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).