Rightly or wrongly, hoodies have something of a bad rep - the wearers of the much-maligned garments being widely blamed for the majority of society’s ills. Thanks to Vivendi’s forthcoming Prototype, that reputation is set to get a lot worse. While the craze of happy slapping has thrown up some appalling acts of immoral behaviour, we’ve yet to see a clip where 15 people are sliced in half with a flick of the wrist. Yep, it’s going to take more than a surly teenager to stop Prototype's "hero" Alex Mercer, as he wages a one-man war across the streets of New York, taking on the full might of the military, along with hordes of bloodthirsty disease-ridden zombies.
Why? Who knows? Mercer doesn’t even know himself, joining the (very) long list of amnesiac characters that gradually piece their past together over the course of the game. However, not for Alex the tried-and-tested method of asking around and seeing if anyone has heard anything. Instead, he goes straight to the source, by consuming people and absorbing their minds to create a composite of his restored memory. He doesn’t eat them, but it’s a pretty unpleasant process all the same, involving sticking his arm in their chest and turning them inside out.
As well as downloading their memories, Alex can also shapeshift into any person he consumes, thus putting into practice the first half of developer Radical Entertainment’s so-called ‘Deceive or Destroy’ gameplay. The ‘Deceive’ mechanic is not a new idea, but an effective trick all the same, letting Mercer gain entry to areas that would be inaccessible in sportswear, such as military bases.
These are dotted around the city, not simply as somewhere to sneak into, but as a preemptive measure against the thousands of feral zombies wandering the streets of Manhattan. As is probably apparent, something is rotten in the Big Apple, which has been struck down by a terrifying phenomenon, the scale of which has not been seen since the days of disco. The situation is so dangerous that the military has cordoned off parts of the city into Infected Zones.
While this continues, Mercer is certainly not feeling himself, what with his newfound ability to shapeshift. That’s not even the half of it though, as he has somehow transformed into a superhuman walking weapon capable of leaping tall buildings and tossing vehicles around like confetti. He’s even picked up a bit of that ‘free running’ business that was fashionable about two years ago - around the time Prototype was conceived - and which has now saturated the action game market. Mercer is suddenly a dab hand at it, able to literally run up the side of a building. And given that he’s bang in the middle of New York, he has plenty of opportunities to do so.
This sounds good on paper, but it’s even better on a giant screen. Senior producer Tim Bennison and lead game designer Eric Holmes showed us many of Mercer’s fancy moves. Holmes explained that he was heavily inspired by the fact that he didn’t know what was going on in the thriller film The Prestige, and that Alex Mercer would encompass the style of Darth Maul, the frustration and madness of Travis Bickle, and the calculating murderousness of Hannibal Lecter, all wrapped up in a plot scrawled in blood by the bastard son of Tom Clancy and Stephen King.
Following a somewhat inappropriate slide show of highly disturbing images, we were treated to an extensive action sequence. Evidently New York City is densely populated with traffic and pedestrians, none of which Alex Mercer appears to have respect for. We’re shown an extensive gamut of his moves, including some weird claw thing, whereby he sticks his genetically modified hand in the ground, only for the sharpened prongs to pop up elsewhere, to the misfortune of anyone standing there. Mercer’s parkour is an impressive feat, letting him scale tall buildings and then leap down with impunity, save for a large crack in the road. His antics quickly attract the attention of the military, and he admiringly responds by throwing taxis at their helicopters.