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Prototype review

Excellent
AT A GLANCE
  • Running amok in a huge, detailed city is a lot of fun
  • More superpowers than you'll probably ever use
  • Cutting down crowds of civilians is a guilty pleasure
  • Controls can be really imprecise
  • Bosses are ridiculously tough
  • Visuals are gray and unpolished

If you’ve ever played 2005’s The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction (or the lukewarm 2008 follow-up from Sega), then you know that its “hero” aspect is largely inconsequential. Who cares about saving puny humans when you can make boxing gloves out of their cars and smash their buildings into rubble? Being a rampaging monster was a lot more fun than trying to be a good guy, and that was something Radical Entertainment – also the developer of Ultimate Destruction – seems to have taken to heart when creating Prototype.


Above: Go on, embrace your inner murderbeast. You know you want to 

While it looks like a standard superhero game, Prototype is really more about running amok through Manhattan as an unstoppable force of nature. Its protagonist, Alex Mercer, has been infected by a virus that’s turning everyone else into zombies and oversized mutants, but in his case has just given him amnesia and a fat portfolio of really gross superpowers. As the island gradually descends into zombie-infested chaos, Alex has to contend not only with swarms of increasingly monstrous infected, but also with the trigger-happy military, who are hell-bent on killing him before he uncovers the truth about his identity.

To help him survive, Alex has a staggering array of powers and special attacks, most of which revolve around turning his arms into weird implements of destruction. Busting out a set of claws enables him to slash his enemies to ribbons and impale them with underground spikes, while the telescoping “whipfist” can slice large crowds of enemies (or civilians) in half, hit distant enemies and grab helicopters for easy skyjacking. His “hammerfist” power turns his hands into huge, heavy spheres for blunt-force trauma, and transforming one of his arms into a single huge blade enables him to slice open tanks in seconds. Infrared and “Infected” vision powers help him single out enemies when the action gets too thick, he can grow a suit of armor to protect himself from the game’s tougher enemies and - when his health is either really high or really low – he can bust out massive “Devastator” attacks capable of killing everything around him.


Above: Sort of like this 

Oh, and he can fly. Or something awfully close to it, once you’ve fully unlocked his air-dash and gliding abilities. Used in tandem, they can give you a boosted glide that’s good for covering large distances in a hurry. Finally, Alex is able to use any weaponry dropped by soldiers, ranging from M-16s to heat-seeking bazookas, although this aspect doesn’t get really cool until you’ve gained the ability to call in airstrikes or jack tanks and helicopter gunships. (That said, the canned animation that accompanies every tank-jacking could have stood to be a lot shorter, as Alex’s posing makes it more likely he’ll get knocked off the tank by a rocket before climbing inside.)

 

Above: A brief sampling of what Alex is capable of

You’ll need to play for a while before you earn all this stuff, of course, but Prototype plays it smart by starting out near the end of its story, offering a quick taste of what full-powered Alex can do in a completely infested Times Square. Once that’s over, you’re sent – via flashback - to square one. The city quiets down and you’re left pining for those kickass abilities, which have been reduced to just sprinting up walls, throwing cars and chunks of scenery, and absorbing people to get a health boost and the ability to disguise yourself as them.

Thankfully, you’ll feel like you’re earning those powers back quickly. In its first few hours, Prototype rewards you with tons of “evolution points” for every mission you accomplish, every military base you clear out and every infected fiend you consume, enabling you to unlock awesome new powers every few minutes. It’s not until fairly late in the game that a feeling of grinding through levels sets in, although by that point the upgrades are strictly optional, and you’ll have unlocked so many that you’ll probably have a hard time keeping track of them anyway.


Above: Seriously, there’s like 113 of these things to unlock 

There’s one caveat: the more powerful you become, the more likely you are to notice one of Prototype’s central flaws: the controls are great for blasting around like a high-speed madman, but they can be a tantrum-inducing bastard when you need them to be precise. If you’re trying to scale narrow surfaces (like the pinnacle of the Empire State Building, for example), you’ll need to take it extremely slow if you don’t want to leap out into space – and even then, Alex might inexplicably hurl himself off the building with no input from you. Similarly, the game’s rooftop races can quickly turn frustrating if you’re not careful, as a careless flick of a thumbstick while air-dashing can send Alex careening in the exact opposite direction you wanted, usually off a building.

So… Manhattan again?

