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SummaryThis is why I play games.
The GoodWhen I first saw videos and learned of Prototype, I thought, hey, that looks pretty cool. Eventually, I got the game (Platinum Hits version for a gift) and I realized that I don't just enjoy the game, but that it delivers and experience that is one of the reasons I love playing video games.
What do I love? Well, as a huge Resident Evil and Metroid fan, I'm big on atmosphere and mood in games. But I'm also a huge fan of the Contra franchise and both shmups and run-n-gun gaming. With that in mind, I'm a fan of intensity. Prototype delivers intensity to spare.
Imagine, if you will, playing a game as one of the monsters, such as Tyrant or Nemesis, from the Resident Evil franchise. You'd run around, destroying things and being a nigh unstoppable nuisance. That's Prototype. Alex Mercer is the bona-fide genetic monster unleashed on society. Except, unlike Tyrant or Nemesis, Alex Mercer also gets to play the role of a good guy. He's essentially the most over-powered anti-hero ever.
There is an absolutely massive number of powers, moves, and abilities to be purchased in this game. So many that I was shocked that, something like ten "stages" in, I unlocked something like a dozen abilities available for purchase or upgrade, and more just kept being added as I went on. Alex can do just about anything in this game, run through traffic, run up skycrapers, hijack any vehicle, consume any living thing (for knowledge or health), use people, vehicles, debris and weapons as, well, weapons.
In a way, this is like Crackdown, in which players play as a "super soldier" of sorts who can be leveled up in various physical attributes--strength, health, speed, jumping, etc. In fact, in a lot of ways, Prototype is like taking the basic idea of Crackdown--upgradable super-being in a free-roaming city, and added the intensity of five Contra games.
This intensity is where I had the most enjoyment. Throwing myself into a situation where I'm fighting military and mutant opponents at the same time while trying to finish a task, such as taking out an infected Hive building. Constant attacks from all angles, of all kinds. Tanks shooting at me, mutated hunters chasing me down, infected people running everywhere, helicopters swooping in to take me out, with soldiers and civilians running everywhere. Man, it's awesome. Running through traffic, picking up a car, chucking it at a helicopter, then not even missing a beat as I shoot my whip-like arm to a tank so I can hijack it to have heavier weapons at my disposal.
This is the way many missions turn out, especially during the latter half of the game when the city is increasingly overrun by infected people and monsters. Pure chaos seems to ensue and the action is quite literally, non-stop. The intensity and action rarely ever feel like they're getting out of hand, however. This isn't like Ninja Gaiden II, where the game throws unending waves of enemies right on top of you so that you can't even move. You can pretty much always escape from the action and find your own breathing room, take a moment to consume some people or monsters to refill your health bar, then rework a constantly evolving strategy to accomplish the current goal.
That's another thing--they way you work through challenges and missions is often pretty open-ended. Say you need to stop some helicopters, you can do it by destroying them by throwing debris (my favorite being cars) at them, or firing on them from a tank or with other military weaponry, physically assault them out of the air, or hijack them. There's an Achievement in the game for destroying a certain number of towers (formerly water towers turned into nests of sorts) before they hatch. Getting close to them speeds up their hatching, and it donned on me, "why am I trying to physically attack these things and risk always causing them to hatch?" So I hijacked a helicopter and blew them away from a distance. One of the easiest Achievements ever!
The majority of the missions in the game are like this. There are so many ways to approach any problem that buried in the rampant, though enjoyable, intensity is a surprising amount of strategy and options. Take an area from full-blown frontal assault, or consume a soldier and walk into the area disguised? It's entirely up to you.
Many of Alex's powers are fantastic. They all have their purposes and uses, and many are better for some things than others. You'll, of course, find a favorite that you stick with for the bulk of the time. I used Alex's giant shield and the weapon that turns his arm into a huge whip-like weapon. With this, I could sweep through huge numbers of standard enemies and latch onto tanks and helicopters from a distance for hijacking. The shield allowed me to plow through traffic, people, and enemies with ease. There are several weapons and other armor designs to choose from.
The few boss encounters in the game are pretty much all fun, and a couple of them are just incredible. One specifically, is a huge beastly creature the size of a building and that fight lasted me a good forty minutes.
There are dozens of secondary challenges in the game, such as completing battle scenarios within set rules (such as fighting as military, or against them, using a certain weapon, or power, etc), races, infiltrating military bases, destroying infected Hives, consuming scientists, consuming infected, or gliding from a rooftop to a target below. The vast majority of these are quite fun, though they don't always allow for the open-ended, solve-it-how-you-want-to gameplay.
The music is phenomenal and adds a thrilling "big Hollywood" style epic quality to the game. While none of it is really what one would consider "epic," the music adds to the experience the way a solid Hollywood soundtrack does to a blockbuster film--say, Die Hard or Total Recall (yeah, I'm old school, what of it?).
The graphics are much more detailed that I expected. The environments, especially during the second half of the game, are increasingly full of life, debris, characters and action. And all of it flows smoothly without hiccups or stalled screens attempting to load the area you just walked into. It's amazing given the enormity of the environment you're running around in. It's full of tanks and helicopters and people and monsters and explosions galore.
