It has been a long road getting Prototype to market. Originally scheduled to launch in 2008, the game was to be published by Sierra, but got put on hold while Activision and Blizzard formed a gestalt death robot and decided which games in development would make the cut. OK, so traditionally you need five robots to form a gestalt deathbot, but come on, it’s a nice visual.
According to Kelly Zmak, president of Prototype developer Radical Entertainment, things got a little tense even though the team stayed the course while Prototype’s fate was in limbo. “Yeah, I was nervous,” Zmak said during a pre-New York Comic Con event, “We went quiet with the development but we were always full steam ahead. We never stopped working after we sold the IP and validated it along the way.” After getting my hands on the game, I can safely say that Radical's hard work and perseverance were worth the wait.
Gamers play as Alex Mercer, a guy who gains shape-shifting powers through an unknown experience. You basically come to with a slammin’ case of amnesia and a burning desire to find the people that did this to you…and stomp them into a bloody puddle. There are three main groups to contend with: the Blackwatch, an elite military group; the infected, the mutated victims of some kind of biological outbreak; and Alex. Any guy who can run up the sides of skyscrapers and destroy tanks with Hulk Hogan-style elbow drops counts as a group in my book.
The hands-on demo featured an all out battle in New York City’s Times Square (the entire game takes place on the island of Manhattan) and it was balls out. The gameplay combines elements of The Hulk, Saints Row 2, Crackdown, and House of the Dead. Alex can scale buildings and jump off of them with no penalty. He can hijack vehicles like tanks or helicopters and he can use any weapon he finds or takes from dead soldiers to get his kill on. Plus there’s tons of zombie-like infected just cruising around.
When health starts to get low, just pick up your nearest human or walking infected and eat’em. Their bio-mass replenishes Alex’s health and allows him to start pulling off super attacks like shape-shifting his hands into iron clubs to pound on tanks or fashioning an arm into a giant machete to get to work on some Blackwatch infantry. The shape shifting does allow Alex some element of stealth. Alex can assume the form of anyone he absorbs, allowing him to infiltrate Blackwatch bases and move about undetected. “The element of disguise allows you to choose the intensity level of the game,” says Zmak, “Originally we had a full stealth mode but it just didn’t work. But it evolved into Alex being able to use disguises.” When I asked Zmak about other elements that didn’t make it into the game he said, “We had a sniper mode but it got axed. Alex isn’t the kind of guy that uses a sniper rifle.”
The gameplay featured in the demo was completely frenetic and a great time, if not a little overwhelming. A target lock function helps you keep track of the nearest enemies to take out. Alex’s special attacks are a sight to behold and yes; elbow dropping a tank into oblivion is a visceral thrill.
When I asked Zmak what he thought about releasing a new IP in the face of today’s economy he said, “Success in the games industry is like a poker game and pushing all in -- you want to have at least a full house. With this kind of market, you better have good cards.” After my very brief demo, I’d say he’s holding at least three of a kind with Prototype. But that’s a hand I’d bet all the way.