Prototype, the open world, rampage action game from Radical, has finally been released. Prototype is a title that had so much promise, potential and anticipation trailing behind it that it comes as a great relief knowing that the wait is now over. It’s been a long wait as we watched the game slip further and further away from us with each delay, but if you’re finally ready to know whether it was worth it or not, read on below.
[Note: For an in-depth explanation of my review system, go here: Tody's Review System]
Genre: Open World “Sandbox” Action
Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox360
Prototype is an open world “sandbox” beat em up title which plays out like a hybrid between Spiderman: Web of Shadows and God of War. However, the game focuses more on wanton destruction and making the player feel ultimately powerful. Prototype, unlike other sandbox games, understands its target audience and the game goes to great lengths to make you feel as powerful as possible. To put it out there, Alex is probably the most ridiculously overpowered protagonist to ever appear in an action game. Prototype is a game where you can run up buildings, elbow-drop tanks, rip people in half with your bear hands and take on entire armies just for kicks. If you’re looking for a game that allows you to feel as though you’re the most destructive force in the world, then look no further than Prototype.
Prototype tells the story of Alex Mercer, your run-of-the-mill amnesiac, who wakes up suddenly in a morgue. Soon after his awakening he discovers that he has inhuman abilities and the game’s trademark ability to shape shift. Alex must now find out why he is being pursued by the military and attempt to get revenge on those who turned him into a monstrous, biological weapon. Meanwhile, the rest of the city has been exposed to a deadly virus, turning the inhabitants into hideous creatures, and the military, and its elite group “Blackwatch”, must try and contain the threat.The game has an incredibly interesting story with an extremely detailed back story that the player can explore as part of the side quests, but unfortunately the story is horribly told. It really could have been an amazing sci-fi experience, but the problem is that Prototype focuses far too much on the “fast paced action”, which resulted in 20 second long cutscenes that are often devoid of any real meaning. It’s respectable that the game doesn’t force the story down your throat but with such an incredible premise it just seems like a great story has gone to waste. One of the main contributors is that the dialogue is poorly written, trying to sound too “bad ass” and ultimately giving the impression that the characters are not even speaking to each other. It comes across as though the characters are performing monologues rather than conversing. However, if you’re willing to pursue the “Web of Intrigue” side quest you’ll find over 100 short cutscenes that fill in the game’s rich, and far superior, back story which is a much better option than trying to make sense of the convoluted story.
Concerning the mission structure, there are the 31 lengthy main missions to take on to progress through the story as well as various side quests, mini games and city events on the sidelines if you’re looking for some extra experience points. From the beginning, Prototype is one of the few games out there that really makes the player feel as if they’re in control. In most other sandbox titles, deviating from the missions to do as you please in the game world is just a meaningless and unrewarding pass-time, but in Prototype, despite what you’re doing you will still be playing the game itself. The game will reward you with heaps of experience points for causing destruction in the city, obtaining city collectibles, participating in the two-way war (by destroying enemy military or infected outposts), furthering the Web of Intrigue and attaining unique abilities by infiltrating military bases. Drawing enough attention to yourself will have the military call in Strike Teams which serve as the game’s penalty system. While it’s not tiered like GTA’s wanted level, the Strike Teams do get stronger as the game progresses. However, unlike other open world games, fighting against the penalty system, while later becomes difficult, is actually very rewarding. The game will reward you with experience for managing to evade a Strike Team, and even more if you manage to destroy them.
