prototypetitle

Prototype

Prototype

Developed by:  Radical Entertainment
Published by:  Activision
Released: 2009
Platforms:  PC (Played – Steam), Xbox 360, Playstation 3

There’s a lot going on in Prototype.  It is foremost a sandbox, GTA style open-world game taking place in New York, where pedestrians, motorists and military populate the environment.

You traverse the city in an almost Assassin’s Creed like manner – climbing buildings, clinging to walls and jumping from rooftop to rooftop.  Your character can leap enormous distances and glide through the air in a way that is practically flying.

Your character’s superhuman body can mutate its limbs into various types of weapons and armour, allowing you to battle humans and monsters in a third-person style reminiscent of Bayonetta and Devil May Cry.

Various firearms are available for when melee is impractical.  The targeting system is useful for fast moving targets such as helicopters and quick moving enemies.  You can also pilot tanks and helicopters to reign death on your enemies.

Prototype’s most prominent feature however is that it is astonishingly unexceptional.

prototype_glide

That’s not to say that the game is terrible, there isn’t anything offensively bad (unlike GTA: San Andreas, whereby the awful design and bugs infect every aspect), it just feels unrefined.  The mechanics just about work and nothing more.  The story is bare bones and used only to facilitate the gameplay.  As a whole the game is functional enough to mildly amuse with nothing special to surprise or excite.

Who dropped the script?

Your character, Alex Mercer, is one of the first to be infected with a virus that attacks New York City.  Due to what I am assuming is gameplay justification – Alex is granted super powers.  This upsets Alex a lot more than one would expect and is the laziest form of ‘Cursed with Awesome‘ I have seen recently.  Alex can now form melee weapons with his limbs as well as shields and body armour.  The virus includes super human strength and agility, allowing for pseudo flying and skyscraper parkour . He can consume and impersonate the identity of almost every human in the world (an exceptionally violent process), absorbing knowledge and providing important information for completing objectives.

I have a new respect for voice actors. I never appreciated how much energy was required to a voice character well until I heard Prototype’s actors sleepily ooze their lines.  Alex’s sister is the most egregious example and genuinely feels as if she is about to fall into a coma every time she speaks.  There is no enthusiasm in her, or any other secondary character’s voice.

Nor should there be; characters are purely functional to the plot with no personality or uniqueness.  It’s no wonder the actors sound so bored, the characters they portray are boring.  The protagonist himself sounds constantly angry, vomiting dialogue similar to that heard on a Duke Nukem sound board app (minus the misogyny).  He speaks almost solely in action quotes: ‘I was made for this’ and ‘Ill get answers’ etc…

prototype_cutscene

Plot missions have Alex tracking down the immoral doctors, army officials and leaders responsible for his situation.  Objectives range from taking out military hardware,  blowing up infected buildings, escorting conveys, defending npc’s and other typical video game stuff.

The plot is battered with holes.  I have no idea how characters obtained their information nor the logic behind their actions.  Double crosses, searches for mcguffins, and assassinations are very poorly explained.   It genuinely feels as if the story was the last aspect to be implemented and had to be shaped around pre-made missions.

Dialogue is weirdly broken, as if there were many many cuts.  Nothing makes sense, or if sense can be made then it requires far more attention than I was willing to give – there was nothing I found engaging, only confusing.

Side missions exists whereby you can consume targets around the city.  On absorbing their memories you are ‘treated’ to a quick flashback that explains more about the world and previous events.  I imagine the intention was to reward exploration and time investment, but the flashbacks are a nauseating mess of voice overs and quick camera shots that irritates both eyes and ears.  These usually involved incredibly minor characters for which you had no reason to care.

There are a (very) few interesting moments.  The main character can be surprising at times.  When I thought that one particular villain would escape in an annoying ‘until next time’ fashion,  Alex simply tore it’s throat out – no questions asked.

protoype lookout

The game touches on how power diminishes humanity as Alex becomes increasingly careless with innocent lives.  No actual point or payoff seems to come from this however and I’m not sure I would care if there was – nothing about Alex engages either.  I couldn’t even hate him as a ‘Monster’ for immoral actions or like as a ‘Hero’ for moral ones, just a complete placeholder of a character devoid of charisma.

Mechanics

The most enjoyable and engaging mechanic is the super human, city scaled parkour.  The high flying, spiderman like method of travel made me genuinely giddy.  There is something very liberating about holding the sprint button, picking a direction and effortlessly vaulting up any obstacle in your way.  Or the feeling that comes from launching into the air and darting down to your destination.

The amazing agility mixed with super strength fulfills a cathartic power fantasy.  Full body armor is obtained around half way though the campaign and allows you to effortlessly plough through cars, trucks and people.  The shock wave when hitting the ground from a great height will blow away the surround humans and vehicles.  You can pick up objects to throw at enemies, including buses.  All these elements help effectively establish the feeling of being a god-like entity.  Even the military refers to you as Zeus.

