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.
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.
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.
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.