Video games based on comic book characters are nothing new, but while you know what you're getting with a Hulk or Spider-Man game, with titles like Prototype where the comic came after the game, it can be a crapshoot. After shape-shifting publishers and enduring delays, this open world action game's outbreak is ready to break out.
Waking up and realizing there's no milk for your cereal is a bad deal, but imagine being Alex Mercer. He wakes up in the morgue presumed dead, there's a strange virus taking over New York City, he has mysteriously acquired some new and extraordinary powers, and he can't remember a thing. As he grapples with regaining his lost memory he's sandwiched between the military and the infected as both sides struggle to take control of the city. Alex tries to piece together the clues by consuming other beings and absorbing their memories. These glimpses of the past are then stored in the web of intrigue. Toss in government conspiracies, and some mundane dialogue and you have plenty of context for all the mayhem, but negligible emotional investment.
The entirety of Manhattan is open from the outset, and the map highlights locations for primary campaign objectives and side missions to keep you on track. Just about everything you do rewards you with EP that you can use to upgrade powers, movement abilities, defense, offense, and consumption prowess. It's been done before, but the sheer breadth of upgrades borders on overkill. Some categories have well over 20 available boosts and just remembering how to pull them all off is a game unto itself.
Mission objectives are what you expect, but come in a wide variety. Blowing up bases, escorting vehicles to safety, defending positions, assuming disguises to infiltrate bases, and their various combinations give you plenty of opportunities to blow off some steam.
As you complete missions on the main path, side missions are unlocked that test your skills at free running, combat, soaring, and much more. They can become addictive thanks to a medal system, and there's plenty of challenge, but the lack of a restart function grates and the EP rewards aren't worth the effort at a certain point.
Just about everything is a weapon. Alex can pick up objects the size of a small trailer and hurl them a mile. He can snag guns dropped by the military, or use one of four upgradeable melee weapons that are gradually unlocked. There's a ranged chain weapon, claws, a blunt force club, and a deadly blade. Some are moderately more effective on some enemies, but you can basically choose your favorite and do well provided you continue upgrading it.
Alex can morph into military personnel after consuming them, and gain health boosts no matter who, or what, he absorbs. This tactic becomes essential in the latter parts of the game when the automatic regeneration isn't getting it done.
You'll get around 15 hours of play out of Prototype, and much more if you decide to tackle all the side missions. Just about the time you begin to tire of the mission objectives it ends. There's a shortage of epic boss confrontations, but the breakneck pace makes it hard to notice.
Navigation is paramount in any open world game. If there's not a fun, easy way to travel it becomes a chore. You definitely won't tire of skyscraper hopping around Manhattan. The parkour controls are excellent. You never feel like the game is taking over as you fluidly run up, down, and across any wall. You can spot a rooftop air conditioning unit 100 stories down, take a leap of faith, and land right on it. It's platforming on a massive scale. Some enemies can navigate the environment just as quickly as Alex, imparting the player with a constant sense of urgency.
There's some depth as well. You can upgrade your jump abilities with dashes and slashes, allowing for that extra layer of control for those who seek it. The same holds true with the combat. There are nuances to using each weapon that make them much more effective, patterns to exploit with the enemies, and plenty of smart combos to discover. If Alex's health is maxed-out, he can pull of devastator attacks that definitely live up to their name.
You can equip a melee weapon, a defensive ability, and a vision filter all at once, allowing for a lot of flexibility, but you have to select them from a clunky wheel system. In a bit of an oversight, every time you change disguises or begin a mission you have to reselect all Alex's abilities.
Prototype is absolutely relentless. If you're the type of player who likes to relax after accomplishing something, it's probably not for you. There are sentry robots everywhere that will call in helicopters to hunt you down. The military and the infected are constantly at war, so you inevitably get caught in the middle whether you want to or not. These three-way battles can be a lot for the CPU to ingest when literally hundreds of combatants, helicopters, and tanks are involved, and it will occasionally choke on logic and deal you an unfair hand.
Much of the game is ruled by the lock-on system. It's intelligent in that it will lock onto the most prolific nearby threat, and you can cycle targets with the flick of the analog stick. Locking onto helicopters before trying to leap and hijack them will increase your jump distance significantly. Once inside, the controls are easy to handle, and the same goes for the tank, the only other vehicle in the game. With so many unpredictable elements and angles, the camera definitely gets a workout, and while it's not 100 percent perfect, it does an admirable job of keeping up.
No matter how you decide to play, Alex will constantly be on death's doorstep. If you don't want to keep loading your game, you're going to have to retreat…a lot. You can morph into a disguise to make it easier, but running away to hide and regenerate health hurts the pacing a bit.
Prototype provides so many ways to play that just about anyone will be able to find something to enjoy. The sheer number of moves is impressive, but that also means that many of them require complicated button inputs. Yet you can always fall back on a couple favorites when things get hairy. There are issues to nitpick, but they do not get in the way of the fun. You feel like a super human more in Prototype than in most games based on real comics.
Prototype's presentation is all over the place, but Alex is definitely the highlight. His animation is smooth, his transformations sick, and his special attacks are inventive and impactful. It's hard to expect an open world game to look as good as a controlled, linear one, but the buildings repeat constantly and it could use a lot more enemy types. The seizure-triggering web of intrigue cinemas are great, but the majority of the character interaction takes place in a handful of simple rooms. The voice acting is passable, and the music appropriate, but there could certainly be a lot more of it. People on the street rarely have anything to say, and the audio appears to have been an afterthought.
Prototype is one of those rare games where the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. It concentrates on the relationship between the player and Alex instead of Alex and the other characters in the game. If you're not cool with that, be warned. The controls are tight, though a little complex, but that's only because there's so much to dig into. It's a little ragged around the edges, but if you're looking for a great way to unwind after a long day, boot up Prototype for some serious therapy.
Platform Tested: Xbox 360