Prototype Reader Review
There seems to be a bit of a glut of free roaming games being released at the moment, which is probably great for fans of this genre. I however, am not a fan of the genre. That said, there are a few free roamers that I love, so Iím open to giving any with potential a fair try. I recently reviewed Red Faction: Guerrilla and I really liked that game, so I was hopeful that this too would be excellent, especially after some positive feedback from people I know and one or two of the gaming sites I frequent. With three other free roamers released in quick succession (Infamous, Red Faction: Guerilla and Fuel.. sort of), this one needs to be pretty good to stand out. Does it do enough to take your gaming pounds from the contenders? Not really, no.
Prototype was nearly very good. It had a lot of great ideas, it does a lot of things very well. However, what it does do well struggles to shine, because it also gets so much wrong.
The premise of Prototype, is this: You play Alec Mercer. Alec is a man suffering from amnesia, who wakes up on a mortuary slab to find himself with a bizarre set of super powers. It turns out that his DNA has been mutated by a very nasty weaponised virus. Rather than turning into a mindless zombie, like most of the victims, he is able to re-code his DNA on the fly, as well as perform feats of superhuman strength and agility. This manifests itself in a series of rather cool abilities and traits, that are generally all used to good effect throughout the game. Realising that someone is responsible for giving him the virus and killing lots of people in the process, he sets out to find out who did this to him.
Whilst this looks like a super hero game, in reality, Alecís morals seem to occupy a very dark shade of grey. His only goal is to kill everyone who infected him, he doesnít care who gets hurt in the process. In fact the only person he shows any real concern for throughout the entire game is his sister. Here in lies a bit of a problem, the game doesnít seem to know (or at least doesnít know how to present) what it is. It seems to think, that somehow Alec has the moral high ground. Well he did, until he started murdering people left right and centre. During the course of the game he will also be directly responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians and many more soldiers (who in most cases are just there doing their job, its only the "Black Light" soldiers that are naughty). If they had marketed the game more as a super villain game, it would probably fit better. Sure the ultimate bad guys are very bad, but the majority of people he kills on his way up to the top, are more or less innocent.
The game is set in New York city and begins with a short tutorial, in which Alex is fully powered up, with chitinous armour, an array of nasty weapons such as a flesh whip, twin blades, super strength, hammerfists and a very large single blade. He is also able to sprint fast, jump high, dodge in mid air, glide over considerable distances, unleash devastating super attacks and consume people into him for health (and he can then assume their identity as well). All this is set in a city that is well and truly screwed, with crazed citizens, human soldiers and mutants all going at each other. Once the tutorial completes, you are taken back three weeks earlier, when he only has a few very basic abilities.
The game offers a variety of content, all of it pretty standard in free roamers - story based missions, free form tasks, random roaming about and collection tasks.
There are three collection tasks: locating orbs at famous landmarks, randomly locating "hint orbs" that display a simple hint message and "Web of Intrigue" targets, which I will come to in a bit.
The free form tasks are quite varied and offer a good spread of challenges. These can see you trying to travel a route within a set time, assisting either the infected of the army in battling each other, killing as many opponents as possible, killing and consuming science teams, locating and consuming Web of Intrigue targets, gliding to a specific spot in a single jump, infiltrating a military base and then consuming key personnel and destroying military bases or infected hives. For most of the violence based tasks, you are given specific weapons, vehicles or powers that you have to use for that task (for example: you can only use a rocket launcher, you can only use your whipfist power, you can only use a tank etc.). This adds a nice variety to the missions, as each is different depending on what you have been given to achieve victory.
The storyline missions are generally pretty varied and for the most part offer a fairly balanced level of challenge. There are three or four boss fights in the game, sadly these tend to come from the "cheap" school of challenging encounters. Despite Alec being the number one threat to the entire planet and the baddest thing ever, there seems to be no shortage of far far more powerful opponents, including one whose existence simply makes no sense. Most bosses have extreme levels of health, often they have seeking or large area effect attacks and they pretty much ignore your attempts to engage them in hand to hand combat. This means that most of the time, you will find yourself scrambling to use human weapons to fight them. In fact I canít imagine defeating most of them in any other way. Why bother giving him all these amazing powers, if as soon as he encounters something tough, all except the consume for health and the armour abilities, become almost completely useless?
Completing missions, tasks and various other achievements will award you with points to spend on your upgrades - either adding new powers or improving existing ones.
Most of the story is revealed through the "Web of Intrigue". Finding and consuming a person who has knowledge of what has been going on, gives Alec that knowledge. Every time you find someone (either wandering around randomly, inside military bases or in tasks and missions) you are given a short and fairly disjointed cut scene, revealing a small titbit of the story, from that persons perspective. The problem here is that because there are so many and the story is so clichťd and shallow, they all merge into one. Effectively, thereís a dodgy virus that a dodgy military department of the government has been playing with, they tested it a while ago, a new version has appeared, it accidentally got released in New York and now all hell is breaking loose. There is so much of that story you can tell. 137ish short cut scenes of people discussing the same thing ... rather pointless and a bit of a wasted opportunity for the fairly unique consume feature, a bit more effort on the story might have gone a long way.
What the game does do well, is show a city as it slowly succumbs to a zombie virus. To begin with the city looks pretty normal, pedestrians and cars go about their business and the only hint of something wrong is the increased military presence . As time progresses you start to notice the occasional crowd member vomiting or walking around in a daze. Eventually small numbers of infected citizens appear, attacking those around them and towards the end of the game, large areas of the city will be totally infested with them, there are wrecked cars, dead bodies and burning fires all over the place. This slow transition is well executed and adds a lot to the atmosphere and feeling of progression.
