I bought Prototype initially without knowing much about it. I'd seen some preview video footage demoed on Xplay and the like, but it always looked choppy and visually uninspiring. Yet, they promised great things, frantic action, and an engaging storyline. Furthermore, it was coming to us from Radical Entertainment, the crew behind the excellent Hulk: Ultimate Destruction on last-gen consoles. Based on the pedigree and promises, I gave the game a whirl. It turned out to be my favorite game of 2009.
The plot essentially is that a deadly virus has been released in Manhattan that turns infected into zombie-like mutants, interested only in infecting others. The situation is quarantined by barricading all the bridges off the island and enforcing no-fly zones with artillery. Sounds a bit like I Am Legend, but manages to carve out a world of its own. Amid all this, you, as Alex Mercer, awaken in a morgue, presumed dead, about to be cut open for autopsy. Your memory is lost, and your biggest drive is to figure out what happened to put you and the city into their current states.
People have asked me what it's like to play Prototype. Honestly, Radical took all the things they did right in Hulk and simply added even more awesome to it. Every power, form, and ability is reminiscent of some iconic figure you'd want in an action game, but to get them all in one? YES. The first one you get is Claws, offering slicing and dicing akin to Wolverine. Add to that the secondary Groundspike attack, allowing you to tunnel chitinous spikes underground, impaling whoever or whatever's on the receiving end. The Hammerfist ability is very much like playing Hulk, giving you significantly extra punch (literally) to every melee attack. Whipfist changes one of Mercer's arms into a stretchy braid of tentacles, culminating at the end in a razor sharp blade, not unlike Kratos' weapon of choice from God of War. And that says nothing for Musclemass, Armor, Shield, Blade, and special vision modes that allow Alex to surgically eliminate enemies in the environment.
Not into melee combat? Alex can grab any weapon found in the environment — from machine guns and grenade launchers to tanks and helicopters — and lay waste to anyone and everything. If you want to improvise, you can grab any number of objects in the environment and use them offensively. Got a crowd of infected hassling you? Pick up a car and flatten them. Army helicopters giving you a headache? Rip an air conditioner off the roof of a building and shove it through the cockpit. Or latch onto the chopper, yank the pilots out, and toss them hundreds of feet into the street below, effectively skyjacking yourself a sweet new ride. It's an unabashedly mature game, in terms of violence and language, so bear that in mind before you run out and buy it.
The action can be incredibly chaotic and destructive — especially once you throw in the super attacks (aka, Devastator powers) that can kill/destroy everything within 50-100 feet — and had Radical not nailed the control setup so well, things could get out of hand in a hurry. Having played through the game three times now (once on each difficulty), I asked my oft-spectating girlfriend if it ever looked like I was frustrated with the movement, controls, or playability, only to hear a resounding, "Nope." Flattening a tank, picking up an assault rifle, jumping into the air and taking down a dozen armed soldiers before you return to the earth, then sprinting up the side of a skyscraper only to come crashing back down with a Bullet Drop Dive and clearing out everything else in the intersection — all with the greatest of ease — is just another day at the office for virus-empowered Mercer.
Visually, the game is good but not great, but that's a worthy trade-off for me to keep the framerate solid and gameplay silky smooth. Selective slow motion also kicks in when selecting abilities and switching targets, lending another layer of manageability to the frantic gameplay. If the heat gets to be too much, Whipfist-grab a soldier, sprint up the side of a building, glide through the air for a couple blocks, hide in an alley, and absorb the soldier, assuming his identity and throwing off your pursuers.
Oh, did I forget to mention you can shapeshift into anyone you grab and "consume"? Yeah, just another game-changing ability, piled on top of everything else great about it. Sometimes depending on whom you consume, you may be granted different options. For example, consuming a civilian makes it hard for the army to track you. Consuming a base commander allows you to walk right into military installations, and from there, consuming specialized soldiers increases your proficiency with different weapons and vehicles. You also gain the memories of certain people you consume, providing clues to your recent past and how the city fell into chaos.
In addition to the story arc, the game remembers it needs to be a game (and thus, challenging and fun), and numerous side objectives are peppered across the city, from gliding long distances and trying to land as close as possible to a designated target to inciting a massacre to kill X number of enemies within a time limit. From there, you have hint and landmark collectible orbs to track down. If all that's not enough for you, beating the game on a particular difficulty opens up New Game + for that level, allowing you to start the story over, but with all the powers unlocked from the start.
Radical mastered the art of movement within a game world with Prototype. The level of action is ridiculous, but totally at the player's fingertips. The story holds together well enough to keep you motivated to find the truth (which may be a little unsettling once you learn it), and is helped along by solid voice performances, including Barry Pepper and Lake Bell. I'm not big on replaying single player games with linear storylines, but having already beaten Prototype three times, I'm itching to play through it again. Action fans should at the very least give it a rent, if not pick it up outright given a recent price drop.
Prototype is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language. This game can also be found on PC and Xbox 360.