Prototype Review

By Matt Keil - Posted Jun 10, 2009

Alex Mercer doesn't know how good he has it. He has government-provided superpowers, the ability to morph into anything, a hoodie that stays up no matter how fast he runs, and amnesia on top of that. Some people would pay good money not to remember the last eight years. But like any good antihero, Alex is pissed and someone's going to pay.

The Pros
  • Varied and interesting abilities
  • Tremendously destructive combat
  • Intuitive freerunning system
  • Tons of onscreen enemies
The Cons
  • Slightly bland missions
  • Odd disconnect between story and gameplay
  • Dodge roll should be invulnerable

Alex Mercer doesn't know how good he has it. He has government-provided superpowers, the ability to morph into anything, a hoodie that stays up no matter how fast he runs, and amnesia on top of that. Some people would pay good money not to remember the last eight years. But like any good antihero, Alex is pissed and someone's going to pay.

Sympathy for the Devil

PrototypePrototype is an open world game that sends you rampaging about an exceptionally well-recreated New York City in the middle of a zombie infection festooned with a military occupation. Alex wakes up in a morgue with no memory of who he is or how he got there, as well as a distinct level of superhuman power. He soon realizes that killing someone and absorbing their body allows him to read their memories as though they were his own. Armed with the knowledge of his foes, Alex begins to track down those responsible for his condition.

Given the nature of Alex’s absorption power, there’s a lot of killing in Prototype. This, as most gamers know, is part of the fun of open world games. Wholesale slaughter on a grand scale makes for good escapism in almost any medium. Here, however, it causes something of a disconnect between the story, which the game seems to think is far more important than the player probably does, and the actions that occur during gameplay, and make it hard to see Alex as much of a hero, anti or not. Alex is very broody and intense about the horrible wrongs that have been perpetrated against his person, but after a mission in which he has caused the deaths of literally hundreds of people, am I really expected to feel sorry for the guy because he can’t remember his girlfriend’s name? Here’s an idea, Gandhi, maybe you accidentally killed her when you threw that tank through the crowd of pedestrians at 9th and Fifth.

Alex’s most prominent feature is probably his agility and speed. Traveling in Prototype mostly consists of holding the R-trigger, which causes Alex to run at top speed, vault over nearly any obstacle in his path, and sprint straight up the sides of buildings. He can eventually learn to air dash and even glide to extend his aerial travel time, until moving from one part of the city to another is a fast-paced ballet of charged jumps, wall bounces, and creative momentum management. Factor in the numerous air-to-ground smash attacks at Alex’s disposal, and you have a very freeform and satisfying system of getting from place to place and making a dramatic entrance at your destination.

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Mercer Smash!

PrototypeUnlike most open-world games, this is a brawler. Alex has almost nothing in the way of ranged attacks outside of what he picks up and throws, so you'll be using his biomass-morphed claws, whips and fists to do damage. As you upgrade his abilities, he becomes vastly more powerful, and the depth of the upgrade system is really very impressive. Alex gains various area of effect attacks, better combos, new hand-to-hand moves, and even learns how to effectively use military hardware. Combat is engaging and fun, especially once you've upgraded to the point that you can hijack enemy tanks and skyjack helicopters at will. Eventually you’ll gain access to Alex’s Devastators, massive screen clearing attacks that can turn the tide of a battle in one blast.

The combat is solid but has two glaring flaws. First, some enemies simply ignore your attacks and can simply charge right through even strong combos and moves. Second, Alex is a bit short on defensive options. His shield power breaks quickly and his bioarmor limits mobility to a great degree. His only real defense is to dodge roll out of the way, but since he can be harmed or even knocked over during the roll, you’ll take a lot of cheap shots from larger enemies with area-effect attacks.

Mankind Should Have Been My Business

PrototypeA bonus to absorbing people is that you can then take on their appearance. Alex’s shapeshifting is used as sort of a stopgap stealth system, mainly for infiltrating military bases. You can sneak in, absorb some people with key skills to up your abilities, and sneak out.  The stealth is very simplistic, and it's actually pretty hard to get caught unless you activate your powers blatantly in front of someone. Attempting to stealth kill while people are watching doesn’t give you away, it just triggers a “You can’t do that while people are watching message.” It’s an odd balance between user friendliness and absurdist comedy at times, as soldiers that couldn’t see you when your stealth kill started stroll on by while you absorb their commanding officer. Even your super agility doesn’t give you away as long as you’re in uniform. The soldiers in Prototype don't find a man that can jump forty feet and land unhurt after leaping from a skyscraper to be all that unusual.

The story contains the usual conspiracy stuff with evil secret projects and such, and offers 31 total missions. These are pretty bland, and amount to standard sandbox game “follow the checkpoint” stuff. The difference in Prototype is that the battles that ensue at those checkpoints are typically big, loud, violent, and well worth the price of admission. Dozens of side missions offer additional tasks, like assaulting enemy strongholds, consuming key enemies for knowledge, or tipping the scales in a pitched battle between the military and the increasingly dangerous infected masses. Some of the side missions veer into the nonsensical, such as rooftop orb-collecting races that feel very out of place given the premise of the game.

Prototype is a good game that also happens to be a great toy. Even if you get tired of the missions, starting a miniature war with the Marines is something you can enjoy over and over again, and it will take a long time to earn the 7 billion or so upgrade points required to max out Alex’s abilities. This is combat and destruction on a scale rarely seen in open world games, and is a very welcome addition to the burgeoning roster of superhero sandbox titles.