Review: Prototype

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Prototype has a lot in common with Spider-Man: Web of Shadows and that commonality goes beyond the New York setting seen in every Spider-Man game since 2004’s Spider-Man 2. Your hero, Alex Mercer, has been gifted with great powers, including great strength, the ability to glide through the skyscrapers of New York, and even the ability to run along walls like our favorite arachnid.

Even the start of the game is presented in the same way as Web of Shadows, with our hero at the end of his journey, where everything seems lost, and then the actual game flashing back to just after Alex awakes from a morgue, and discovers he has strange, deadly powers. This serves as a springboard for Alex’s ultimate goal, which is to find the people that did this to him, and “make them pay.” Not only does Alex have to contend with his new powers and the soldiers trying to bring him in, but a plague has been unleashed upon the city, turning a portion of the population into zombies, who are out for blood.

The story in Prototype is rather mediocre, presented with fairly decent and action packed cutscenes. The character of Alex himself is rather a non-character, and seems to conflict with the overall design of the games over the top antics. At the start of the game, he laments about how he’s called a terrorist, and states that he’s “no killer,” and yet, the gameplay of the game revolves around him using his ungodly powers to slaughter countless numbers of enemy soldiers, infected humans, and innocent civilians alike.

This disconnect between character motivations in the story, and actual gameplay stands out, and ultimately, makes Alex a rather unrelatable character. He also falls into the mold of the gruff voiced game protagonist that we’ve seen in practically every game released this generation so far (with a few exceptions, of course), so it was rather hard for me to take him seriously as an individual I should have more than a gamer/protagonist relationship with.

There are hints of things that could add more depth to the game via the “Web of Intrigue,” which is a surprisingly inspired gameplay mechanic that has you tracking down select individuals, consuming their memories and combing them for clues as to what, exactly, is going on in the city. Unfortunately, it doesn’t amount to much more than small snippets of backstory that, honestly, aren’t something we haven’t seen done better in games with similar “the government is up to no good, but doesn’t want the world to know,” story contrivances.

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Story complaints aside, gameplay is what matters, and this is where Prototype ultimately parts ways with the Spider-Man comparisons, and delivers a rather decent, if not repetitive and uninspired gaming experience. The controls in the game are rough, and cumbersome at times, leading to frustration in the harder missions of the game. Alex feels simultaneously weightless and sluggish.

The camera often cannot keep up with his spastic movements, and targeting the proper enemy when you need to is a chore most of the time. Combat in the game, however, is overall satisfying, if all you want to do is slaughter any and everyone in your path. Being able to pick up and throw cars and trucks, as well as carry them up the building with you as you run along the walls is one of very few joys in the game.

You gain experience points for completing missions, and with that XP you can upgrade Alex’s abilities, growing more powerful with each level up. The abilities are varied, but due to a clumsy interface, you are forced to constantly bring up the ability select wheel (L1 on the PS3, LB on the 360), which slows down the game action, giving you time to select your new ability, but you can also be hit by and enemy, which cancels the action. Also, some powers have very awkward button, combinations (ie, one ability requires you to press the Square and Circle buttons, which are across from one another on the controller). It ultimately comes off as the developers trying to shoehorn in as many abilities as possible, without giving much thought to the actual implementation of them in the game itself.

Most of the combat is melee based, with various combos you can use to decimate your foes, but if need be, you are able to utilize any of the weapons dropped by enemies, as well as hijacking vehicles like tanks and helicopters (which control rather unevenly, to say the least). Weapons aren’t very effective, since there is no manual aiming option, and you are forced to constantly lock on to enemies, or blindly fire in the direction that you wish. Weapon use is simply another victim of the developers trying to make Alex a Jack of all Trades, but he is, ultimately, a master of none of them.

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The much hyped shapeshifting system results in little more than a humorous gimmick (I admit to chuckling when consuming an old woman, and running up along buildings or throwing cars at passing civilians), and it doesn’t really add any level of depth or believability to the gameplay. For example, even when disguised as a soldier, you can still run along walls, pick up cars, and perform any number of Alex’s acrobatic feats (accept glide), and enemy soldiers will not blink an eye. I understand that being in an open world, and having, quite literally, dozens of enemy soldiers in an area at once makes it nearly impossible to do true stealth, but I refuse to believe that the mechanic couldn’t have been handled more smartly and usefully.

