Stop me if you have heard this before; a man wakes up in a morgue with no previous memories and sets out who he is and how he ended up there. He discovers he has some incredible powers and uses them to get revenge on the people responsible for his predicament. Now while on paper this might sound like yet another boring clichéd excuse for a game in reality nothing could be further from the truth.
In Prototype you assume the role of Alex Mercer, who has clearly woken up on the wrong side of the mortuary slab as no sooner does he discover his amazing powers than he starts using them to destroy anything and anyone in his path for vengeance. Unlike most other games of this type where you are given a choice between good or evil characters, in Prototype you pretty much have to be as cruel as possible to survive. The game takes place in the city of New York, which is in the grip of a terrible viral infection outbreak that is spreading like a wildfire under the terrified populace and turning most of them into mindless, bloodthirsty monsters. The military has their hands full battling the infected and amid all this chaos Alex stalks the city accomplishing his own goals.
Whatever or whoever Alex was before his death one thing is for sure, he certainly left most of his humanity behind in the morgue. With powerful shape-shifting abilities Alex can assume the form of any person he “consumes” (an act that is just as gruesome and grotesque as it sounds) but it doesn’t just end there. After consuming someone Alex gains access to all their memories and abilities as well. This means in order to pilot a helicopter all you need to do is to find a skilled pilot and consume him. After that you can hi-jack (or sky-jack) any helicopter you see as well as consume more pilots to increase your skill. The same goes for tanks and other military weapons. Best of all though Alex doesn’t need any of these to be a force to be reckoned with.
What sets Prototype apart from games like Assassins Creed and Grand Theft Auto (both of which it clearly drew a lot of inspiration from) is the incredible powers of its protagonist. As if consuming people for their abilities and memories (not to mention a nice health boost – yum) wasn’t enough Alex can also jump hundreds of meters into the air, run up the side of any building, fall from any height without taking damage, soar through the air like a bird, pick up and throw cars like they were pebbles and sprout a bewildering amount of deadly weaponry from his body! Now I don’t know about you, but if I woke up with those kinds of powers the last thing on my mind would be taking revenge on the people who did it to me.
The game starts off a little confusing on “day 18” of the citywide infection by which time Manhattan looks more like a war-zone and Alex has access to all his abilities. You’ll soon find that this is just a short tutorial (and taste of things to come) before you are thrown back to day one and left to uncover the shocking truth about yourself. This is done through a “web of intrigue” whereby you get snippets of information when consuming a certain important character and through him also find out the names of other people that will know more. There are literally hundreds of these so to fully understand the plot you will need to hunt down all of them.
Of course you can disregard the whole plot and just have fun terrorizing the whole city which is equally entertaining. I’ve heard complaints from some people that the graphics in Prototype isn’t state of the art, but unless you are the type of person that is more interested in staring critically at every texture and polygon in the game instead of running around having fun you won’t care. Any game that gives me the entire city of New York as a playground and then allows me to fling taxis at helicopters and smash tanks to bits with my bare hands are forgiven if the thousands of civilians milling around lack variety or the building textures resemble each other too much. All of this fades into the background amidst the action and chaos that takes place.
Between story missions the city is open to explore and there are tons of challenges to take on in order to earn more evolution points which can be spent upgrading the various abilities that Alex possesses or unlocks. Most of the challenges involve using a certain power or weapon and you can even earn bronze, silver or gold rankings for each event. Doing these are highly recommended as they story is quite short and can easily be finished in about ten hours.
Prototype excels at making you feel like a near invincible and unstoppable force, but don’t for one second think the game is a walk in the park. While Alex can take a great deal of punishment before he goes down, the game will throw everything it has at you. Cause too much commotion in an area and the strike teams will be called in to dispose of you and it’s not long before the skies are black with helicopters and you get bombarded by tanks and rocket launchers around every corner. There were times where I could barely see my character through the barrage of ordinance raining down on him and to make things harder there will be some super mutants and elite soldiers to deal with later on too.
While the combat is fast, frantic and fun (who doesn’t like kicking helicopters out of the sky) it is not without its flaws. Alex has such a bewildering array of weapons and abilities at his disposal that remembering how to activate and use them all becomes near impossible. I found myself sticking to a handful of useful ones and not bothering too much with the rest. Even then it was a finger mangling experience since every single button on the gamepad is used in almost every type of combination. My biggest gripe however is the targeting system. With so many hostiles swarming you in battle it’s not unusual for Alex to go flying off in the wrong direction or attacking someone hundreds of meters away instead of the guy standing right in front of you. This is annoying, but tolerable and something you get used to after a while. The stealth aspect of the game is also pretty basic and half the time an all out assault works much better than trying to sneak in undetected. The game also has no multi-player mode, but that’s not such a train smash.
The audio was pretty good and while the music isn’t exactly memorable the bone crunching sound effects and voice acting is pretty good. This is obviously a mature game so brace yourself for some expletives. If this isn’t enough to convince you to keep this game away from children the gory graphics certainly will. With a character that can morph his arms into claws, whips, hammers and blades you can imagine the end result.
Overall I had a blast with Prototype and it has enough stand-out moments to get my vote as one of the highlights of 2009. After leaping from the Empire State Building and gliding down to Central Park you’ll agree that no other game of its type can match the thrills and freedom that Prototype provides. My fingers are definitely crossed for a sequel.
*Review originally written in 2009.
- OS: Windows® XP (with Service Pack 3) or Windows Vista®
- Processor: Intel® Core™2 Duo 2.6 GHz or AMD Athlon™ 64 X2 4000+ or better
- Memory: Vista 2 GB RAM / XP 1 GB RAM
- Graphics: All NVIDIA® GeForce® 7800 GT 256 MB and better chipsets. All ATI Radeon™ X1800 256 MB and better chipsets
- DirectX®: Microsoft DirectX 9.0c
- Hard Drive: 8GB of free hard drive space
- Sound: DirectX® 9.0c compliant sound card