While we’re on the topic of exploration, it’s worth pointing out that games set in Manhattan – particularly sandbox games – are anything but novel at this point. We’ve played in versions of New York’s central borough dozens of times, as superheroes, cops and criminals, and by now it’s old hat. Prototype’s version, however, has three things going for it: it’s filled with crowds of civilians who scream, scatter and panic when you start unleashing ultraviolence. The scenery usually goes by so fast that any familiarity you might have with it doesn’t matter. And it’s the most detailed rendition of Manhattan in a superhero sandbox game to date.

If you need further proof, we’ve grabbed hold of three other Manhattan-set superhero games of varying quality – The Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man 3 and Spider-Man: Web of Shadows – and compared them on two arbitrary criteria to see how Prototype stacks up.

The skyline

Prototype


Above: Alex’s view into the distance is hazy during the day, but becomes a little clearer at night when the lights snap on 

The Incredible Hulk


Above: The Hulk’s version of Manhattan is beset by a horrible fog that turns all buildings into vague gray lumps. That, or he has horrible eyesight and it’s extremely realistic 

Spider-Man 3


Above: Tobey Maguire’s skline stretches into the distance a little more uniformly, but seeing its ugly buildings in sharp relief does them no favors 

Spider-Man: Web of Shadows


Above: The Manhattan of Spidey’s make-up outing doesn’t look all that great up close, but damn does it ever look sharp at a distance

 

Times Square

Prototype


Above: Prototype’s Times Square keeps the lights on even in the face of disaster, sending a clear message to the world that New York will not let the giant tentacle monsters win 

The Incredible Hulk


Above: Hulk’s version of Times Square is nothing special, but at least you can hurl stuff at all those paid ads and knock them off their buildings 

Spider-Man 3


Above: There’s nothing wrong with Tobey’s Times Square, but the rest of the game is terrible so we’re going to declare this awful 

Spider-Man: Web of Shadows


Above: Web’s Times Square is a hell of a lot prettier than the last two versions, but that’s not really saying much. Also, try not to stare too hard at Spidey’s ass

Exploration aside, the combat’s a lot of fun, even if it tends to boil down to just pointing yourself in the general direction of the enemy and mashing buttons to rip shit up. For tasks requiring more finesse, there’s a quick lock-on targeting system that enables you to easily single out enemies for punishment, although it’s not quite as good at prioritizing (for example) the soldier right next to you over the tank that’s two blocks away). Given Prototype’s strong emphasis on superpower-assisted hand-to-hand brutality and the absolute expendability of almost every living thing in the game, however, this is usually only a problem when you’re trying to use guns or snatch a specific individual out of a crowd.


Above: Most of the time you can do OK by just mashing the attack buttons 

Prototype’s Manhattan is also littered with a slew of broadly varied side activities, which range from obsessively collecting meaningless “landmark” orbs to rooftop races, Pilotwings-style gliding challenges and weapon/power-specific rampages. The coolest ones are the “Consume” events, which involve tracking down a marked zombie or soldier and then either destroying an infected hive building, absorbing a few more marked soldiers for their memories or – best of all – slipping into a military base in disguise and stealth-consuming the specialized officers inside.

There is, of course, a point to all this. As you crash through the game’s story missions, Alex’s search for identity becomes a pitched battle to understand the virus before it (or the military) reduces Manhattan to a wasteland. It’s not that Alex is particularly heroic – he has zero compunction about devouring terrified civilians in broad daylight and assuming their forms – but stopping the spread of the virus and rescuing Manhattan from annihilation jibes neatly with his desire to hunt down every last person responsible for his condition and devour them.


Above: It only gets more disgusting from this point 

When Alex consumes certain people – like the targets in a lot of his missions, or the wandering targets of opportunity scattered throughout the city – he gets a glimpse of their memories, which are then added to a massive flowchart called the “Web of Intrigue.” As Alex gains more memories, connections will appear between the ones he’s gathered. While not essential to the game, completing the Web is a cool way to find out the full story behind Alex’s identity, the virus project, the military’s plans and the histories of some of the former test subjects that show up as monstrous bosses.

Speaking of bosses, don’t expect the game to go easy on you once they show up. As you wander through Prototype’s Manhattan, you might start to feel a little invincible, as just about any common enemy – even the goddamn Strike Teams that get called down every time some Marine catches you flying – can be quickly killed or escaped from without much bother, especially if you’ve unlocked a lot of your superpowers. The bosses, by contrast, will make you feel like a punk.


