Become anything... Change everything! A bold claim to make, but one that Canadian developer Radical Entertainment made a few months prior to the release of their new title, Prototype. They were trying to emphasise their new take on the sandbox genre, as Prototype is trying to distinguish itself from the already crowded genre.
To do this, they created Alex Mercer, a powerful dark hero. Awakening in a morgue to find scientists about to perform an autopsy, Alex's first notion is to run. While doing so, he finds out he has some rather gnarly powers and he has absolutely no idea how he got them, or who he is. However, he has the whole of Manhattan Island as his playground and he is desperate to find out information and make the people who did this pay.
It's nice to see a game with a much more sinister story, and Prototype touches on some adult themes while sticking to its dark style. It encourages players to be rather malevolent as they look to exact revenge on those that made Alex this way. It does seem to have a relatively basic premise though, and aside from acting as a very linear vessel to fuel motivation, it doesn't really offer much else. Don't expect to become very attached to any of the characters. The whole 'web of intrigue' offers a huge backstory, should players be interested, but it's not overly important to Alex's story.
As far as the game-play goes it's very much action orientated, totally over the top and thoroughly enjoyable. Cleaving enemies and innocents in half with giant serrated appendages may seem rather sadistic, and it certainly is; there is a real emphasis on causing as much carnage as possible. That said, it's entirely possible to be stealthy too. Consuming people allows the player to assume their identity, which is a rather handy way of disguising and throwing off the enemy. However, the detection system is slightly baffling sometimes. Enemies can detect suspicious behaviour, but sometimes they seem to have their eyes closed. It's possible to jump down from a skyscraper, land in front of an enemy, push them over and there's no guarantee anything bad will happen, despite the fact the player is disguised as a granny.
Combat is very fast paced, and some battles can become exceedingly intense. There is a targeting system, but ironically it can be quite frustrating if there are multiple enemies around. It is controlled by flicking the righ analogue stick and if there are a lot of enemies it can take a while to cycle through them all. It has been countered by a slight slowdown, but it doesn't help a great deal.
There are five different kinds of weapons that Alex can summon, but most of them aren't overly practical. There isn't any real incentive to use anything but the sword-blade, and it just seems the others were added for appearance, rather than susbstance. Each of them is rather unique and they can all be upgraded, but there's no incentive to do so. Alex can also use vehicles, but they can become quite cumbersome. This isn't due to the handling of the vehicles, but more the game. It pre-empts what a player will want to use and makes it rather difficult to actually make any headway.
Everything about Alex can be upgraded by acquiring points for completing missions or events. The basic missions in the game are actually quite varied and generally involve a lot of devastation - there are definitely a few epic moments. The events fall into a few categories, and they generally involve performing a specific task to attain different medals. It does offer some replay value though, as there is an incentive to try again.
Graphically the game is impressive. Most of Manhattan feels unique enough and considering its scale thats quite the accomplishment. Structural damage is a little less impressive as mostly involves just overlays of damage on buildings. It's not too much of a big deal though and mostly everything else on ground level can be leveled including trees which is rather satisfying. Sound effects are also very involving, although the music is very atmospheric at best; sometimes its difficult to even notice it at all. The gore and explosions are some of the best though and have that very George Romero style to them in their complete over the top visceral nature.
What Prototype does well is really give players the freedom to do what they like, something that can be quite a rarity. It was clear that the developers definitely wanted the game to have a 'pick up and play' rampage type feel to it and without a doubt they managed that. The combat and carnage is nothing short of fun. However, some elements do feel a little rushed in places. The story is exceedingly complicated, in the amount of thought that went behind the incident. However, Alex Mercer's role seems a little bit bland in places. That aside, there's really no reason for anyone to miss out on Prototype it achieves strongly in providing a very action based entertainment package.