Monday, December 6, 2010

360 Look - Prototype

Every now and then we gotta have a game where we can just let loose with tons of ridiculous powers and kill friend and foe alike until we turn blue and fall down a flight of stairs. For those of us whose only real concern is how many people we can gib in a single attack there's Prototype. From at least one of the guys behind Hulk: Ultimate Destruction comes an adrenaline-soaked Super Anti-hero story about some guy who gets a couple hundred super-powers and decides to kill until New York floats away in a river of blood.

I'm the kind of guy who can appreciate Michael Bay movies so Prototype's brainless plot is right up my alley. Alex Mercer is a man on the run who discovers that he has incredible powers. Without the incredible responsibility to balance things out however he's no better than Elizabeth Greene. This woman suffered the most horrible haircut ever and in response she plans to infect an entire city with some virus that mutates everyone in hulking beasts. The government does what they do best and sends the Marines to solve this mess. The solution shared by all three parties is to kill until one stands alone. This isn't the entire story as some room has to be left for the twists and turns that are commonplace but for the most part players never have to worry about thinking.

Mercer's said incredible powers read like the sort of things I would have come up with back in elementary school. Aside from insane speed, strength, and agility, Mercer is considered a shape-shifter. He can alter his appearance, consume people to gain access to all of their thoughts, turn his arms into several different weapons, and generally do things with his body that...well...there's a reason why I never went around telling classmates about all these ideas I might have had. Given enough time Alex can learn to hurl cars over a mile, power-bomb civilians from thousands of feet in the air, elbow-drop tanks, and latch onto helicopters to steal a ride.

For whatever reason this just wasn't enough as Alex can also snag military vehicles, use guns, change his skin into armor, and even perform a cannon-ball dive that'll explode anything he makes contact with. It's not always imaginative but it's pretty clear that the developers took the time to come up with all kinds of neat ways for Alex to get the job done. While the player can get away with completing the game using only a fraction of them that's all the more reason to keep coming back and trying out different moves to get through the same situations in other ways.

The first five minutes of Prototype basically gives away all of the opposition Alex will be facing. The military is your bog-standard guys with guns, tanks, and helicopters while the infected are the hunters, zombies, and other beastly guys who just like to clobber everything. Dealing with these foes is easy enough at first since early on Alex is practically invincible. Over time however both sides start employing tougher resistance and higher numbers, forcing Mercer to get creative with his encounters and evolve his technique. Since Mercer is the only hope of straightening out the mess in Manhattan he will also have to work with and against both sides. This adds a very interesting dynamic as while exploring the player is bound to see military and infected forces squaring off against one another while the unfortunate civilians get caught in the middle.

This game is all about its fast pacing and its ferocity. As the intensity ramps up the player will have to contend with multiple attacks coming from all possible angles. This means moving quickly, changing directions, managing forces, and being able to do so in only a short amount of time. Health is recovered fairly easily by consuming or destroying but it can also be lost very easily thanks to the multitude of tough enemies such as higher-level hunters and a plethora of rocket-launcher soldiers and their fancy Mercer-killing equipment.

It's a rough game in all meanings of the word as a lot of the time it looks like things just aren't going to work out for the player. The missions can become very frustrating as they'll involve everyone's favorites such as escort and protect as well as an infinite and constant barrage of enemies while trying to focus on important matters like bosses or even just getting some breathing space. The bosses are absolute drek as while the concept can work most of these guys just stack on some absurd additions like countless enemy troops or just completely ignoring most of the player's attacks. When so much of the game is spent in control these times that require patience can really tear it all down.

The mission design leans towards the really bad later on as optional missions become all but impossible with everything going on. Infiltrating an enemy-base is cake early on but towards the end there's simply no way for the player to get in without setting off several alarms at once. After taking out a dozen choppers, ten tanks, and over a thousand troops the player will come back and find the base no worse for wear. Early on it may have been too easy to be sneaky as everyone is apparently blind to a guy running up walls and throwing cars everywhere but towards the end Mercer can't even cough without an entire nation of soldiers discovering him.

It's too bad really because when this game is good it's damn good. The good aspects align and connect to create a constant source of exhilaration and excitement but all it takes is the slightest slip and I feel like I'm playing Ninja Gaiden 2 again. I just feel like some impotent chump flailing about while a constant stream of rockets kicks me around town. Losing momentum can happen in seconds and Prototype isn't really designed well enough for the blame to lay squarely on the player when things don't work out.

Take the "War" line of missions for example. The goal is to kill a certain number of enemy troops while protecting the troops the player is working with. So for example if I'm working with the infected that means I have to deal with tanks and the like. My only real option at times is to steal a tank and go from there, as destroying tanks through other means tends to take too long and lead to too many casualties. Problem is Whenever I fire a shell at a tank there always seems to be several of my guys nearby, thus costing me dearly. Yeah restraint in these situations is important but with the odds the way they are I don't have a choice. If I do things any other way I either run out of time, leave myself open for other enemy tanks, or my allies just get killed off anyway. It's just one set of side-missions but issues such as these tend to come up whenever the game really tries to push itself beyond just "invincible dude killing things for fun".

The controls are another issue since while for a number of other action games they'd probably be okay but for everything that goes on in this game the player just doesn't have the options. An evasive roll is always handy but in this game there's no invincibility period tied to it. Getting out of the way of danger is a constant but the most effective means tends to be predicting what will happen and going from there. Even a block would have been helpful since it'd give the player a last minute opportunity to minimize damage. Sure the armor and shield abilities have their uses but what it comes down to is that the player can't counterattack when they're pinned down. They can probably escape without too much trouble but getting just out of range and creating an opening tends to be sloppy and ineffective.

Prototype can be a really fun game when everything comes together but it doesn't have the right design, the proper usage of mechanics, and even a handful of hidden variables to really work on multiple levels. Sure I've done a lot worse with $10 but if you're looking for something more than an excuse to kill innocent people you may as well look elsewhere.

Game rating - 1.5 out of 5

My rating - 2.5 out of 5

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