Prototype ReviewGreg Knoll
Every memorable game—be it good or bad—has at lease one defining moment. Moments that leave you in disgust, wondering why you shelled out your hard-earned money for such a travesty. Or, moments that inspire awe, that captivate you and reaffirm your decision to invest in the game.
For me, that moment came in the very first cut-scene Prototype had to offer.
The main character, Alex Mercer, sits atop a twelve-story building in New York City, watching as a swarm of soldiers regulate the streets below. His voice-over tells of a virus, and the world calling him a terrorist, a killer and a monster. Then—while admitting to being all those things—he leaps from the roof straight to the ground, completely unaffected by the fall. He charges through the war-torn streets of New York, bounding over barricades and trampling cars.
The scene switches over to the soldiers, staring down a dark alley as a crying, terrified woman runs out begging for help. Following her are dozens of rotting, quick-moving victims of the virus, now zombified by the plague, whom the soldiers have no qualms about opening fire on. Once they’ve all fallen, the military members put one in the girl’s head for good measure.
When her body leaves your line of sight, Mercer is standing behind her, stretching his palms out as massive claws erupt from his fingertips. He hurdles a cab, latches onto one soldier’s head then flings him into the vehicle with a sickening thud. Another is kicked into the air, turned horizontal and severed right down the waist. The last, Mercer leaps at, slits him from the shoulder down to his opposite hip, and you watch as his torso peels into two parts.
It was one of the most brutal things I’ve ever seen in a game. And also one of the coolest.
From there, madness ensues. Without warning, you’re thrust into a melee of epic proportions. One that has you battling for survival against soldiers, tanks, helicopters and strange, massive creatures powerful enough to throw a car—or you—like a baseball. It isn’t evident, yet, how you got there, or why they’re all after you. You’re only told to fight.
So you do.
After, if you survive, Prototype draws back to the events leading up to this overdose of Armageddon. If you felt out of place, Mercer is far worse off.
The flashback begins with him cold-dead on an operating table, with two doctors spouting cryptic dialogue and preparing for an autopsy. However, before the doctor can slice him open, Mercer jolts to life, leaps from the table to kill the doctors and then slays every guard outside, all using powers that don’t seem human. Mercer is then seen panting, and crouching and panting in an alleyway, wondering how he got those powers and more importantly: who he is. He searches his thoughts, his entire mind, all to find them blank.
That very moment told me Prototype was something entirely different. I became addicted. I was just as eager to find out who—or what—the hell Alex Mercer was.
As the game progressed, I got my answers, but I learned one thing I can reveal right now: Alex Mercer is a monster. A violent, unyielding superhuman who wields incredible, Godlike powers.
And this is Prototype’s main draw. It has more skills, and different ways to use them then a lot of games I’ve played before it. Most are combat-driven, and all can be changed mid-battle simply by pressing L1 and using the analog stick to select one.
Alex’s default weapon from the game’s start are the Claws--destructive, long blades that extend off of his fingers used mostly for crowd control. Pressing the square button will prompt Alex into a combo that leaves most humans with their twitching torso on the ground, and their topless legs still standing. Pushing the triangle button will allow Alex to perform a special attack. With the Claws, Mercer shoves them into the ground instead of a chest and from the streets erupt jagged, granite spikes that impale anyone standing in the area.
Such violence is quick to attract the military, and with it, tanks. But Alex has more than one trick up his sleeve, and more than one way to battle enemies. His second default weapon is the Hammerfist. Choosing this option will turn his claws into massive clubs, a tool Mercer must use his entire body to swing but which are powerful enough to level any armored vehicle by the end of the four-hit combo. They’re slow and cumbersome but completely destructive. I’ve never played a game that allowed me—as a man—to stand against a tank, and walk away unscathed. Perhaps one of the coolest things I’ve done in a long time. And that’s just the beginning…
In fact, Alex has five different arms he can use as the game progresses and each one is perfect for different situations: A massive blade that can slice or puncture anything in comes in contact with. Tendrils that can strike or grab any object from a block away and massive, muscular arms that allow you to hurl it across a third of the city.
He also has non-violent capabilities that he uses to protect himself from the enemy, escape from them, detect them or mimic them. He can morph his arm into a giant slab of black matter that stops bullets when he’s standing still, or serves as a battering ram when he’s running through a crowded street. Later in the game, he develops the ability to cover his entire body in the resilient, rock-hard matter. It slows him down, and allows him to jump half as high but it’s twice as hard to take him down.
Mercer can plant his feet into the side of a building and charge up it with so little effort it would make Spider-man envious. He can then leap from the top of it and glide safely across the city. He can use his vision to detect anything giving off heat, or limit it only to those with the infection of the virus. He can grab anyone whether it's a random civilian or high-ranking officer using the circle button. Once in their grip, he can consume them by pressing the triangle button. Usually it's in the most violent manner, shoving them into the ground and stomping their head, or punching straight through their chest. When he’s consumed them, he takes on their form, disguising himself as an upstanding citizen to escape the military, or as one of their high-ranking officers to gain entrance into their facilities. Consuming designated people will trigger a special cut-scene and unlock different threads of The Web of Intrigue; a series of intricate memories taken from the intertwined individuals that had something to do with the infection, and your mysterious past.
All these powers, initially, lead me to believe that Mercer was invincible—a God amongst men. When the game begins, and New York is just the crowded bustling city it’s always been, it’s hard not to believe that. Nothing can touch Alex. He can take a mortar shell to the chest and live; he can shape shift to look like anyone and disappear in the shadows. Yet as the game progresses, the infection slowly takes over. One corrupted block becomes five. Five becomes ten. The toll of zombies rises, and with it, the number of Military patrolling the streets. They start using more advance methods to detect you, are more apt to call in an air strike when they find you, and eventually unleash Super Soldiers. Monsters you can’t hide from, no matter how good your disguise is. Eventually, everything is after you. Everything wants you dead.
It’s far different from games that just thrust you into a holocaust, and in my opinion much better. The virus takes on a whole new light when you can see it eat slowly away at the city around you. See the progressive effect it’s having on the people, and on their paranoia. It draws you into the story, makes you feel almost responsible for it happening and that much more driven to bring it to an end.
But I must say, I could still play Prototype every day, as I have, for hours and never take on another mission. Instead of a linear, structured premise like most action games, Prototype allows you to free roam the streets of New York City, and provides you with side-quests and fun tools to keep you entertained. You can take on challenges to kill as many enemies as possible in a given time limit, or run across rooftops collecting way-points. You can hijack tanks, or even helicopters and patrol the streets helping the military by destroying hives, or increasing the infected by turning a base into rubble. The game leaves it totally up to you, allowing you to be the monster or the savior.
I welcomed being the Monster. Prototype drew that out of me. It provided me with so many destructive powers, and so many deceptive tools I couldn’t help but find pleasure in carnage. It’s brutal, yes, and one of the most vicious games I’ve played in a long time but it’s so stylish, so flawless and filled with so much variety that it gives you no other option. I wanted the chaos. Needed it. And eventually, I became it.
The beautiful, maddening, miraculous chaos.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.
May I have the strength to lead with compassion. May I have a resolve strong enough to inspire it in others. May my heart be true, my motives virtuous, my spirit valiant. And whether I fail or succeed, may I at least be brave in the attempt.
About the Author: Greg Knoll
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