Saturday, June 27, 2009

REVIEW - Prototype


Lost the Hulk, kept the Incredible.

When I was a boy, I had a dream. I was standing in line at a McDonald's in a mall (because I dream big), and the sudden thought struck me that I may, in fact, be dreaming. I straightaway decided to put this theory to the test, and so I turned to the fellow behind me in line and punched him in the face. When nothing bad happened, I gave the cute girl in the Kelly Bundy dress a smooch, walked outside and hopped into the sports car that sat waiting. Then I sped away and got into untold amounts of mischief.

Such is the lure of the open world game. Bully, Grand Theft Auto, Fallout, Oblivion. A fantasy of freedom - indulgence without consequence. More often than not - unless you consciously choose to be a nice guy who obeys the traffic laws and donates to the church - we head into sandbox games and wreck shit. Players do awful things in these games - and Prototype embraces that fact better than, perhaps, any other title to date. The (rather innocent) childhood dream of turning around and punching the guy behind me in the face is extrapolated to a level of gory insanity. Arguably, the darkest fantasy one can have is that of unbridled violence - and that is precisely what the game offers.

There is no karma gauge, because it would be stuck at the indicator for "fiend". There are no forks in the road - only a straight path of immorality paved with the blood of fallen foes and the innocent populous. All sandbox games permit you to be an asshole, if you choose. Prototype makes this choice on your behalf: its mission statement is to fulfill your darkest childhood dreams of power and freedom. Many nightmare creatures prowl the game, but nothing is more monstrous than Alex Mercer.

Sound production is good, art direction is sub-par, and the voice work is all over the quality scale. But despite having all of virtual Manhattan to explore, Prototype is a very focused experience. There are three parts to the gameplay, and they mesh rather well together. The stealth component allows you to play hit-and-run with the military, and the movement aspect has a pleasing amount of depth compared to the game's spiritual prequel, Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. But even with an engine that allows you to run up a piece of wall as it is blown through the air by a tank shell, nobody plays Prototype for those reasons. They only exist to facilitate and compliment the main course.

It's all about the combat. Mastering the air dash allows you to get to the next fight faster, and sneaking into a military base disguised as a commander only happens because you intend to eviscerate every red shirt inside. And when you do, I can assure you it is spectacular, thanks to a mammoth list of brutal and gonzo superpowers.

But is the game any good? Eh, it's a little better than average. The writing, the production values, the mission design, the boss battles? They're definitely below average. But include the gameplay in that list, and suddenly you've got... well, you've got a bit of a classic. Thanks to the ridiculously long move list (and the sense of power they convey), you have so much damn choice in how you deal with situations, it's impossible not to have fun with this title.

For example, the best way to kill a tank is to execute the Blade Drop move, which will destroy it with a single blow. But after you've Blade Dropped a hundred tanks, that starts to get old. So throw soldiers at it. Throw cars at it. Bury your clawed hand into the pavement and have a cluster of spikes explode from beneath the tank. Use a missile launcher. Highjack a helicopter and use that. Jump from a skyscraper, glide above your target and plummet headfirst to the ground in a shockwave that obliterates it. Switch to the muscle mass mutation, walk up to the thing and just kick it until it explodes.

The action is relentless (and unforgiving), and the amount of wild abilities available to you means the only thing standing in the way of enjoying Prototype is your creativity. If you're not having fun with this title, I have to posit it's because you've decided you're not going to.

Is it perfect? Hoo boy, not by a long shot. Is it better than Hulk? Not quite, I'm afraid. The boss battles are smaller and less interesting, and having to pull up a menu to choose your mutation - however easy it is to navigate - interrupts the action.

But if you were wise enough to pick up a copy of Radical's Ultimate Destruction four years ago, and have been waiting anxiously for a sequel, this is it for weal or woe. It's a little less here and a little more there, but it still allows you to run up a skyscraper while carrying a car, leap into the night air and chuck it into a helicopter.

And really, that's all I'm asking for.


THE GOOD
-an insane amount of abilities
-gore + humor = :)
-solid gameplay
-"adaptive parkour" really adapts
-a dream of freedom and power
-unique story presentation
-Phil LaMarr

THE BAD
-virtual New York is devoid of personality
-boring story
-horrid mission design
-menu for switching powers

THE VERDICT
Despite all its flaws, Prototype is unique in its phenomenal, over-the-top sandbox action. Give it a try.

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