Another thing that changes as time passes, is the type, quantity and quality of the opponents you will face. There are essentially three factions in the game. Citizens, both infected and normal, wonder the streets in huge numbers, they react in terror to anything unusual happening nearby and sadly display incredible depths of lemming like behaviour. You will most likely end up running them over in their hundreds when trying to get anywhere in a tank, despite its slow speed. There is no punishment for killing the innocent, even the military donít bat an eyelid should you roll by in a tank flattening cars and people as you go.
The other two factions are your main protagonists - the infected hives and the military. The infected slowly develop from mindless citizens to more aggressive and faster moving foot soldier types, to bulky, fast moving hunters (who, true to their name, will follow you fair distances to try and kill you) and eventually static tentacles that rise from the ground and hurl cars or debris at you.
The military start off with simple grunts and police officers, eventually these start to give way to APCs, specialist soldiers and finally gunships, tanks, genetically engineered super soldiers and floating alarm drones. When you incur the displeasure of the military, or they detect you, your alert status flicks to red. You then either have to kill them all around you, or try to make your escape - until you get far enough away that you have time to hide, or you catch a hidden spot where you can morph into another person. If they really get upset, they will call in strike teams - these too develop over time, initially they are helicopter transported squads of soldiers, later on they are teams of gunships and alarm drones.
By infiltrating military bases and consuming certain people within them, you learn to use their equipment. This allows you to be more effective with any weapons they drop and to get in and drive APCs/tanks and helicopters. Getting in the vehicles is good fun, especially the gunships. Hijacking one in the middle of a fight can give you a brief respite, it doesnít take long for them to be destroyed, but in that time you can thin their numbers a great deal, or use the increased firepower to help bring down your target - the helicopters are especially good for this (in fact, some missions become a walkover if you manage to jack one, with opponents who are incapable of fighting back against aerial targets). As I mentioned before though, its a bit of a shame that your super hero type character, is at his most effective when driving a tank or using a rocket launcher.
What is most important for this type of game, is how it plays. For the most part they have done well with this. You can free run across the entire city and up and over all the buildings. Leaping, dodging and gliding around lets you cover distances rapidly and reach rooftops with relative ease. Vehicle controls are simple and easy to get the hang of.
There are some severe problems with the controls though - forget any ideas you have about having fine control of your movements, picking out a specific landing spot is next to impossible, rapidly locating and grabbing a single person amongst a crowd is pot luck - frustratingly so as many targets tend to get run down, mobbed or shot by randoms, if left for more than a few seconds - and the games lock on system is very poorly implemented - so much so that it deserves its own section...
So the lock on system.. hit left trigger to focus on a single target, flick one of the sticks around to switch targets, it will lock on to Ďpriorityí targets first. The camera will remain locked to that target, any direct attacks will be directed against it - which is fine. The problems are many though.. the priority target is 90% of the time, not the one you want. For example.. In the heat of a battle you may want to pick out a gunship to jump to and hijack (excellent feature by the way), so you quickly orient the camera to face the gunship, charge your jump for max height, flick the trigger and attack... only to suddenly veer off in completely the opposite direction, because the game has decided that a mob three bocks away is a higher priority. Even when there are only a few targets nearby and you have the crosshair directly on one of them, it will insist you cycle through targets in order, rather than just picking up the one you are pointing at. I found myself cursing the system constantly throughout the game, it just never seemed to target the thing I wanted.
Managing your powers is easy enough and is done with the shoulder buttons, each has a set of commands attached, hold them down and time slows down to allow you to choose a power, release it and the power activates and time speeds up.
Each of your attacks is activated in game through holding buttons or executing combos. They are also context sensitive, depending on whether you are sprinting, in the air or moving normally. There are a decent number of special powers, each with their own set of attacks, so there is a huge number of special moves on offer. In most cases though, you will just mash the buttons randomly, the wishy washy control scheme makes it overly difficult to get many focused attacks to connect with your intended target. A lot of the attacks are high damage single target or small area of effect attacks, but as most of the things you fight die with the slightest amount of damage, these are only any good for really tough opponents.. and for those opponents they simply are not as effective (and in some cases completely ineffective) as using a rocket launcher, a tank or a gunship.
So.. vehicle controls good, power selection is good, many of the quirky features such as dodging, aerial hijacking etc are also good, most of the controls on foot.. extremely frustrating due to a chronic lack of control.
Another area I have mixed opinions about, is the look of the game. On a micro level, the graphics are pretty poor. Texture quality and polygon count of people, buildings and vehicles is quite low, having said that though, explosions and smoke look nice, cars crush nicely and it comfortably manages huge numbers of people and vehicles on screen at any one time. There is a lot of gore in the game and as odd as it sounds, itís nice to see you can slice people to pieces with a decent blood splatter.
Sound is also fine, atmospherically the city sounds good, screams, explosions and random comments all come and go as you pass by, guns and explosions are fine, close combat effects sound good, the music is unremarkable but certainly not annoying or overbearing and the voice acting is adequate.
So how do I feel about the game as a whole now that Iíve finished it? Conflicted, in a word. Re-reading what Iíve written, for every bad point, thereís a good one. Whilst there is so much wrong with the game, itís hard to completely condemn it because there is also a lot right. I think when compared to the likes of Red Faction and possibly Infamous (which I have not played but have heard very good things about) it struggles to score favourably, but compared to "the average game", itís an enjoyable distraction with plenty to keep you entertained for around 15 hours. If one of my mates was to ask me if they should play the game, what I would say is that itís probably best as a rental, rather than an outright purchase, but it is definitely worth a go. So I guess thatís my conclusion - worth a look, but thereís no need to prioritise it.
7 / 10