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Painting the town red.

Playing through the opening minutes of Prototype is a bit of a blur, and not just because it's one of roughly 600,000 titles Activision is presenting in a rammed pre-E3 press event in the middle of London. Prototype would probably be a bit of a blur if you were dipping into it after a fifteen-hour snooze in a four-poster bed, with your own personal demo pod set up in the ballroom of Sandringham Palace, the Dalai Lama on hand to show you the controls, and members of Hansard fluttering nearby to note down even the most fleeting of your impressions. Prototype seems like a blur because that's how the game plays: from the very start, it's hectic, bloody, rollicking, and a little unhinged. Take away the present-day setting, and it's the kind of thing a syphilitic pirate might hallucinate, laid up in bed with a high fever.

An open-world superhero game set in New York City, Prototype's mission statement appears to involve getting the player punching things and jumping around rooftops as quickly as possible. This is an enjoyable proposition, given the frustrating absence - as far as we can tell - of a Crackdown 2, and it's one that doesn't appear to be overly burdening developers Radical Entertainment with the labours of storytelling. The plot can be explained in a few breathless gasps of cliché: amnesia...strange new powers...deadly virus...look out, Tank! What's vividly clear, however, in amongst the crushing spleens, pulped brains, and shattered military hardware, is that when swine flu finally does knock it up a notch and the streets of Europe are filled with sneezing zombies, Prototype's lead hoodie, Alex Mercer, is certainly somebody you wouldn't mind having in your camp.

Not only could Alex speedily outrun any airborne pathogens with a gentle squeeze of the right trigger, the man's a kind of offal-coated human penknife, capable of sprouting all manner of deadly appendages whenever the need arises (and often when it doesn't and you're just bored at some traffic lights). Giant blade for an arm? No problem. Massive fist for taking out lorries? Can do, comrade! Ground-pounding skills to make weird spikes shoot out of the tarmac and gore any nearby enemies? Who isn't doing that in '09?

The opening cut-scene channels I Am Legend, and offers a shard of entirely unnecessary justification for the all-out slaughter that follows. (The nasty cops killed a sexy lady.)

That's fully-powered, of course, as the game begins in Metroid mode, booting you right into a rubble-strewn post-apocalyptic Times Square on a weirdly balmy summer afternoon, with every conceivable skill a morally-ambiguous walking god might desire lying the mere push of the bumper away. Powers dictate pace, just as clearly as kills used to mean skills, as you set about doling out violence in Jackson Pollock tangles of blood and brain: most enemies are mere flies, so Radical sends swarms after you, and soon the shattered streets of New York are filled with huddled groups of soldiers, and rampaging mobs of raw-skinned mutants.

During the subsequent few minutes of entirely deranged slaughter, you're smacking tanks around, punching army types' heads off, and running up the sides of buildings with a distinctly bittersweet sensation. Why? Because this is all too much fun: it's too fast, too chaotic, and you know that the Windy Apple can't take much more of it. Surely, in a quarter of an hour or so, after you've learnt how to target enemies (it's with the left trigger, just like Zelda and Crackdown) and follow simple way-markers to your next splodge of gooey carnage, the developer's going to take it all away, and dump you back to the true beginning of the game, leaving you with all the skills and attack force of a neurotic eight-year-old with a high temperature and glue ear.

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Christian Donlan avatar

Christian Donlan

Features Editor

Christian Donlan is a features editor for Eurogamer. He is the author of The Unmapped Mind, published as The Inward Empire in the US.