Above: One of those little sub-bosses that later becomes commonplace 

Often best described as “total bullshit,” the bosses are dead-set on killing you, hard to get away from and tend to take very little damage from your attacks. They can kill you quickly if you go toe-to-toe with them, and one of them even vomits jets of boulders at you every time you try to get close enough to attack. There’s always a strategy to defeating them, of course, but finding out what it is usually takes a little experimentation and a lot of dying (or a lot of consumed victims, if you’re lucky enough to be near a steady supply and can keep them from being continually knocked away).

If nothing else, they're at least suitably epic - the biggest battle fills huge chunks of Times Square with disgusting, bulbous tentacles - and in a game of Prototype's size, there are always plenty of things to do that don't involve fighting them. You won't get far unless you do, but there are always crowds to disembowel and military bases to level with counterfeit airstrikes. And that's a big part of Prototype's charm: when you want to just haul off and smack an entire city in the face, it's there for you.

Is it better than…?

Spider-Man: Web of Shadows?
Yes. Web of Shadows is fun and all, but it feels flimsy and cartoony next to Prototype. And while both games make you watch as Manhattan descends into zombie-infested chaos, only Prototype’s zombies are bloated grotesques you can slice to gory ribbons. Also, Spider-Man can’t drive tanks, and his web-swinging feels even less precise than Alex’s gliding. This one’s no contest.

The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction?
Yes. Of course Prototype is better than the last-gen Ultimate Destruction, but seeing as it’s that game’s spiritual successor, it’s still worth a quick comparison. Prototype and Ultimate Destruction have an extremely similar feel and control scheme, and UD’s DNA is evident in everything from Prototype’s wall-running to Alex’s ability to hurl cars at helicopters with lock-on precision. But Prototype smooths a lot of UD’s rough edges, and presents a bigger adventure in a cooler city, with a more interesting plot. Really, the only things we’re sad to see missing are the ability to punch buildings into rubble, and the boxing gloves Hulk would make out of cars. Those were a lot of fun.

inFamous?
Maybe. As we stated in the review for inFamous, Prototype and inFamous are substantially different games; inFamous is a little slower and much more deliberate, with gameplay that feels a little more like an open-world shooter, while Prototype is a wilder, anything-goes sandbox brawler. But there are still unshakeable (if superficial) similarities between the two. Both revolve around wild talents awakened by a disaster, both feature upgradeable powers that grow and evolve as you pursue the story and both take place in quarantined cities filled with climbable buildings and enjoyably inane side tasks. And both, for some reason, feature a mission in which your task is to go around dealing with contagion-spewing water towers, which is a weird coincidence.

Ultimately, inFamous feels more focused and restrained, while Prototype curb-stomps focus and hurls restraint through a plate-glass window. InFamous will appeal more to those seeking a more morally centered superhero experience, but Prototype is freer, faster, more varied and more fun.

Just for you, Metacritic!

Although it’s beset by blandish graphics and wickedly uneven difficulty, Prototype delivers a fast-paced, relentlessly amoral and wonderfully brutal sandbox adventure in a detailed city filled with cool things to see and do. Alex Mercer might not be the most sympathetic “hero” out there, but then again, most sympathetic heroes don’t have arms that turn into huge, razor-sharp whips.

More Info

Release date: Jun 09 2009 - PS3, PC, Xbox 360 (US)
Jun 12 2009 - PS3, PC, Xbox 360 (UK)
Available Platforms: PS3, PC, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Published by: Activision
Developed by: Radical Entertainment
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language
PEGI Rating:
18+

We Recommend

72 comments

  • SpartanOfficer89 - July 30, 2009 6:17 a.m.

    This game is the most awesome super hero game ever gore swearing this has it all.
  • Sareith - July 14, 2009 1:11 p.m.

    It was a great game playing and even with the starting over with all your abilitys is great and all but a little disapointing i figured it would take me longer to beat it. Although alot of the missions were difficult to achieve without screaming random profanity at your TV. Overall great game
  • AceDynamo - July 5, 2009 6:21 a.m.

    Prototype is an awesome game nevertheless, but can you imagine it with the same game engine as GTA 4, better swing cameras, minus the small bugs...it would have been the best game of the year!! It definitely is a worthy 9. Alex's power's are insanely awesome, awesome, AWESOME!! Don't need to change his abilities at all. Maybe add some. If you enjoy herbs, play it when your stoned... It will BLOW YOUR MIND!! Big-ups and kudos to the developers with this game!
  • SativaSeeds - July 2, 2009 4:58 p.m.

    The simple truth is if you own both, the PS3 is only good for collecting dust.
  • SativaSeeds - July 2, 2009 4:55 p.m.