One of Prototype’s greatest strengths is the fact that it has such a large scale of variety in its gameplay, so much, in fact, that the gameplay caters for almost any audience. The focal point to the game is to completely annihilate everything and everyone who stands in your way, but there’s just so many ways to go about it. The best aspect of this is that Prototype has the right mentality regarding player choice, meaning that no matter which way you choose to tackle a situation the game will reward you for it. Because of the never ending rewards and the fact that there is always something to do, exploring the sand box environment can be just as fun, if not more fun, than actually playing the main quests. Within the game, Alex can choose to take a stealthy approach or fight enemies head-on, and to the game’s credit, the stealth approach has been fairly well implemented. Alex can use his shape shifting abilities to consume anyone and gain their memories (Web of Intrigue), abilities (unique military upgrades) as well as their physical appearance. And the game even rewards you with bonus experience to compensate for the loss of EP from kills. Pretending to be part of a side can also have numerous benefits. If you take on the role of a military soldier you will have access to artillery strikes, weaponry, their vehicles and free entrance to their bases. Granted you could just take it if you wanted to, but taking a stealthy approach will have them giving it to you willingly.
The combat turned out to be a double-edged sword. While it’s one of the game’s greatest successes, it’s also one of its largest shortcomings. The good part is that the combat is incredibly varied due to the large selection of weapons and moves. Alex is able to morph his hands into claws, transform his arm into a blade, shoot tentacles out of himself in a very Venom-like fashion, wrap his body in armoured coating and more. Breaking it down, there are three classes to the powers, namely attack, defense and sensory powers. Each power has its own unique abilities and perks, and are extremely fun to use and create very destructive and gory results. The powers themselves are unlocked either through story progression or by purchasing them using accumulated experience points, while all the moves and skills that come with the powers need to be bought off the upgrades menu. The upgrades menu contains a giant list of obtainable abilities and combat moves, which only increases in size as the game progresses. You will almost always be after a new, recently unlocked ability, which results in obtaining upgrades becoming a large incentive to continue playing. Aside from the powers, Alex will be able to fight using hand-to-hand combat, use any gun he picks up, hijack and drive tanks and helicopters and throw cars at enemies, all of which have their own set of obtainable upgrades and skills. However, while there are numerous attack powers, there are only two sensory and two defensive powers each.
What’s bad about the combat is that because there are so many combat moves to acquire, a lot of the commands overlap each other. For example the Triangle/Y/Right Click button alone is the input for over ten different moves depending on the context of the situation. This can at times cause you to perform the wrong action at the wrong time. The game tries to rectify this by separating the various movelists into five different weapons, but switching between them using the game’s radial power select menu can be clunky. To illustrate this more clearly, I’ll use God of War and Devil May Cry as examples. In both games, you have three weapons with several moves each and swapping between them is done with a single button, allowing them to easily be combo’ed together. In Prototype, by contrast, there are more weapons, but less moves per weapon and since they can’t be swapped instantly the combat is less smooth than it should be. The powers don’t synergise at all like in the former games. The advantage of this is that the button inputs are very simple, but the combat lacks the finesse, skill and fluidity of the two games mentioned. What adds to this is the ridiculous unbalance of the powers. The blade power for example destroys anything in a single power hit and, since it’s fast, it renders both the hammerfist and claw powers useless when you finally get it. While it’s great that there are so many powers, what the above system leads to is that so many moves in the game become useless near the end. It would have been smarter to have had less weapons with more developed moves which would have allowed for much more fluid combat, because as it stands a great deal of the combat moves in Prototype are there just for variety or to just ‘look cool’.
The other issue is that later in the game some of the moves are ridiculously expensive. When killing a Strike Team gives you 50 000 exp and you’re saving up for an ability costing a million experience points, it can become quite a struggle to buy the later abilities outside of the main missions. The difficulty curve of the game is also extremely uneven. For the most part, the game is fairly easy, with Alex being so powerful, and while the game does rise in difficulty as it progresses, often enough certain missions will have ridiculously high difficulty levels which can be quite a shock compared to the rest of the game. When combined with the unbalance of the combat, it’s very easy for one to make the game either too easy or too difficult for oneself. Abusing the Blade power hits will turn the game into a joke, while trying to be fancy will get you killed.
