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Prototype has one of those jaw dropping openings that immediately sucks you into some chaotic violence. You are unleashed on New York as a kind of super charged killing machine with the ability to mutate into various forms suitable for pulping anyone or anything stupid enough to get in your way. The raw power and speed as you tear up the busy streets of the city sending panic stricken citizens running in all directions is awesome. This is a third-person action game with a heavy focus on combat. There is an involved central thread of missions and an abundance of side tasks and challenges.
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You play Prototype as Alex Mercer and after the stunning intro you flash back in time and start to learn about what is going on and how you became a superhuman slaughter machine. After giving you a taste of devastating power the game snatches away your super skills and challenges you to build them back up as you progress through the action. This is a clever play on the part of the developers, instead of waiting until the end of the game, which some people will never reach, to give you the full range of moves you get a little taste of them at the start. It really whets the appetite and you’ll find yourself building up Evolve Points as fast as possible so you can purchase upgrades.
There seems to be some kind of virus linked to the military which has been unleashed and an open war gradually breaks out on the city streets between the military and the infected mutants. You are caught in the middle, hunting people who may hold information on what has happened to you. With the help of your sister and a few other people you undertake a series of missions, most of which involve killing people and blowing things up. You have an interconnected web of memories built up by consuming people which triggers a cinematic flash and leads you to further victims.
The controls are WASD and mouse and the action is third-person. By holding down shift you can run up the side of buildings and you can also jump and glide in the air once you build up the necessary skills. When it comes to combat you have a wealth of options from mutated claws and hammer fists to rocket launchers and hijacked tanks. You can also consume people and assume their identity to sneak into places or throw the military off your back.
The difficulty in the mission structure is very changeable and while the game feels quite easy for the most part there are some very challenging sections. The gameplay is enormously fun most of the time and once you have purchased a few upgrades you’ll find survival gets much easier. The timed challenges and side quests scattered throughout the map bump up the overall amount of play on offer and there are various things to collect as well. It is good that they included these because you’ll soon get bored of unfocused carnage.
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Prototype is an attractive game and it has been put together with a real flourish of style. The characters models are fairly detailed, the city of New York looks fantastic and they have achieved a genuine crowd feel, although after some exploration you will notice the repetitive nature of the models, textures and buildings. To enable the large environment to function they have obviously applied a limited draw distance and it is a bit of a shame that things drop out of view when you climb tall buildings but it has no real gameplay impact, particularly since there is a mini-map at the bottom left which contains all the pertinent information you need.
The animation is excellent and as Alex scales buildings at lightning speed and jumps across the rooftops it looks fantastic. The combat is also nicely handled and there are plenty of decent visual effects. You can literally cut people in half and watch as their legs spin off into the distance or jump from a skyscraper and send cars bouncing into the air on impact with the ground.
The cinematic cut scenes have an extra layer of polish but they don’t feel too detached from the game. More interestingly the developers included real life footage in the flashback jolts of memory you get when you consume people and this effect is very nicely handled. The overall presentation in terms of menus and interfaces is excellent.
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The environmental sound is reasonable although it doesn’t quite reach the fever pitch of the real New York. There is some fitting music at various junctures and all of the sound effects are convincing and help to create the illusion of a vibrant city at war. The voice acting is a bit more mixed. The flashback sequences and military characters are very well done, Alex and his helpers are less convincing but as games go the voiceover work is solid.
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Prototype lacks depth and the mission design is far from revolutionary but developers Radical Entertainment definitely nailed the fun factor. It may conjure the old style over substance adage but when it is this stylish who cares about the substance. Prototype is the game equivalent of a really good action movie. The story has enough bite to keep things ticking over but what you are really looking for is explosions, chases and rampant violence. Prototype delivers the thrills in large chaotic bursts and there are moments where it is just insanely enjoyable to throw cars around and jump from tall buildings onto helicopters. It may fall short of true greatness but it is definitely a game worth playing.