    Sorry, but If you still own a ps3 and not a 360, you are a fanboy. I spent about 45 minutes each last weekend on Resistence 2, Killzone 2 and Infamous. I was quickly back to Modern Warfare and Prototype, not to mention gamestop with my trades. Sorry about all you who spent your only $$$ on the playstation and you still dont have a single good exclusive. At least you get call of duty.
  • TheStingingScorpion - June 29, 2009 10:44 p.m.

    Awesome attack powers but all most no defenseiv abilities.Id give it a 8.
  • xXShadeXx - June 20, 2009 9:10 p.m.

    Sorry for double post, but had to add something. I love this game, and infamous (witch I played on my bro's PS3)is good, but is no comparison, prototype is amazing. Oh and by the way the graphics seem fine to me? I don't know what your all talking about, Try watching the video in the review again and you tell me what is wrong with the graphics
  • masterbubble - June 18, 2009 9:23 p.m.

    yeah this game is good i like it
  • LieutenantCipher - June 16, 2009 6:11 a.m.

    This game fuckin rocks, I do agree that the boss battles can be a bit hard(damn you elizabeth, damn you! >.8D @ EvoAnubis: Well of course you're not seeing what we see, you only played 30 minutes of it and last time I checked, video games weren't only half an hour long XD
  • gatornation1254 - June 16, 2009 3:18 a.m.

    sorry for posting twice but IGNs review was bullshit all he had to say about it was hey the environment is to big and i'm to big of a dumbass to press two buttons. fuck you asshole ReCAPTCHA: typical portugal damn portugese are so typical
  • Spectre - June 14, 2009 9:20 a.m.

    Great review as always, I gave it a 7.5 though. Definitely liked it better than inFamous, but I think they could have had longer story cut-scenes. Everything is a 30 second conversation, reminds me of Bum reviews on Nestalgia critic's site. Half the time Im wondering why I should care about a character and the other half Im trying to remember who the hell a character is. Its like if you blink you might miss that an intrigal character even exists until you're hunting them down. I think with a little more character developemnet this could have been one of the greatest games of all time, they certainly had the story, they just forgot to tell us what it was...
  • EvoAnubis - June 13, 2009 7:58 p.m.

    Played this game for about half an hour at GameCrazy. I really wish I could see what all of you see, but I just don't. At 30 minutes, I really didn't see why I needed to play it any longer than since the second 15 minutes was simply a repeat of the first.
  • joshdaman123 - June 13, 2009 7:41 p.m.

    i was able to play this game for about 2 and a half hours at a friends house and all i can say is its AMAZING. the graphics are top notch and the "imprcise controls" will be in the back of you mind if your not reviewing it like gamesradar (not that i dont like you guys, u guys are awesome!) the story is very imersive but nothing we havent seen before but it still a 10 in my book and the action is the best iv ever seen this game is very innotive (spell check GR?) with its disquise system and what not all i can say is this game derserves a 90 out of 5 and its worth for anybody to pick up just plain AWESOME
  • RageGreen - June 12, 2009 11:06 a.m.

    Look's AWESOME :D Feel's AWESOME :D Play's AWESOME :D Spot on review
  • cubsfan101 - June 12, 2009 1:39 a.m.

    this game seems interesting. might rent it tomorrow.
  • sinkingfeeling - June 11, 2009 11:52 p.m.

    9 for this. 7 for infamous. bullshit. and in comparison all you wright is maybe one is better. poor guys. show some site continuity. ive yet to try either but both look good. i just cant believe how lop sided these reviews seem.
  • CreeplyTuna - June 11, 2009 8:08 p.m.

    i havenn't played infamous(i don't hav a ps3) but it looks like it should have gotten a better review. the graphics are kinda crap, but the game play is pure chaos and brutal destruction, that's wat sets the two games apart
  • Skykid - June 11, 2009 7:09 p.m.

    This game is soooooo badass it should be criminal.
  • IronGuy410 - June 11, 2009 5:16 p.m.

    well gamesradar can suck my well tanned behind cuz there's no way prototype is better than inFAMOUS. inFamous is funner, more fast paced, more balanced, it has better controls, the story is better, and by god it is much much much much much much much much much much much much much much much much much prettier in terms of graphics.
  • crimson_soulreaper305 - June 11, 2009 4:26 p.m.

    prototype<infamous...case closed. alex mercer triumphs as our next game of the year. the game is awesome! nice review! and IGN is full of idiots, i mean 7.5, thats harsh.

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