Everything else isn’t comparable.  The effort involved in creating the system to get around, and interact with the world seems to vastly outshine the effort put into any other mechanic.

prototype_combatstance

To begin with the Melee combat, the regular humans are pathetically weak and offer no challenge, even when using the weakest weapons.  Monsters and super soldiers however, are annoyingly difficult.  There isn’t any real efficient way to kill them.  The Hammerfist power (massive stone fists) was frustratingly slow and every other faster power was too weak.

I found myself constantly using the secondary attack of the Claw power,  sending spikes into the ground that erupt under the enemy at a distance.  This, coupled with the main whip attack pretty much got me through the game.  It was incredibly slow and tedious, but it seemed to be the only reliable method.

Guns aren’t incredibly useful either, most of the enemies are the aforementioned weak and squishy humans, so it was more efficient just to melee them to death.  The rocket launcher was probably the most useful, but I almost exclusively used these on helicopters.  One mission is pretty much impossible unless you obtain a rocket launcher as it requires you destroy multiple helicopters in a very limited time frame.

prototype_boss

There is also a traditional targeting/lock-on system for combat.  This caused more problems than it solved as the lock on would obscure other enemies outside your immediate view, resulting in the character getting blind sided way too often.

An in-game tooltip claimed that the targeting system would focus on the biggest threat.  This mechanic is either very bugged, or the developers have a very misguided grasp on the nature of humour.  There were moments where I was attempting to target a large dangerous enemy – SUCH AS THE FINAL BOSS – but the lock-on would jump to a minuscule enemy in the background, wielding a pea shooter of gun that would barely cause a scratch to my health.  So whenever an opportunity opened for an attack there was a chance the targeting lock would switch to some irrelevant, non-threatening NPC , causing my attack to miss and waste precious time.

The combat in general just wasn’t very satisfying.  It worked on a technical level in the sense that I knew whether or not I had hit my target, but there lacked any real impact.  The melee just felt limp and the guns weak, both lacking any visceral feedback.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, perhaps there was too much blood or too little, or just that the sound design wasn’t quite matching the intensity of the action, whatever the case the combat was lacking the catharsis it needed.

Prototype_tank

Open World Problems

Prototype suffers from a problem that I’m beginning to notice more and more of in sandbox games, whereby its ‘living’ city nature starts to directly interfere with your success.  An army presence begins to build up in the city and will occasionally engage the infected population.  If say, you had to be somewhere in hurry and a skirmish ignites nearby, then the military may decide to launch a rocket right in your path, knocking you back, wasting time and potentially causing you to fail the mission.

One mission requires hijacking a tank, however the military are quickly alerted and immediately opens fire.  This occurs in a street where the public have gone insane and are attacking everything and everyone.  Multiple larger monsters are running amok and rows of soldiers line the rooftops equipped with rocket launchers.  This mission nearly made me  uninstall the game.  Trying to deal with any one of the above threats would cause the others to deal damage.  Climbing the roof to kill the soldiers resulted in being overwhelmed by monsters from behind.  If I tried to take on the monsters first then the soldiers would batter me with rockets.  Remaining in the slow moving tank gave the other enemy tanks the time to lock on and fire.

Success was obtained through attrition.  I jumped into the tank, took a shot at the objective, bailed and ran a mile.  I returned disguised and repeated the process – hijacking, shooting and running.

prototype_chopper

This is probably the most extreme example but there were a handful of other missions that played out in a similar way.  For the most part your character is laughably over powered, but these few missions seem to be deliberately overwhelming in order to provide an artificial challenge.

There are many side missions peppering the map of which I had no interest in completing.  I have learned my lesson from Assassin’s Creed and can identify irrelevant busy work when I see it.  These missions involved consuming military commanders, destroying infected hives, timed race events, flying events and so on.  I’m not going to literally jump through hoops for no reason other than it’s own sake.  The experience points received from main missions allowed me to purchase all the upgrades I wanted, making the points from the side missions unnecessary.  Since there was no story relevance to most of these missions there was no incentive whatsoever to complete them.

prototype_glide2

The city itself is also a bit of let down.  New York is mostly grid based and in real life is designed to be very functional and easy to navigate, but it’s layout isn’t very exciting.  It was difficult to become familiar with the city in the way I would with some of the Grand Theft Auto cities whereby you become intimate with it’s design, landmarks and buildings.  In Prototype I just looked at the mini-map for my destination and held the sprint button.  This was much less tedious than trying to orientate myself through big grey square buildings in a city full of them.

Conclusion

Prototype is not necessarily a bad game, it is for the most part functional and the parkour/super human abilities can be a source of occasional fun.  However it feels completely soulless.  Never at any point had I the impression that this was a passion project of a creative mind that really wanted to tell a story.  It seems like a company declared that they must make a game and include any element that was trending at the time; Zombies, Parkour, Open-world, third-person, sandbox etc… it’s a game that could have been designed by analytic software.  Functional but bereft of any passion.