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If performing an elbow drop onto a tank from 200 feet in the air, after leaping from a skyscraper, can’t grab your attention, then the world is a wrong place. This move is just one of many attention-grabbing elements of Prototype that was recently demoed by Activision.

We saw the game 18 months ago in Palm Springs and were wowed by the scale of challenge Radical had taken on. Part GTA, part parkour, a bit of stealth, melee combat, a complex conspiracy of story fragments pieced together as you explore; and finally a nod to TV’s Heroes just to ensure there’s an eager potential fanbase. Since then there have been delays, a publisher buyout and more unwanted delays.

Despite much going against the game, Prototype still stands out as one of the more ambitious and creative titles on the cards for 2009. If all of its disparate parts can be drawn together, this could be a great release. The 200 foot elbow drop is just one new feature – adding wrestling moves is one thing, adding a skyscraper-shattering suplex is another.

The new demo illustrates that Radical has expanded the “chaos on demand” gameplay since we last saw the game. One move has anti-hero Alex Mercer grabbing a soldier and launching him at an oncoming attack helicopter. The result is an exploding heli, and one fewer soldier to worry about. Another new move demoed is the stealth assimilate (Mercer can ‘become’ anyone he kills). Previously this one was done in an elaborate animation, now if you stalk a person and kill them quietly, Mercer can steal the vic’s identity without being seen, adding to the deep stealth nature ‘becoming’ an enemy sets up.

A big part of the game is also the parkour gameplay. Moving about the city is easily done, controls are context-sensitive and jumping and running is similar to Assassin’s Creed and Prince of Persia. Being able to leap buildings and crash onto cars with realistic weight (they crush into a crumpled mess in the road) takes the feeling of Altair’s freedom to a new level. The new demo showed how Radical has expanded the gameplay recently too: now Mercer can glide on his tentacles, using them Spidey-style to zip between buildings at high speed.

When combined, Prototype’s free-running, melee combat and stealth ideas should create a unique experience. There are some lingering doubts over visual style - Mercer himself has been tweaked; there’s more color in him and his leather jacket has more character. The city itself is still a greyish block, however. We can say the screens do the game little justice. From experience, when Prototype is shifting at speed – with tanks, choppers and a city’s population reacting to the carnage by running and screaming – it’s a chaotic, fun sight to behold. Prototype’s time out of the spotlight seems to be really paying off with more inventive scenarios and more ‘fun’ being crammed into the overall mix. After all, who could turn down the opportunity to body slam a tank? Not us. We’ve always wanted to do that.

Feb 4, 2009