Review by BloodGod65

"Familiarity Breeds Contempt"

I'm almost at a loss for words. I, along with so many other people, expected so much from Radical after their brilliant, albeit flawed, effort with Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. Despite numerous delays during development, it certainly seemed as if Prototype was going to be the next big thing. But appearances and information can be deceiving, because Prototype is definitely not the next big thing. Then what is Prototype? It's a highly derivative, mediocre game that shamelessly rips off the aforementioned Ultimate Destruction in nearly every regard.

Prototype takes an unusual route to become what is effectively a superhero game. Alex Mercer wakes up in a morgue just as he's about to be on the receiving end of an autopsy and escapes the hospital. It doesn't take him long to discover he's gained some interesting abilities that allow him to jump extra high and morph his body into all sorts of crazy weapons. Basically, he's Carnage (red Venom) of Spider-Man lore. More importantly, he realizes that he's suffering from an inexplicable case of, wait for it… amnesia! Oh, mediocrity thy name is cliche!

From there things get better, if no less familiar. It would seem that whatever changed Alex is now infecting the whole of Manhattan. The entire island is quarantined by a quasi-militaristic organization calling itself the Blackwatch, and they try to keep the peace as civil order breaks down. The infection spreads quickly, turning entire boroughs of the city into warzones while the populace is stricken with infection and transforms into ravenous mutant freaks.

Once players spend some time with the game and realize just how similar it is to Ultimate Destruction, it's not hard to pick out the narrative similarities between the two games. It becomes clear that the infection and Alex's mutation came about from a science experiment gone awry and that he's being hunted by two characters that resemble General Ross and Emil Blonsky to no small degree. The story also steals much of its inspiration from Dark Sector, with an infected hero whose body slowly turns into a weapon and a demented populace of mutant monstrosities being fought off by the military. But for all its familiarity and inane mumblings along the way, none of it quite compares to the final irksome revelation the plot has in store. I won't spoil it, but it feels like Radical decides it wants to bestow one final insult on the player and creates this pimp-slap of a plot twist to do so.

Though there's little to like about the story, the way players will uncover it is interesting. Alex has the ability to consume other people and absorb what they know (more on this later). This allows him to hunt down people who have knowledge of the events at hand and consume them, thereby restoring some of his memory or telling him what's happening. This coalesces to form the Web of Intrigue, a large grid of unconnected nodes. As Alex consumes people, these nodes will unlock and begin to attach to others as associated knowledge is connected. Ultimately, the only way to fully understand the plot is to consume each of these people to see what they know. The downside to the Web is that each person's memory is less than a minute long and usually reveals very little on its own. Other people must be consumed to reveal the entirety of one event. For instance, some of these people have knowledge of the Blackwatch's deployment so you might see their briefing in one memory, an oath they took in one, and their orders in another. All these combine to tell players how Blackwatch arrived, what their history is and what they're doing in Manhattan. The effect of this is that overarching plot details reveal themselves very slowly and that each memory is typically incoherent until you find the others connected to it.

But the plot is ultimately a disposable affair that doesn't consist of anything gamers haven't seen before. What is really deserving of discussion is that actual gameplay, which is not so much similar to Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction as it is a complete rehashing of it. For some reason, I never could quite do away with the notion that Radical had a discussion while making the game that went something like this; “Hey guys, we're in a recession and developing games takes a lot of money. So instead of making something new, let's just port Ultimate Destruction to next-gen systems, add a couple of tweaks, give it a facelift then sell it as something entirely new!”.

Spending a mere five minutes with the game is enough to reinforce this notion, as Alex has many of the same abilities as Radical's version of the Hulk. By holding down the jump button and releasing it, he can launch himself into the air. He'll cause a shockwave of damage if he falls from a great height. He can run straight up a vertical surface, and if he stops in mid-stride he'll do a dainty little backflip and fall back to the ground. Finally, he can also pick up cars and throw them at things. Despite the similarities to Ultimate Destruction, moving around the city is actually one of the more enjoyable aspects of Prototype due to Alex's agility and maneuverability. Alex is fast, and his high jumping and gravity defying abilities mean he can take on every challenge Manhattan has to offer. One of Alex's unique abilities is Glide, which allows him to float through the air. If you charge his jumps, he can get a lot of distance and the addition of gliding means he can move much further.

