Review by horror_spooky

"My name is Alex...and I remember everything"

Free-roaming games are nothing new. Last generation seemed to have a new free-roaming title released every month, ranging from mobster stories to licensed superhero games like Spider-Man 2. Developer Radical Entertainment dipped their toe in the free-roaming genre with their game The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, but this time they stepped outside the restrictive box of dealing with a licensed product and have created their own superhero for their own game: Prototype.

Prototype introduces the superhero character Alex Mercer, who has quite the impressive set of abilities. Alex is highly resistant to damage and can literally jump over buildings. He can absorb civilians, monsters, whatever to regenerate health and he can even turn into the people he has absorbed. As the game progresses and you unlock more abilities for Alex, you'll find yourself slicing through hoards of enemies with your giant claws and gliding between the skyscrapers as you try to escape a violent military hell-bent on killing Alex and containing the virus that has popped up in Manhattan.

If “awesome” was a cookie, I'd have to guess that something like that would be the recipe. So, where exactly does Prototype go wrong to keep itself from being a blockbuster?

While you'll have plenty of fun fighting slicing up zombies (oh yeah, zombies) and absorbing people with your powers, the combat with any enemies more competent with that is just irritating. Many enemies are rather difficult to kill and they don't even react to your attacks. Often times when you're in a battle, you'll be in a battle with huge mutants that can knock you down with a single swipe while the military fires rockets at you that also knock you down. As you could imagine, it gets rather frustrating to get knocked down by a mutant, stand back up, get immediately knocked down by a rocket, stand back up, and then get knocked down by a mutant again. It feels a little bit like you're playing a fighting game with a jerk that keeps spamming the same move again so you can't do anything. That feeling in a game like this doesn't belong, and it's completely avoidable. Making games feel cheap does not make them feel challenging—it just makes them feel…well…cheap.

Enemies that see you long enough will call for a strike team to rain hell on your location. These strike teams make the game even more frustrating because instead of just having one rocket shot at you, they drop a crap load of missiles on your head. You'll be throwing the controller in anger before long, and the vehicular segments won't help matters either.

Yeah, you have the options to drive vehicles. You don't necessarily have to very much since you're a superhero who can basically fly to wherever you wish to go, but for some combat situations, vehicles are a necessity. You can hijack tanks and helicopters, and you'll be doing plenty of both before the credits roll. However, there will be many times that you'll jump in a tank or helicopter that has full health only to get blown up immediately after entering the vehicle. This can become frustrating as hell, just like the rest of the combat, but the use of vehicles in a game like this still feels fresh despite its design flaws.

Combat aside, it's still a blast running around the city climbing up walls, throwing cars, falling hundreds of feet without dying, and just enjoying yourself. You know how relaxing it was to just swing around the buildings in Spider-Man 2 using your webs? You kind of get that feeling when you're soaring through the air as Alex Mercer and exploring rooftops for collectables.

The RPG elements also are a big plus for the game. As you kill enemies and complete missions and stuff, you earn experience points. You can spend these experience points to upgrade Alex in various ways. You can buy Mr. Mercer new moves (which include attacks inspired by professional wrestling like flying elbow drops and powerbombs), upgrade his health, or purchase new superhero powers for him to utilize.

While most of the missions are fun on some level, they are hampered by repetitive objectives. Many missions will require you to complete the same task repeatedly, and with the crappy combat system, this would have been a nightmare if it wasn't for the generous checkpoint system that Prototype implements.

No free-roaming game would be complete without its share of side-missions, and Prototype delivers here. Throughout Manhattan you will find Events that task you in completing various objectives utilizing Alex's abilities. These Events are actually quite challenging and end up being more entertaining than a large majority of the storyline missions. You are ranked on a scale of bronze to platinum in these Events, and the better you do on them the more experience points you will earn. They're worth the time to check out and they definitely make you play the game in fun ways you probably wouldn't have otherwise.

Prototype's storyline is a highlight of the game, and while the basic premise is a bit tired in the world of video games, it gets the job done in ways that the gameplay just can't seem to accomplish. The game follows the story of a man named Alex Mercer, who discovers that he has crazy superhero powers that allows him to shapeshift and transform. He has problems remembering a good chunk of his past, but he slowly begins to discover the truth and what happened to cause the viral outbreak in Manhattan that has effectively turned most of its population into zombies and mutants. The story takes some time to pick up speed, but by the end of the game you'll walk away satisfied with the plot and reasonably surprised by its twists and turns. The characters could definitely use some work though, and I nominate Alex Mercer as quite possibly the most annoying video game character in the last ten years.

Beautiful cut-scenes help tell Prototype's reasonably awesome story in the better parts of the game, but a lot of the gameplay actually doesn't look all that good. There isn't a decent variety of enemies to battle with, and the environments lack a lot of texture detail. The character models range from just plain bad to boring to impressive, and the animation is more or less terrible. The water looks like it belongs on the PlayStation 2, and the game is riddled with glitches and technical faults. Prototype freezes up way too much and there are some seriously annoying glitches. One time I was fighting a boss that was supposed to be relatively difficult, but instead they started climbing on a wall back and forth repeatedly, which just allowed me to toss trucks at them from a distance until they died. The text is nice and readable though, so that's a plus, and the level of destructibility is very impressive considering that it's a sandbox title.

One of Prototype's biggest problems is its voice-acting. Alex Mercer is a walking cliché, especially when it comes to his raspy “I'm a badass” voice. His sister Dana is equally annoying, and in fact, nearly every character that talks in the game will make you want to turn the volume down. The soundtrack is pretty good, with some nice background music that gets you pumped up for the action segments.

The main storyline will last you about six to ten hours depending on your skill level, and after that there's quite a bit left to do. You'll definitely want to check out the achievements as there are some really fun achievements to strive for, and messing around in the city is relaxing and blood-pumping all at once. The Events are a lot of fun, and there's a lot of hidden collectables to search for. There are specific people to absorb that are known as Web of Intrigue characters that will reveal more back-story, in a fashion reminiscent of the Assassin's Creed games.

Prototype does some things right, but it also does some things horribly wrong. In the end, the good and bad things balance each other out and Prototype becomes an average title that is probably best experienced via a rental or picking it up cheap. The basic foundation of the gameplay is rather impressive and original, the plot definitely has its high points, the replayability is through the roof, and the free-roaming aspect is great. The game falters when it comes to its audio presentation, the graphics aren't as impressive as they could be, the combat feels cheap, and the mission objectives become a bit repetitive. Prototype tries to be the perfect superhero free-roam game, but it falls just short of being a great superhero free-roam game.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 02/22/10

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

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