Entertaining and frantic combat with a selection of varied powers in a balanced environment.
In Prototype you play as Alex Mercer, a man who has been infected by a virus strain giving him a series of unbelievable powers and abilities. As you progress through downtown New York you set out to uncover who did this to you. The game doesn’t paint Alex Mercer as much of a good guy; he can freely attack civilians who are escaping from the carnage. Prototype is all about fast, adaptive and hectic combat. The action very quickly escalades when you begin any battle as strike teams are called in and mutants pop out of buildings or water tanks. Prototype is a sandbox game in which you are free to engage battles wherever and whenever you wish, and should you desire you can run away and hide. Throughout the game Alex will gain more powers increasing in strength giving you more reason to fight on. Alex’s powers are varied and useful and the missions that form the story are respectable without being outstanding. Prototype rewards the player in combat with Evolution Points (EP), these allow you to buy upgrades for Alex, which provides a steady increase in the abilities matched with the game’s difficulty as you progress.
Even though Alex is an overpowered tool of destruction he can be overwhelmed by sheer numbers, when tanks, apcs, helicopters, and infantry are attacking you while you take on a group of infected mutants things can get very hectic and you get knocked around resulting in more damage. To get health all you need to do is destroy big targets or consume individuals, both are risky propositions but if you have a little bit of health before recharging you’ll be able to constantly manage most battles. If you are a big damage dealer then constantly taking out gunships and picking up the glowing orbs for health and EP will be part of your engagements anyway. There is however no reason why you can’t just peel off from the combat mid-mission all together. In some situations it might be best to just run and hide then come back and attack your targets with full health without strike teams adding fuel to the fire. Hiding is as easy as moving out of sight and changing to your alternate disguise. Once you are safe you can move across a few street blocks, regain health, hijack an APC and move back into the battle. There are some missions that are timed, which can often spell disaster since these tactics can’t be used, you must be efficient with all your attacks. The final few missions seem to be quite difficult either due to their length or enemy strength. One particular required constant use of air vehicles the other some rather cheap tactics to get the AI trapped.
Alex’s powers range from heavy fists, claws, shields and a big sword arm. At any time you can engage an offensive power with a defensive power with a simple menu that slows time. Some seem more useful for certain tasks during battles. Muscle strength is great for throwing objects at airborne targets due to increase range and speed. Claws are good against infantry early on in either melee or with the groundspike that sends spikes out from below to the targeted foes. If you prefer certain powers you can use them for most situations but I certainly changed my powers fairly often partly because it was enjoyable and also because I found the differences just a little bit more helpful. You can pick up weapons such as machine guns and rocket launchers from infantry. These weapons can be useful early on when your powers are still limited. In particular the rocket launcher is very useful as Alex can be very mobile and all you need to do is lock onto targets and then fire away. Sometimes it can be a bit frustrating not only to see the weapons on the ground but pick them up while running about, you may get knocked around, but even if you don’t it’s still annoyingly difficulty when you are being attacked from every which way.
The game includes a “stealth” element, but this is really very limited. You have a disguised mode and this is the last form you consumed that’s human. This may be a civilian or a military person, as a disguised military man you can freely enter bases but not the headquarters of that base until you consume the commander to get the access to keys. This stealth gameplay becomes incredibly easy once you acquire the ability to stealth consume, basically this just means walking up behind a soldier and consuming him without alerting nearby enemies. There is a line of sight restriction but it’s very easily avoided as they usually go on patrols or you can just move them about. In the bases you can just whittle away at the soldiers who are blissfully unaware of your devious actions. As soon as you consume your important targets (for upgrades) you may then like to go on a killing spree. You can even accuse some poor sap of being you, resulting in their quick elimination by fellow soldiers. This stealth aspect makes military base infiltration incredibly easy although a bit arduous, the combat in the headquarters is fairly easy anyway. Stealth will also be used in many missions throughout the game, and it does serve to tone down the high paced action. One thing you may find slightly irritating is how rocket and infantry soldiers are spawned on roof tops mid battles hampering some hiding spots. As the game progresses this spawning gets more aggressive and slightly annoying especially during some missions.
Missions in Prototype are fairly good with a sufficient amount of variety and their length seems fine also. Many of them involve destroying targets in the midst of battles but there are a few different missions. One mission involved consuming a commander then working alongside the military in a tank to escort a vital vehicle. Another earlier mission required angering a large mutant infected to keep him focused on you while you lead him to a different location. Aside from the main series of missions the game features some fun diversions in the form of varied events. These are pretty straightforward and are fairly quick to complete therefore an easy way to get additional EP to spend on upgrades to make missions easier. The events vary from rooftop races, destroying military targets or working with the military against mutants. You get medals for your participation and these events can be repeated if you enjoy them or want to go ahead and try for a better time or kill count. I didn’t find myself repeating many events and focused mostly on the story anyway. If I was on my way to acquire a mission and an event was close by I usually went to try it out. There are many hours worth of action if you just go through these events excluding the fairly long single player. This means is that there is enough to do, even if you get stuck on a mission you might still enjoy causing havoc early on or doing an event you’ve not tried. The game does not allow mid mission saves, if you quit during a mission you will need to start that mission from scratch. It’s worth completing the missions once started due to generous checkpoint system. While the missions are satisfactory it’s really the powers that make the action work.