Another plus is that Radical has implemented a system similar to one found in Assassin's Creed. Alex will automatically perform a lot of minor actions such as hopping over ledges and vaulting over cars. This means movement is less of a hassle because you don't have to continuously press buttons to get Alex to perform menial tasks, and can instead focus on more important things (like getting away from a pursuing mutant mob).

While Alex's movement abilities are identical to the Hulk's, it would be easy to dismiss it as a vague connection at best. But, Alex can gain experience points (called evolution points) by fighting and use these to buy all sorts of new abilities and power-ups. These range from the simple, such as increasing running speed or jump height to actual abilities, such as smashing his fists on the ground to produce a shockwave. Sound familiar, Hulk fans? In fact, most of these abilities were lifted directly from Ultimate Destruction and serve exactly the same purposes as they did there. Radical didn't even bother to change the names. Players can even purchase the Critical Mass ability, which allows players to go into over-powered mode and use extremely devastating moves by overfilling their health.

Thankfully, there are a few added nuances. For instance, Alex has the ability to weaponize himself by buying upgrades. There are several primary weapons he has access to, from the default Claws, which look a lot like the Tyrant's claw-hand from Resident Evil and the Hammerfist, which is slow but very damaging. My personal favorite was the Whip, which lets Alex attack and grab things from afar much like Jackie Estacado's demon arm in The Darkness. Not all of the abilities granted by the infection are offensive though. There's one that gives him thermal vision and another that lets an arm become a shield. Radical manages to keep all these abilities separate and easy to use by implementing a quick select option with the D-pad. By opening the ability menu, you can assign one ability of a type to each directional button (up is offensive, right is perception, down is defensive and left is for consumption forms).

Speaking of consuming, it just so happens to be one of the games more important mechanics. Alex can grab anybody he meets and eat them by absorbing their body into his own. At its most basic, this is a quick way to get a small health boost but its uses are more varied than that. As previously mentioned absorbing a person means Alex has access to that knowledge, from memories to useful skills. Absorbing select Blackwatch members can let Alex access the training to use certain firearms more proficiently or how to drive a vehicle. Absorbing a person also means Alex can alter his form to assume their identity, which allows him to evade those who might be looking for him or to sneak into certain off limits areas. In the proper guise, Alex can also use special abilities such as an artillery strike when disguised as a military officer.

Once again, I can't say I'm impressed by the story but Radical has built some interesting ideas around it. As the story progresses, the infection spreads across Manhattan and you'll see this reflected in the city as you run around it. The most noticeable manifestation of this is the increased Blackwatch presence on the streets and ever-increasing chaos. Players will also notice that each side has areas of control in the city. For the Blackwatch, their control is based around bases and the infection spreads from localized hives. Alex can choose to seek out these areas and eliminate the bases or hives for a few benefits. By destroying a hive, there will be fewer infected enemies in an area. Blackwatch bases have much more helpful rewards, but generally require more work. To even get near a base, Alex will have to consume a soldier and sneak in, then consume an officer to get inside the base. Once inside, Alex can find specialists that have special weapons training, but must contend with dozens of other soldiers. After doing what needs to be done, he can sneak out and destroy the base, which will stop the base from sending out helicopter teams to neutralize him for a few minutes. Regardless of whether you're going after hives or bases, the whole thing is unsatisfying because each area looks exactly the same, contains the exact same layout and when destroyed, crumbles the same. Plus, it doesn't take long for these control points to be reestablished, meaning it's generally a waste of time.

One aspect of this whole control mechanic is interesting however. Each control area, whether infected, Blackwatch or neutral, has its own atmosphere. Neutral areas look normal, but are typically chaotic with people running in the streets and cars crashing into each other. Blackwatch areas are completely locked down, with pedestrians minding their own business, traffic flowing smoothly and soldiers and tanks patrolling the area. Infected areas are utter chaos and have their own distinct look. The skies are reddish, there's infected material growing everywhere, fires rage and smoke billows from firefights and the infected run around looking for someone to kill. All these distinct areas make it feel as if the city really is in the midst of a war and it easily allows players to know whose territory they're in without looking at the map every few minutes.

