Originally planned to be released about a year ago, Prototype has had quite the development cycle. After getting mixed up in the Sierra/Vivendi/Activision acquisition, Prototype was granted some additional development time, but doesn’t really stand as tall as other games in the open world genre.
During my time playing Prototype, I was also playing through Red Faction: Guerrilla and inFamous. Playing these three newly released third person open world sandbox titles at the same time made it clear which game’s elements are better suited than others. Prototype definitely has entertaining qualities, but it is hard to ignore the game’s flaws, especially when playing the other two big releases.
First off, Prototype has many elements that make the game entertaining. Shapeshifting your body at will to tear apart enemies is cool. Jumping from the top of skyscrapers and not taking damage when you fall is cool. Fighting on a path of revenge against your creators, although tried-and-true, is still cool. But these elements are also found in Guerrilla and inFamous.
Prototype contains many differences between these other two open world games, but usually not for the better. For example, all of the game’s side stories are time based as opposed to detailing the plotline of the story. This makes reaching the coveted Gold status frustratingly difficult to obtain. Traveling great distances by leaping off buildings and gliding has a good feel, but doesn’t hold a candle to Spiderman’s webslinging moves in the recent Spiderman titles. The game’s visuals also take a hit. Manhattan is displayed decently enough, but the game’s random character models are made of very low poly counts. This means that when you assimilate a random pedestrian, your character will transform exactly into a low detailed character. There are even times when it is hard to distinguish male characters from female characters. I understand that low poly counts are necessary to fit more moving AI characters on the screen at once, but to have early original Xbox style detail on a super powerful system like the PS3 is hard to look away from.
As revenge driven as the story is, it is still the typical “hunt down the guy that turned you into a freak” motif. Just for once, I want to see a changed character hunt down his creator, shake his hand, and say “thank you, my life is now a lot cooler.” That would have been more of an unexpected curve ball. Joking aside, Alex Mercer is basically a regular dude who gets hit up with a funky virus that causes him to grow strange infected appendages from his body (when this happens in real life, a hooker was usually involved). The game’s narrative is mostly explained through the memories of people you absorb. Like pieces of a puzzle, Alex must suck the brains of dozens of people to chain together the events of his tragic past. Although this is a more unique way to tell a tale, there are some problems with it. Mostly due to bad AI programming, plot-important characters sometimes kill themselves by randomly walking into a passing car on the street. Each time this happens, the error message of “don’t kill important people” popped up even though my actions had nothing to do with the idiot AI character deaths.
Because Alex can change his body at will, it sounds like combat should be nothing but a good time. Unfortunately, this is not the case thanks to clumsy and sluggish controller response and a typical upgrading system. For example, using the game’s weapon selection wheel interface, tapping a direction on the D-pad causes Alex to pop out claws like Lady Deathstrike. But since there is such a delayed response, popping your claw hands in the heat of battle will never happen when you want. You also have the ability to pick up and use any weapon that was dropped from your opponents. But who wants to use a basic machine gun when I can smash the crap out of tanks with my bare hands? The only weapon that has a mild functionality is the rocket launch as they help with the “blow up the target” missions. Additionally, it is hard to regain lost health too.
Missions start to drag some ass after only a couple hours of play. Having the player sneak into a base as a typical soldier, then absorb the commander in charge of the base to gain access to the top secret room, only to then fight off an entire army at one time starts to become tedious after you do it for the third time. The player can easily get overwhelmed too. Fighting foot soldiers, tanks, helicopters, and mutant virus creatures at the same time will cause the Game Over screen to pop up quite a bit. This only brings a level of unbalance and frustration to the game. And why are there always exactly two helicopters following me? Even if I blow one up, another quickly takes its place.
When compared to other open world sand box titles, Prototype leaves an unfortunate bland taste in your mouth. Without question, there are definitely some entertaining qualities here, but it is hard to ignore the hollow ones, especially if you played other games in the open world genre. I find inFamous to be a more complete and entertaining package than Prototype, but I think I might also prefer an open world Spiderman game over it as well. Prototype is not a bad game; there are just too many components of this title that contain polarizing “take-it-or-leave-it” aspects.