As Alex gains EP he unlocks powers and moves, these moves come together with a few quick key button presses but it can become a little problematic during fight scenes. In many cases the different combos can be very similar. The wrong order or timing them slightly off will result in a completely different move leaving Alex open to damage. Being knocked around will prevent a devastator attack engaging. On PC there is no reason why they couldn’t have used a few more keys to ensure you are not accidently doing a silly combo that gets yourself killed instead of doing what you wanted. Although the combos are very useful; the cannonball for example winds Alex up into a ball and sends him rocketing toward the target, very useful against strike team gunships early on in the game. The better combos are quite expensive so you will not be able to acquire them all at once without a serious number of EPs. As you move through later you will be able to buy devastator attacks, these attacks can only be used when Alex has max or very low health. As the name implies they pack some serious damage. One of these is a groundspike graveyward where you perform a basic key combo and then spikes shoot up towards foes all around you, very deadly and useful against bosses. Not only do they essentially clear the streets of enemies they look pretty amazing so performing them is very enjoyable.
During the battles you are able to hijack military vehicles either to control or in order to dispose of the drivers. For ground vehicles this is as simple as getting next to one and then pressing a button. Alex will then climb on top and yank the door off the top, then pause for a second before decimating the crew inside. This hijacking sequence is a bit too long and unnecessarily perhaps zooms in preventing you from seeing anything. If you are disguised as a solder you can simply take control and the army will not attack you (unless you engage them). Once in control of the tanks or the APCs you may notice they have a weird dual control system. A bit like halo’s system - if you press forward you can use your mouse to move the tank towards that direction. If you are stationary the turret will move by itself. As somebody who is used to a BF2 style tanking and used to controlling the turret completely separately from the main tracks I did get myself turned around a few times. Helicopters are a bit harder to hijack due to their distance. You can upgrade your tendril power to drag yourself towards a helicopter for an easy hijack. The control system however is very new play friendly for tanks and helicopters. The dogfights with helicopter gunships can be quite fun too once you get into the swing of the controls.
The game fortunately looks pretty good, with the minor exception of things up very close. There is certainly ample amounts of gore with limbs flying and bodies being sliced in half. Perhaps the best feature of the game engine is the very fast load times; if you die you are very quickly brought back to your previous checkpoint. Even loading a brand new game takes under 20 seconds, for a large open world game that’s impressive. In the air you will notice some building and objects streaming in, on ground level though there are really no obvious transitions between the various levels of details. Sections of the city which have been infected have a red hue which includes ravens flying overhead. As the game continues more and more of the city is transformed and more zombie like creatures roam the streets attacking the civilians. Cars will move about, and many will try to avoid you if they see you coming along the road, civilians and military will spawn in behind you or around corners. The good thing is the retention of characters and vehicles, tanks won’t disappear should you run down the street and turn around. There is a little bit of an issue with the number of unique civilians, many times I spotted five or more people who looked identical to each other next to one another sometimes even using the exact same animation sequence. As you consume some targets they reveal movie like portions of the story to Alex, some are interesting which may indicate future events, others are relatively boring snapshots of a seemingly irrelevant thread to the big picture. The story isn’t terrible, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the combat.
Prototype manages to keep the difficulty scaling up fairly well throughout the game. It’s certainly not flawless as there are quite difficult missions, especially the last few engagements. As mentioned part of this good scale system is due simply to how they manage the health and power upgrading, leaving the player in control. But the rest of the difficulty is as a result of the game scaling up the enemies and challenges via the missions. Not to be forgotten the rest of Prototype is mostly a success because the core action elements are enjoyable bar a few boss situations. The various combat attacks are fun and you will likely find a few that you prefer using. There are some camera issues, especially targeting those above you or those in the middle of a very crowded street, since the game slows down when you target it’s not cause for alarm when you struggle to lock your target straight away. The amount of things to do, just to cause mayhem makes certain that Prototype isn’t just a mediocre experience. When I acquired some nifty devastator attacks I spent a bit of time off mission charging them up and deploying them for effect. Certainly not without flaws it still puts up a valiant effort and gives you no-nonsense, solid, fast action game.