, but again, to reiterate my earlier point, there are too many of them. You actually end up forgetting a few of them even exist, because you are always discovering new ones. The game itself is GTA-esque, in that a lot of it will be spent roaming about the city of New York taking on storylineadvancing missions and attempting various optional challenges. As you progress, you get experience points which you can spend on unlocking new abilities and powers. The plot is also advanced with the Web of Intrigue, a pseudo-map of connectivity between various characters, most of which have no part to play other than to get 'consumed' by you and have their little plot video unlocked. Incidentally, this is one of the features I forgot existed during play, other than when consuming a character initiated a video clip.
Consuming people basically involves Alex inserting his fist into a person's torso and absorbing them into himself. This also allows you to disguise yourself as that person, which brings in yet another feature involving hiding from the police and soldiers. The theory is that, if you do non-human things in front of them you'll be unmasked. The reality is that it doesn't seem to matter what you do, as the cops won't bat an eyelid. The Al is astoundingly stupid, with police officers often running right past you and yelling, "Lost contact with the suspect". Once I landed inches from a cop after falling off a skyscraper, and his response was"Sarge, I think I saw something".
There's loads more stuff we could talk about, but it distracts from the actual gameplay, which is both fun and not-fun. The fun parts include running up and down buildings, leaping about on rooftops and generally just running around the city. Radical have nailed this aspect of the game, and as you gain abilities and realise you can do anything without alerting the authorities, you'll have a ball. However, the actual missions and combat are boring, in some ways getting in the way of the superior sandbox runabout simulator of the free-roam sections.
There's fun to be had here, but not enough to make you bothered about following the plot or continuing to the end. The plot is a bit of nonsense and the NPCs' Al is dumber than a bag of hair, but slashing up civilians with the Claw is always amusing.
Roaming the city has never been this much fun
One of the best things about Prototype is the free roaming mode and the way you go about doing it The main gimmick of the game is that you can run up and down vertical surfaces and leap giant distances.
Free roam allows you to explore the city of New York from top to bottom, literally. You'll spend so much time doing this, you'll almost forget you've got missions to complete.
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Kelly zmak, president of Radical, is a cool guy. "Zmak," lie laughs, pumping his fist, "like a punch in the face!" The man is rarely seen without a Stetson and has the look of a weathered Mark Wahlberg about him, and when he's not smiling he looks like he's about to kill you. "Kelly, like a girl?" would be the last thing you'd ever say.
Moments ago I'd been slicing commuters in half with my mutated claw-hands, sprinting up the sides of skyscrapers and suplexing tanks with impunity. Prototype's improved a great deal since our first look way back in April of 2008, and Zmak explains how.
"Making Prototype is this wonderful blend of technology and artistry, trying to make these two pieces come together," explains Zmak. "One of the enhancements we've seen over the last five months is our particle effects, our lighting tools and technology. Our shader technology has come alive, and so you've seen the visuals improve with regards to that. But the other thing that has come together is how that blends with this city that's alive. The population and the cars and the density and the explosions, just the chaos that's there, all of these pieces have come together."
It's A Zmakdown
Prototype's an open-world action/ adventure set in Manhattan. You play Alex Mercer, an amnesiac, runaway, shapeshifting experiment-gone-horribly-right with beastly powers. Your job is to use your strengths to discover your past and (optionally) quell an uprising of outraged mutants and civil unrest. Top of the agenda is making sure the player feels like an unstoppable force of nature, and this is achieved through the fluidity of movement: sprint down Broadway and you'll pounce along cars like stepping stones, wall run along the sides of trucks, bound over buildings and scale some of the tallest structures in the world. The city is a playground split between three groups. The army, who'll kill you; the mutants, who'll also kill you; and the civilians, who won't. Where these groups' territories clash (and frontlines will be redrawn throughout the game), things will explode, tanks will decimate surroundings, and marauding beasts will tear fragile human bodies in twain.
"We make no apology for the carnage," laughs Zmak, "it was really one of the driving goals. Prototype is an action game in an open-world setting. We're really excited where it's come to, and we're really thankful we've had the time. We've made a lot of mistakes along the way - I think they're the right kinda mistakes though, things that didn't work."
Zmak is talking about the stealth system we reported on last year. While you can still assume the guise of military personnel and other regular Joes, you'll no longer use such abilities to infiltrate bases and other areas of the game. "The problem was it was boring," claims Zmak, speaking with refesliing frankness, "and it just didn't work well. So that challenge of letting go of that which doesn't work is an important part of design. It's an important part of the game creation process, in that you might be married to it emotionally, that doesn't make it fun, doesn't make it good."
Instead the ability to disguise yourself will be used to lower the intensity levels of the game - when the military have worked up a right old sweat trying to skewer you with missiles, you just absorb the appearance of a soldier and duck around a corner until things calm down a bit Events are sprinkled liberally throughout the city, some offering kill frenzy side missions, others progressing the story, and all offering Evolution Points which can be used to upgrade Mercer's mutant abilities.
What Radical are calling the Web of Intrigue will help deliver the storyline. Absorb the memories of some key figure in your past and you'll unlock short mini-clips detailing your history. In doing this you also identify one or more characters affiliated with the memory you've absorbed, and those people are then made available for you to track down. There are hundreds of these memories scattered about the city, and collecting them all will still leave some elements of your origin a mystery.
But dancing at the front of the stage like some petulant, over-confident child is the sheer destruction on show. You can bodyslam tanks, which crumple and explode beneath you. You can pick up taxis, and run up buildings with them before chucking them at helicopters. You can leap onto the helicopters and hijack them in mid-air. Or even morph your forearms into hammerfists and punch a man to the moon. You're a walking superpower, a hoodie-wearing anti-hero with a penchant for absolute carnage. An ASBO waiting to happen.
My interview over, I left Zmak pumping his fist triumphantly to nobody in particular. I never asked what it was like being Kelly Zmak, but I imagine it feels a lot like being Alex Mercer in Prototype: intensely entertaining, immediately gratifying, and constant, unerring fun.