Prototype features, quite possibly, the most refined and free-flowing parkour mechanics ever seen in a sandbox game. It’s like Spiderman on steroids. The game doesn’t restrict you in any way when it comes to movement. Within seconds of playing you’ll be scaling buildings, running at ridiculous speeds, gliding and dashing through the air and stunting around. Neither buildings, vehicles or people are obstacles, as you’ll simply overcome all of them with ease. Traversing the city of New York is incredibly easy due to the fluid platforming mechanics and you’ll reach all of your objectives in short time, having a complete blast along the way. The one problem, however, is that since the mechanics were built purely for speed and flow, it’s often frustrating when opting for precision. For example, there will often be collectibles dangling from the top ends of a tall buildings, but you’ll struggle to accurately land within the pick-up radius unless you go about it extremely slowly, which completely breaks flow and calls for irritation. Still, you won’t have come across many sandbox titles, if not any, that take the parkour and free-roaming aspects and implement them almost flawlessly.
To be blunt, Prototype is heavily under par on a technical scale. The game’s visuals are only marginally better than the best looking PS2 games and the level of visual detail, particularly in the buildings, is extremely lacking. This, coupled together with the unbelievably short drawing distance and numerous pop-in issues causes Prototype to pretty much fall completely flat in this area. The drawing distance is sometimes so bad that you’ll often end up not seeing a collectible that’s only twenty meters to your right. You’ll spot numerous objects in the game world loading up as you enter the area, which is quite unacceptable by today’s standards. On the upside, the game suffers absolutely no framerate drops or slowdown no matter how much action happens on screen, which is very impressive considering the sheer level of carnage that can happen at once, on many occasions throughout Prototype. It looks like the graphics were sacrificed in order to make this possible and, quite frankly, lesser graphics for completely smooth gameplay is something that is most definitely worth it, especially in a game as chaotic as this one. In this case, Prototype made the sacrifice for the greater good.
Prototype is one of the few games that can mostly live up to the ridiculously high expectations it set for itself. The game’s flaws are there and they are blatantly noticeable, but look past them and you’ll witness a title that truly understands the hearts and minds of gamers, ultimately delivering an amazingly fun experience that you’ll be unable to keep away from. Whether you pick it up for a couple of minutes or hours, you’ll always feel like it was time well spent. It’s fast paced, unbelievably fun and violent, unrestricted and contains a game world that’s truly yours to conquer – for a sandbox action game, you can’t do much better than Prototype.
- The game’s graphics seem to be the biggest turn off for many out there who take a peak at Prototype, and I understand this. The reason I’m putting this forward is to all those skeptical to give the game a chance due to the graphics. Yes, they are most definitely very bad, but at the end of the day, the only two factors that determines a good game is whether or not it has good gameplay and allows you to have fun. Everything else fits as a bonus that makes the game greater. I’m not saying these aspects should be neglected completely, of course not, technology advances, game’s aspire to greatness and need to stand out from the rest and there still has to be reason to pick up and play a game, but what I am saying is that don’t base your opinion purely on what you see. The original purpose of games is to unwind and have fun. That’s exactly what Prototype delivers, pure gaming fun, despite all of its issues. So my point is, give it a chance first before you reach a verdict. If you truly can’t stand the graphics, at least you’ve given the actual game a try.
- The horribly short drawing distance is quite problematic throughout the game as you’ll often miss collectibles that are within twenty meters of your position. In an open world game, the player should be able to see as much as possible and not the opposite.
- The unbalanced powers will most probably dishearten those who took a liking to certain play styles and weapons, which is quite unfortunate. The weapons should have been optimised so that they remain useful throughout the entire game rather than become useless simply because you gain something better than everything else you owned before.
- Tremendous difficulty spikes come as a great shock when most of the game is fairly easy. The player has to be prepared for a shift in difficulty so that they can move themselves into it and adapt, not jump between easy and hard levels without warning. Games like Prototype should either get progressively difficult or have challenging sections that give you prior warning, even if it’s just a one-liner of warning from a character, just so you know you’re in for trouble rather than have you prepared for easy-going.
- There is absolutely no reason why some of the moves are so expensive. The strongest moves should most definitely come at a price, but the moves that are for more flashy entertainment rather than valuable to combat should be much cheaper.