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Impressions: Prototype

Just how well does this console action game translate to the PC?

For those not into The Sims, it has been a quiet time of late. Big budget PC games have all but dried up, with even console ports strangely absent. One of the bigger titles of the past month is Activision’s Prototype, one of the few former Vivendi games that it actually kept alive after the two companies merged last year.

Prototype is one of the few titles to launch on the PC simultaneously with its console debut, a fact made apparent the moment one fires up the game to sluggish menus and a repeated insistence on hitting enter to continue. It also advises not to turn your PC off when the autosave is going – a sure reminder that this is a console game, first and foremost. This is reinforced by the very patchy settings menus.

This poor start is compounded by Prototype following the somewhat frustrating trend of starting you out with a few minutes of your full powers. Then, almost as if this were a pre-emptive apology, throwing you back 18 days to the point where your powers haven’t yet emerged. This is then followed by a long stint of brief tutorialish gameplay interspersed with cut scenes.

Such a slow start serves a very important point. It teaches the player that cut scenes can be skipped with the space bar – which happens with incredible frequency as the yawn-worthiness of the story shines through. You are Alex Mercer, amnesiac mutant, and then something about finding out what happened. That was about the point that the spacebar came in and the story went out the window for this player. Oh yeah, and Manhattan is being overtaken by ‘infected’ (think zombies).

But the great thing is the story doesn’t really matter. Once through the tutorials, Prototype opens up into an ‘open world’ sandbox game. Here, the charm of the title really shows, as Alex leaps his way around the city. His superpowers include the ability to run up buildings and glide through the air, moving at an incredible speed through the island of Manhattan. This free roaming has been incredibly well implemented and, what’s more, it actually works quite well with a keyboard and mouse. As the game progress, combat moves to the rooftops, with infected and army helicopters all pushing you to be as mobile as possible.

Combat really does form the central part of the game, and is both a blessing and a curse. As the game progresses, you learn new and exciting ways of manipulating your mutant body to form weapons. Each of these come with a subset of unlockable abilities, and the game encourages the player to explore all of these options, thanks to some being better against certain types of enemies. The true joy in Prototype comes from wading into a mass of baddies and hacking, smashing, and bouncing your way through. There is a surprisingly large amount of ways to wreak havoc, and combat isn’t confined to the ground, with helicopters needing some acrobatics to take down.

Developer Radical Entertainment has managed to make the majority of combat controllable with three buttons. E is used to grab, while the two mouse buttons form primary and secondary attacks. They can both be held for a powered-up area of effect attack, as well. While the controls work well, the targeting system in Prototype is abysmal. This is, in part, a side effect of the relatively close camera, manifesting itself not only through making it near impossible to choose what you are targeting, but also through enemies often being off-screen, entirely, with nary but faith to reassure the player that they actually have the thing they want in their sights. You learn to live with this, but it could have been done in a much more elegant way.

Like most open world games, Prototype includes specific storyline missions that take the player to certain locations in the city. It then provides challenges that range from racing through checkpoints to taking down a certain number of enemies with a certain weapon. On top of this, there is the spreading infection, with players able to take out infected ‘hives’ or infiltrate army bases to earn experience and bonuses. You can happily play through the story and ignore these other sides to the game, or you can move at your own pace. Some missions require a stealthy approach – unlike most games, the stealth sections are actually pretty forgiving, and you can always escape and transform yourself into an enemy in order to evade detection.

Prototype has some definite downsides. The story is awful, which is only really a problem because the game frequently throws cut scenes and movies at the player in an attempt to get them to care. However, this isn’t an issue, because Prototype is so damn fun. Hack and slash action games like these usually translate really badly to the PC – Prototype doesn’t. It still bears the obvious marks of its console heritage in areas like the camera, targeting system, and its relatively low graphic details, but it retains the thrill of causing mayhem on a wide scale. The ‘free-running’ side to the game is also well implemented, with a sense of speed and momentum that translates into fun gameplay.

Prototype isn’t the greatest game to hit our PCs, but the third-person action that it delivers is something that is rarely done well on the PC (Oni and MDK being the obvious exceptions).

Anonymous Gibbon

2009.06.24 04:57

Rock on! You mention Oni!


2009.06.24 09:05

Heh, Oni has a special place in my heart too :)


2009.06.24 10:10

mmm. Oni.

I loved that game. I'm still waiting for a spiritual succesor to combine H2H combat and shooting in a workable 3rd person version.

any, it almost sounds like you're talking about Red Faction: Guerilla.. except RF3 has been more fun >.> :P

Anonymous Gibbon

2009.06.25 00:11

"That was about the point that the spacebar came in and the story went out the window for this player."

" The story is awful"

How would you know the story is awful if you skipped it all?



2009.06.25 15:14

Your point would benefit from the lack of personal attacks.


2009.06.25 17:57


Anonymous Gibbon

2009.06.25 11:03

Sir, you are pants-on-head retarded. How the fuck could you POSSIBLY say the story sucked if you skipped through the whole thing? Where'd you get your journalism degree, Sears?


2009.06.25 15:16

Do you eat an entire shit to decide that it tastes bad?


2009.06.25 15:19

If you spent your hard earned cash on it it's not exactly out of the ordinary.


2009.06.25 17:31

Yeah but… who would buy a shit? Especially not when there are professional poo reviewers out there who get to eat shit for free, and can assess it without risk of their pride being damaged by having paid for a mouthful of hot, wet feces.

I think we may have overstretched this analogy.


2009.06.25 13:15

Nate, you really should have named the Gibbons, Trolls, instead. You know that, right.

Its not too late.

Anonymous Gibbon

2009.06.25 14:34

I didn't skip the story and it did suck.


2009.06.25 17:57

If you begin to skip the story then the story must suck.

Otherwise, you'd watch it.

It's not that hard to understand gibbons.

EnthusiasticianJohn Gillooly

2009.06.26 08:44

In reference to the comments about the paradoxical nature of story skipping - I ended up restarting the game halfway through my first run in order to better spend XP. Second time I actually bothered with the cutscenes, and I can see what they were getting at - it seems a story designed along the lines of a comic book, but it just doesn't work for me (losing powers due to a parasite is classic comic book, but becomes annoying in game). This was before I wrote this piece, and while my original comment may use some artistic license, I stand by it. The thing is that the story IS largely irrelevant to the gameplay.

I find it ironic that one of the random things I enjoyed the most was rapidly diverting from building hopping in order to snatch a web of intrigue suspect, or spotting one mid-firefight and stealing their thoughts. Problem was that the video, which is designed to not make much sense, suddenly interrupts the flow of the game if one misses the brief spacebar mashing window.