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Prototype

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Radical Entertainment
Release Date: June 10, 2009 (US), June 12, 2009 (EU)

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PS3/X360/PC Preview - 'Prototype'

by Thomas Wilde on Aug. 28, 2007 @ 6:05 a.m. PDT

Prototype tells the story of Alex Mercer - a man haunted by his past, fighting a secret war in New York City. As the action spirals out of control, a conspiracy tied to his origins threatens the future of mankind itself. Mercer’s amazing shapeshifting powers allow him to become an exact replica and steal the skills or powers of anyone who crosses his path.

Genre: Open World Action
Publisher: Sierra
Developer: Radical
Release Date: Q3 2008

Prototype is the Miracleman of open-world superhero games.

That's a relatively obscure reference, which you'll probably only get if you're really into comic books. I'll explain. In brief, Miracleman is one of the seminal works of the superhero genre, although a combination of its small independent publisher and a long-running debate over the rights to the series have kept it under most fans' radar. It was written by Alan Moore in the early '80s, and concerned a man who suddenly discovered he could transform into a nearly invincible version of himself: Miracleman. The "point" of Miracleman was that once a human gains an extraordinary amount of power, it would logically follow that he would have a hard time holding onto his basic humanity.

Moore's run on the series culminated in one of the bloodiest fights ever seen in comic-book history, as Miracleman and his archnemesis fought each other across the face of London. As you expect to see with superhero fights, there was an extraordinary amount of property damage; as you don't expect to see, there was also a lot of death amidst the destruction. Miracleman threw occupied cars at his enemy; they blew up crowded streets; they killed dozens, if not hundreds, of people while trying to kill each other. It was one of the bloodiest, most shocking issues in comic history.

At its most hyperkinetic, Prototype recalls that kind of imagery. Radical Entertainment, the developers of games like Scarface and Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, describe it as "the ultimate power fantasy," with you put in control of an amazingly powerful, nearly unstoppable monster, then cut loose on the streets of a New York that's under martial law.

Alex Mercer wakes up one day in New York City as a viral epidemic is sweeping across Manhattan. The infected are physically changed, going from ordinary humans into clawed, armored monsters. As a result, parts of the city are put under military quarantine, while others turn into virtual no-man's-lands. As time goes on, the city becomes a battlefield between the infected, the military, and Alex, who counts as a third faction all by himself. Your goal is to stay alive, and if you feel like it, to track down some answers about who you are.

Alex, incidentally, is basically a monster in human form. You can shapeshift, assuming various forms for attack or defense; you can grow claws, sprout armor, block gunfire with a chitinous shield, pick up cars, rip things apart with your bare hands, and more. Alex moves through the city like a parkour runner on PCP, bouncing across traffic, running up buildings, ricocheting off walls, and leaving chaos in his wake.

More disturbingly, Alex can also bodily consume any human being he gets his hands on. At will, you can grab any passerby, whether they're a soldier or a civilian, and slap on some kind of deeply violent finishing move — crushing the head, tearing out throats, beating them to death with a few quick punches — before liquifying and devouring the entire body. Alex then learns everything that person knew, and can shapeshift into their form.

You do not even have the ability to try and be a nice person in this game. You are a monster. You are Godzilla in a hoodie, and you are here to wreck things.

This allows you to play the game in a couple of different ways. Devouring people allows you to get further into the mystery of Alex's origins, as they can't lie to you when you've eaten their spicy brains (there are about 250 steps on the road to discovering who Alex really is), and also allows you to play things sneakily. You can disguise yourself as damn near anyone, such as military commanders or police sergeants. In the latter cases, this also lets you give people orders.

Alternatively, you could go on homicidal rampages. The military is out to kill you, and the infected are out to kill everyone. The end result is that Prototype can turn into an intensely violent game at a moment's notice, above and beyond what's usually possible in open-world games. You can seize military hardware and blow up entire city blocks; the infected are superhumanly fast and strong; and ordinary people caught between the two of you have the lifespan of a snowball in a cyclotron. They just fly apart.

The big fight scenes are where Prototype really comes alive, where you're fighting the military and the infected all at once. Before then, it's difficult to appreciate what Radical's done; on the surface, they've made an open-world game with the player as the biggest possible son of a bitch in gaming history. This is not unusual or noteworthy. It's only when the onscreen action really starts to heat up that the game becomes impressive. Prototype can turn into the world's goriest disaster movie at a moment's notice, and you're there in the middle of it throwing cars and making noise.

At this point, Prototype is about 20 percent done and is slated for release next year. The developer knows the genre it's working in, and Radical is finally doing its own thing after years of making licensed titles. This could be one of the big titles in 2008.


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