Missions are run of the mill sandbox missions, and ultimately devolve into, “kill this number of soldiers/infected, go here, go there, etc.” There are stealth missions, which work decently, due to the complete ambivalence of Alex when disguised, despite, as mentioned above, being able to perform a wide host of manuvers. Outside of story missions, there are various side missions like races and “kill grind” missions, but they do nothing to break up the monotony of the story missions or overall gameplay.

The real joy found in this game is purely through killing and maiming as many people as possible. This is extremely fun, don’t get me wrong, but it also gets old really fast. The fact that the city of New York is really just a plain backdrop to your actions, with little interaction with the environment or citizens besides slaughtering them makes the game, ultimately, feel shallow.

Couple this with the cliche-ridden, groan-worthy story (it’s more the dialogue that is horrid, as the overall premise of the game is intriguing enough) and the result is simply a rather mediocre action game that tries to hide it’s faults by distracting you with buckets of blood and carnage. Also, like most games from Activision, there are a plethora of orbs for Alex to collect that net him more experience. There are 50 Hint orbs, and 200 Landmark orbs. Since there is no way to locate these orbs (such as on the radar, for example), collecting them becomes more of a chore than a joy.

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Lastly, the visuals of the game are slightly better than the visuals seen in Spider-Man: Web of Shadows, which is, to say, not very impressive at all, but most certainly not bad or awful. Buildings look decidedly bland and lack detail, and overall, the entire city looks and feels sterile. Maybe the developers wanted to keep the environment plain so the blood and carnage is a sharp contrast to it, but that doesn’t explain the lack of detail in things like bricks, sidewalks, etc.

There isn’t much dirt and debris scattered about, or other small details that really sell the environment as a real place. Draw distances are rather poor, making it hard to see things off in the distances like orbs. Alex has some pretty good animations, but they are a bit jerky when stringing together different move sets, so it doesn’t look at fluid. The game simply doesn’t hold up to other sandbox games that feature richer, more detailed environments. The upside to this is that, overall, the framerate is steady and consistent, and I didn’t notice any significant dips.

It’s unfortunate that we are once again thrown into New York City, which has been the setting in no less than 10 sandbox games, so I simply wasn’t inspired enough to explore it’s nooks and crannies as I am in games that feature a completely original city, with it’s own mysteries, landmarks, and personality. If Prototype was in such a fictional town, it would have held my interest far beyond just the combat.

VERDICT: RENT – Prototype is a slightly above average open world sandbox game. It’s unfortunate that the only real draw to the game is the upgrading of your abilities, because the core concept is sound enough. I can’t recommend this as a purchase, simply because there isn’t enough meat in the gameplay experience, and it ultimately feels like such an unpolished title that I wouldn’t want to drop $60 (or more) to add it to my collection. There is most certainly fun to be had for gamers that miss the pure carnage and chaos of, say, Grand Theft Auto 3, and don’t care if the rest of the package is shallow and lacks any character or depth. It’s Spider-Man without the license, which, initially, had me very excited at the prospect of a Spider-Man type game lacking the morals and limitations a licensed game ultimately places on it’s developers, but sadly, Prototype falls short of greatness, and is simply a solid rental.

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3 Responses to “Review: Prototype”

  1. I agree with most of this, but I have to go a step further. I didn’t like it at all. I could barely get through the opening and that first mission. It made me sleepy. 😦

  2. PROTOLORD Says:

    im just curious, where can one find a drug that would make one SOOO delusinol to think this game isnt abslutely amazing. it takes the best parts of scores of games, such as spiderman 2, hulk, assasains creed, and more and rolls them into one kick ass package. if you want to not spend money on a stupid game stop masturbating to your copy of god damn infamous and payattention to this game for more than 5 seconds. thanks for reading, have a nice day

    • Prototype fails on every level. Get over it.

      I don’t need to be on drugs to recognize bland level design, piss poor and unintuitive controls, lower than the average visuals, mediocre gameplay, and a shit story.

      But again, this review is only my opinion of the game, and has no bearing on your enjoyment of the game. If you enjoy wasting $60 on mediocre entertainment, go right ahead.

      I was excited for Prototype ever since I heard about it, so I spent my hard earned money on it since, unlike with inFAMOUS, Activision refused to release a demo for Prototype so people could check it out. I took the plunge, and came away disappointed. It’s a solid rental, but not worth adding to your collection. Blood and guts don’t instantly make a game good. My reviews are based off of the overall quality of the gaming experience, and in the case of Prototype, there are better alternatives to spend your money on (ie, inFAMOUS and Crackdown). Thanks for reading and have a nice day.

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