Genre: Action/Open World
Publisher: Sierra Entertainment
Developer: Radical Entertainment
Release Date: 2009
Prototype has come a long way since last year.
The center of the gameplay remains much the same as it was. As shape-shifting antihero Alex Mercer, you wake up in the middle of New York City one day with a host of disturbing new powers and absolutely no clue about how you got them.
At the same time, New York City - realistically modeled and completely explorable in-game - has become the site of a war between the U.S. military and members of the population who've been mutated by a bizarre disease. Entire blocks of the city have been taken over to be used as headquarters, or warped by the infection into something that looks like an insect hive.
As Alex, you're the third front in the war, capable of single-handedly affecting the balance of power. You can follow a trail of bodies and murder across the game to find out the truth about your origin, or you can simply go into New York and try to stay alive.
Last year, Prototype was being shown off as an alpha build, but the fundamental elements were there. Alex gets around the city like the Hulk took up parkour, flipping and wall-running in a constant, nearly unstoppable blur of motion. The combat is fast, bloody and shockingly brutal, even in a day and medium where casual dismemberment is moderately common.
Alex can use his shape+shifting powers to turn his skin into armor, hands into claws, or arms into tendrils, "whipfists," that are capable of cutting a man in half. At the same time, you can consume ordinary humans for health and to take on their appearances and abilities, via the simple expedient of doing horrible things to them. One of Alex's close-up "fatalities," a vicious punch into and through someone's torso, has a real feeling of brutality and impact to it that makes me wince every time I see it.
The most recent build of Prototype adds a lot to that framework. The New York of the game is now much closer to being a living, breathing city than last year's was; fake ads are scattered throughout the landscape, there are a lot more pedestrians, and there's generally a lot going on at any one time.
Alex has gained a couple of more moves as well. One of them is the "stealth consume," allowing you to creep up on a human opponent and absorb him or her without a sound. Having done so, you can then use your new disguise to your advantage by firing a weapon, driving away in one of their vehicles, or escaping military attention. The infected can always see through one of your disguises, though, which can often lead to a disturbing sort of problem; you can either use Alex's powers to avoid or kill the infected, or double back and let the military take care of them for you.
The other new feature is one that I'm glad to see make it into the game. Prototype is, in many ways, a 3D beat-'em-up, and one thing that all 3-D beat-'em-ups always need is a good solid "super move," suitable for keeping large mobs of antagonists off of you. Not having that move in place is a pretty big hit against a game's playability.
Alex now has one of those moves in the form of "devastates," moves that become available when you consume enough people to supercharge your health meter. Before, you could power up some of your offensive moves by holding down the button, turning an already-vicious move into something meaner. The devastate version of that move goes well beyond that and into cataclysmic territory, and can sweep a street clean of enemies.
One of Alex's moves, for example, sends sharpened claws through the ground and up again in front of him, impaling whatever's standing there. The normal version is vicious; the charged version is deadly; and the devastate version looks like a Christmas tree made of knives and hell shoots up from the street.
Prototype is one of the titles to watch for the end of this year, although the GTA IV hype may slow it down to some extent. Alex Mercer isn't quite the antihero; he's the antisuperhero. This, for comic book fans, is as close as we'll ever come to a book based on Miracleman. For other gamers, it's a power trip of the first order, and it'll challenge just how much you like to play the villain.
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