The gameplay is typically smooth to control and a helluva lot of fun. Like Crackdown, one of my favorite elements of this game was the ultra-powered jumping acrobatics of flinging myself across the city in ultra-powered ways. In Crackdown, I routinely played leaping from rooftop to rooftop simply enjoying the gameplay freedom that came with unencumbered acrobatic skill. Pulling off insane moves and attacks here is also, typically, a breeze. I encountered a segment where I had to destroy or flee from three helicopters and I did this by hijacking one and flying as high as I could. When the my helicopter was damaged enough, I lept out, shot my whip-arm to the next one and continued on. I essentially spent a couple exhilarating minutes flinging myself from helicopter to helicopter, and to see it in motion--and know I was doing it deliberately, was beautiful.
The BadAwesome as this game is, it's not without it's issues:
Commonly in the game, I needed to run from the action to get find a second to rest so I could heal myself or consume a new person for a disguise. While I have no problem with this, there are moments in the game that are ruined by forcing it to be done in a time limit. I've said this over and over again (see my review of Death Duel on the Genesis), but I hate, hate, hate time limits. For the most part, this game does an outstanding job of creating intense gameplay and hectic, hurried moments very successfully without the need for lame-ass time limits. All these do is replace thrilling intensity with blatant stress.
I can understand having the time limits on the foot races, but these often feel broken. I had a similar problem with Crackdown in which, my character became so overpowered that the races actually became harder to finish. Sure, I could run faster, but I could also jump higher and bound over things in a much more frantic, animated manner. Essentially, I went from being too slow for most races to being too powerful to maintain myself during them with any ease. All Alex had to do was lightly touch the side of a building and he went from straight line in a race to flinging himself vertically up the side of a wall--and recovering from that was much harder than you'd think.
Towards the end, the time restraints on some of the secondary "Consume" missions (where you race around the city to devour people involved in the plot) were nightmarish. Three minutes to fling myself around all of Manhatten to absorb five people, and all the while Alex was getting caught on the sides of buildings or chased by helicopters. This is when the intensity and time limit worked to make the game a total drag.
While it's really awesome that Alex Mercer has so many moves and skills at his disposal, this game has the same problem as every other game with so many moves and skills available--many are either useless, or you'll just never feel like they add anything to your gameplay. Like I said, I stuck with the whip-arm most of the time, and the whip-arm's special attacks. The huge hammer/club fists? I almost never used them (only when I had to for a specific side mission), and many of the moves simply never felt useful. I unlocked or purchased every move, but only ever used about half of them. One ability, the Patsy move, allows Alex to convince soldiers in an area that a regular soldier is him. I used this move only enough times to unlock it's Achievement, and after that, it was useless to me. On the upside, this creates a lot of variety for players to make Alex their very own beast tailored to their gameplay style, but on the other hand, just like Conan, or God of War or Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, there are several moves and abilities that are simply a waste.
Holding the jump button down and releasing to jump is initially, and occasionally awkward. Why they didn't just make it so that I held the button longer (like in Crackdown) is beyond me.
There are also large numbers of blue and purple orbs floating around the city to collect, much like the orb collecting in Crackdown. Mostly, all you get for these is a couple Achievements (if you can find them all), and some points to spend on upgrades or skills. The purple ones just give you gameplay hints that are largely useless--I found most of them after I already knew the hint they held. In Crackdown, the orbs helped you level-up your character. Here, they're largely a collectible for the sake of having a collectible.
The Bottom LineOne thing I can't put a say for sure is positive or negative is the overall story. Like I said, it's kind of like playing as Tyrant from Resident Evil except you're attempting to stop the spread of the very same evil crap that made you--by whatever means necessary. There's something like 130 characters to be consumed to add small bit parts to the overall story. Most plotline-heavy characters are pretty one-dimensional, and the military is painted in one of the worst lights imaginable. So much so that it borders on cliche. "We're the evil corrupt military and we just want to make secret evil biological weapons." Yeesh.
On the other hand, the story of Alex Mercer trying to rediscover himself, and some of the plot elements, and history of events leading up to the story of the game are pretty good in the same "mad scientist" manner of traditional Resident Evil games (though not quite as convoluted). And I'm a sucker for corruption and mad scientist-style stories. So, it has it's good points and it's low points.
However, what drew me in and what held me when playing this was the over-the-top intensity of the action. The fact that while it contained strategy and open-ended solutions to the intense action is what made the game infinitely more playable than something like Ninja Gaiden II which just threw endless waves of enemies at me with no option other than button mashing.
So, overall, I had a blast with Prototype. Not a completely perfect experience, though, with the annoying race side-missions, and the occasionally cruel time limits on some challenges. But overall, during heated action-packed sequences, with helicopters flying everywhere, cars flying through the air, tanks crushing through debris and people, mutant infected running amok--this game delivers an experience like no other (except maybe for Infamous from what I've heard). It's the kind of over-powered hyper-action that makes me love this medium all the more.
If you liked Crackdown but felt it could be more intense, then this is your answer.