Regardless of where Alex is, it's likely that he'll be fighting most of the time. Alex's abilities make it easy to slice and dice through mobs of enemies and getting him to perform a certain move is generally easier than it was in Ultimate Destruction. For instance, the player might have had to put in numerous commands for a big attack while Prototype usually has only a couple. This means it's easier to dish out a bunch of big attacks rather than having to rely on basic punches. Unfortunately, that's about the only aspect of combat Radical has improved. The camera is still awful and is usually incapable of keeping up with the action and targeting is sloppy (though you don't have to use it), as Alex has a tendency to target enemies a block down the street as well as keeping the lock on an enemy that's already dead.

There are a couple of other options rather than using Alex's powers all the time. He can pick up guns, which are pretty easy to use and are sometimes a better option than just jumping into the midst of an enemy swarm. Alex can also hijack an APC, tank or helicopter (but not regular civilian vehicles). The movement controls for the land vehicles are extraordinarily sloppy and counterintuitive. On the other hand, helicopter controls are excellent. But getting one of these rides is almost impossible if you're not in disguise and other soldiers are around. Alex must perform a short minigame to get into the vehicle, and while he's doing this, other enemies can shoot and damage him. He can also be blown completely off the vehicle if something explodes nearby.

Like most open-world action games, players progress through Prototype by completing story missions. These are, regretfully, about as original as the rest of the game and often have Alex going to some location to collect a bunch of stuff. Nearly all of them are far too drawn out and consist of the same objectives over and over. In one mission, you'll have to stop a patrol of grunts, UAV's and APC's before they find Alex's hideout. After doing this once, you'll have to do it a half dozen more times during the same mission. In another, Alex must destroy a virus sensor that can sniff him out, then roam around the city and destroy eleven more (I'm really not making these numbers up). Perhaps the crowning achievement of this dunderheadedness is a classic, cliched “you lost all your powers!” mission that actually carries over to the rest of the game. You'll spend the next hour or so roaming around the city without any of Alex's powers until he can find the cure several missions down the road. It's like playing a superhero game without superpowers! Oh, wait! That's exactly what it is! Wonderful!

If the story missions aren't amusing enough (they aren't) and roaming around the city becomes a bore (it will), you can always fall back on the equally derivative side missions. These include all the typical open-world standbys such as races and combat challenges. However Alex's abilities allow a couple of twists for these routine activities, such as consume events that have him chasing and eating people and glide events, which have him jumping off a high building trying to land in a target zone. But somehow, even these added twists don't make the events any more compelling.

Graphics might just be one of the few things this game has going for it. It isn't the best looking game, but it does present a very large version of Manhattan complete with several recognizable landmarks. The draw distance is excellent, but textures start getting flat at a short distance. Most of the character models are very good, but have a strange waxy look. Alex's animations are excellent, as he'll nudge people away from him as he walks and will push them away if he's running, much like Altair of Assassin's Creed. When he reaches the top of a building, he'll do a fancy forwards pirouette to land on the roof and if he's coming down the side, he'll actually crouch down and slide. The game is also very gory and there's probably more blood in this game than any I've played thus far this year. Most of his powers have the ability to dismember, maim or otherwise destroy enemies at an alarming rate.

The voice acting for the game is spot-on, but there is very little music. When dashing around the city, the game is almost silent. When music does come on, it is unobtrusive and often drowned out by the sounds of screaming, gunfire and explosions.

THE VERDICT
I have to respect Radical's ingenuity. Rather than create an entirely new game, they've just taken Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, built a few new ideas on top of it, given it a makeover and sold it as a new product. Admittedly, Ultimate Destruction was solid at its core, but several years have passed and this game does absolutely nothing that most of us haven't seen a dozen times already. That's not to mention the fact that when most people buy a new game, they actually expect a new game. In the end, I don't think that Prototype's greatest fault is in its shameless regurgitation of the ideas from other games, but rather in the fact that it hasn't added anything of significance. It doesn't do anything new and the market is already filled to bursting with games that simply rehash old material. We've seen everything Prototype has to offer and most of us are sick of it, and that is what its biggest problem is. Put another way, familiarity breeds contempt.


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 09/08/09, Updated 07/07/10

Game Release: Prototype (US, 06/09/09)


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