Prototype has had a somewhat complicated history. Originally set to release last year, the game faced numerous delays after Activision got a hold of the game following its acquisition of Vivendi, which owned Sierra. As one of the games that didn't end up getting cut (Ghostbusters, Riddick, and Brutal Legend being the three that did), Activision gave Radical additional time, and I'm sure expense, to make Prototype as polished as it can be. So with all of this time in development, how come they didn't succeed? It's actually simple.
Now, I know a lot of guys have been comparing Prototype to inFamous, and in some points the comparisons are just. But in other points, they really aren't. For starters, yes, both games are open-world sandbox titles with a lead character on the run after a horrendous event has granted him superhuman abilities. Yes, both characters are on the road to revenge and have a companion that they very much care about. Yes, both games allow you to scale massive buildings, jump between them, or just jump down from them without so much as a scratch. There are other similarities, which I don't really need to get into to, because they're a bit too general to bring up and apply to many games. But regardless, the features I did highlight are all good and fun, right?
Well, no. You see, where the distinctions between these two games lie is obvious. In inFamous, a lot of times I found myself spending time just roaming around the environment doing one of many optional tasks, such as eliminating a gang of reapers and regaining control over sections of a city (something I also spent time doing in Red Faction: Guerrilla). That element in inFamous added an extra layer of depth to the game's living and breathing city. Where as, I didn't get that same feeling in Prototype. There are event markers scattered around the city, but these events aren't side-stories, but rather a time-trial/test of sorts where you're awarded a gold, silver, or bronze based on your performance. Let's just put it this way, it's nothing you're going to want to look around for.
And therein lies another problem. The game's depiction of Manhattan is utterly bland, and look at the game map shows that Radical didn't even care enough to at least render some of the more notable landmarks of the city, such as Columbus Circle. The entire game map is nothing but a criss-crossed grid of squares, and while Manhattan may not be the most complicated place in the world, that should only give a developer all the more reason to include its little intricacies - hell, even Times Square is extremely bland. Now, while you may think this should be talked about with the visuals, you should also keep in mind that this city is the core of the game, and running around it is a boring experience. The design here is nothing more than laziness.
The story also doesn't feel special or unique. You are Alex Mercer, and you gained these superhuman abilities thanks to a virus developed by the evil corporation that you once worked for, Gentek. You will, at first, find yourself thrown into the most climactic point of a war between you, Nightwatch, and The Infected, as it spirals out of control, spilling onto the streets of the Big Apple. The game will then flash back to the day Mercer wakes up in a morgue, with his memory largely gone. In the game, the story will unravel when Mercer's genetically mutated self absorbs the lives of various key characters. By doing so, he also absorbs their memories and he can see what they experienced.
As you no doubt know, Mercer is a marked man and is wanted due to his escape from that morgue. As a shapeshifter, Alex Mercer is a hard man to capture, seeing as how he can assume numerous identities, in addition to have his body grow various different weapons, such as Wolverine-esque claws, stone hands, an enormous blade on each hand, and even a whip. All of these weapons have their ups and downs, and will become available to you the more you play the game (those four are not the only ones available). You will be allowed to pick up guns, but the shooting mechanics of the game aren't very strong, so there's nothing to get excited about.
As a whole, the gameplay in Prototype feels like its missing something truly fresh. The upgrade system boasts some cool powers, but the story, presentation, game world, and overall execution of the game simply falls short. Where as I was completely enamored by inFamous, I found myself absolutely bored with Prototype. And that boredom continued on to the visuals...
Like I mentioned earlier, the game's (poor) depiction of Manhattan is stale. But it's stale in not just design, but also variation. Everything looks generic from the buildings, to the cars, to the pedestrians. And when you assume the look of a pedestrian, that also means your character looks every bit as poorly detailed and generic. The game world simply does little visually to impress as it is also rife with less than stellar textures, and lighting that's as bland as the rest of the game is. Just about the game's only redeeming quality to its visuals is the framerate, which manages to stick to 30 most of the time, and the draw-in distance isn't shabby, either. Otherwise, a pretty game this is not. It doesn't even need to be said, but inFamous seriously demolishes the game here.
Lastly, Prototype features a soundtrack that's somewhat reminiscent of a Marvel videogame. But perhaps that type of soundtrack has become almost like the status quo for open-ended superhero games such as Prototype. And while it's not bad, it is, again, generic in every sense. The voice acting does fare better, as the voice actors do a solid job of playing out their respective roles. The rest of the audio is composed largely of an assortment of sound effects you would expect to hear.
If by now you can't tell that my overall tone is very 'bleh', well, then...it is. That is simply the feeling Prototype left with me. Despite all of its time in development, Prototype feels hollow and uninspired. There are a number of great concepts here, such as the shapeshifting and being able to run vertically, but everything else falls apart when you realize how boring many of the missions are, how boring the world is, how boring the game looks, and...well, how boring the game is, overall. Leave this one alone. If you're done with inFamous and looking for something similar, Red Faction: Guerrilla should suit you better.
6/17/2009 Arnold Katayev