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Prototype

Developer: Radical Entertainment | Publisher: Activision
Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 06/09/09 | Genre: Action

Around five years ago, with graphics cards getting ever closer to real life and CPUs attaining the ability to render the physics of hundreds of on-screen objects in real time, a few developers had a thought: why not let our players do whatever the they want? Prototype is a game born from this idea, but it is not all sandcastles and free time. While even from the beginning you are given the ability to run straight up walls, jump enormous distances, or kill humans in a single punch--you are also constantly threatened and guided by the game world's enemies and objectives. Combining enormous player power with challenging goals and a deep plot sounds like a good recipe. Unfortunately something went wrong in the mix. The skinny? Not quite enough power or control, a few too many goals and challenges, and a plot that just doesn't feel right.

The game opens with your character, Alex Mercer, withstanding direct gunfire, running straight up a building, and finally killing a helicopter by throwing a car at it. With this and the ability to unlock new powers throughout the game I expected to do some serious damage by the game's end. Throughout the game you can unlock new powers with Evolutionary Points. You are given points for practically anything you do--whether it is completing missions or just meaningless destruction.

The control system for these powers is fairly basic and even a little intuitive, but it seriously lacks any form of precision. At one point while I was sparring with a grotesque monster, Alex suddenly zoomed away and delivered a crushing punch to a fleeing, innocent woman that sent her over a building. The game seems to rely on the fact that most of your moves do colossal damage to everything around you to replace the need to pick your moves and targets carefully. This is by far the biggest weak point of the game. The controls combined with the weak camera system make it impossible to approach situations with finesse or skill. Instead you'll probably be relying on the same small number of powerful moves and cheesy, almost exploitive strategies to get you through the entire game.

This also leads to another glaring problem, which is the gaping disconnect between the gameplay world and the plot. Now, normally I would not lean too hard on the plot in a game like this, but the developers seem insistent on repeatedly cramming it down your throat with numerous cut scenes as well as an entire 'Web of Intrigue' aspect of the game which allows you to unlock optional plot elements. As a result you have two clashing images of the main character: in the cut scenes a basically good person trying to fight for justice and in the game world a mass murdering, chaotic monster that is single-handedly tearing apart an entire city. All of this combined makes Alex Mercer, the game's main character, the most unlikeable protagonist I have ever heard of.

This would all be forgivable as long as I was given the immense, unstoppable power that I expect in a game like this. While some of the powers are impressive, the game does not fully deliver in this area either. A lot of the powers are clearly useless or even laughable. For example, about halfway through the game you can unlock a power to pick up a person and throw them into the ground. This is useless since even at the start you can kill people with a single punch, or just throw cars through entire crowds, killing hundreds. Another power, one of the most expensive in the game, allows you to fall from an extreme height and create a shockwave as you hit the ground. I excitedly climbed as high as I possibly could and performed the power, only to take out a few taxis and civilians.

Worse yet, with the increased difficulty throughout the game I actually felt weaker by the end than I did at the beginning. At a point when you can throw vehicles a mile, jump a halfway across Manhattan and take out giant monsters with a few punches the military will still show up and kill you very easily if you do not run away. A big aspect of the game involves disguising yourself for situations like these, but for some reason the developers introduced scanning devices that reveal you very early in the game that make this entire feature useless.

The game does handle chaos well, making for situations where entire battles will be going on around you while you fight, and they do look very impressive. Without any depth beyond this, though, the game will prove to be a novelty very quickly. If causing immense chaos just seems too good to pass up, consider picking this game up when the price eventually drops. Otherwise, a rental should satisfy your playing time.

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By Andrew Bruck - 07/06/09
ESRB Details: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language
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Screenshots for Prototype

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