Overclocked On Caffeine v.1.1 2009-06-17 15:48:00

PC*

13 hours 32 minutes

It was the marines who’d started it. In their zeal to cleanse the city of infection, they didn’t care who they opened fire on. Here, on the outskirts of the infected zone, most of the people fleeing were still healthy, not that that mattered to the military. So they were surprised when someone not only fought back, but did so by throwing at wrecked taxi at them. Before they could get their bearings, I charged up the side of a nearby building, got to about 50 feet up, then gracefully backflipped off the side. I aimed right for the chest of the one in the middle, hit him squarely, killing him and causing me to slide back on his corpse a good 20 feet. Before the other two could react, I picked up a nearby garbage can, forced all my strength into my arms, bulking them up considerably, and hurled it with the force of a tank shell. The effect was, to say the least, explosive. The third I picked up by the throat, threw him up into the air and dropkicked him into the side of the nearby gym. He exploded on impact. The whole thing was over in less than five seconds. Not bad for a guy who woke up on a slab with only a name – Mercer, Alex J – and nothing else less than a week ago.

Allow me to describe the plot of Prototype in one sentence: Alex Mercer Saves The World From An Alex Mercer Fuckup. Our ‘hero’ Alex Mercer, wakes up in the mortuary with three main problems: first off, he should be dead. Very dead. Second, he has no memory. Third, he quickly discovers he’s capable of running at high speed, far faster than any human should be able to run, can lift cars with no effort at all, able to run horizontally up the sides of buildings and, oh yeah, can devour and absorb people wholesale, gaining access to their memories. Escaping from the labs of the Gentek corporation, Mercer starts off on a relatively simple quest to recover his memory.

Anyone wanna guess how long it takes to go south? I’ll give you a hint: it happens within the first 5 missions of the game.

We start off with the mandatory tutorial mission, because no one who buys games these days is capable of reading manuals, apparently. But wait: what’s this? We’re starting out on day 18? The sky’s blood red? The army’s fully mobilised on the streets and firing at anything and everything that moves, and there’s tanks and genetic atrocities and awesome music and oh dear lord, did my arm just transform into a giant fucking scythe blade? No, wait, back the fun bus up a sec – did I just elbow drop a fucking TANK?! If you’re not saying ‘holy shit, did I just do that?! That was fucking awesome!’ every 30 seconds, you’re playing it wrong. Radical know exactly what the strengths of this game are, and they show you exactly what’s waiting for you later the second you start up the game for the first time: complete fucking anarchy. It spells the game’s intent right from the off: this ain’t your daddy’s free-roaming sandbox game. This isn’t even an action game with fancy moves. This is how the end of the world looks at ground zero, and you’re the one thing standing between it and the rest of humanity. This is Armageddon in hi-def and you’ve got frontline tickets. And, as an opening gambit, dear Christ it works. The tutorial (you almost forget it’s a tutorial stage, you’re having that much fun) only lasts about ten or 15 minutes tops, but for sheer impact, it beats the hell out of any game I’ve ever played.

How do they follow that up? By dialling it back down to Day One and showing how things get so bad over the next two and a half weeks. It’s a complete mood whiplash, but by that point, you either hate it or you’re hooked with a pathological need to find out how you get from a quiet and ordered New York to open warfare on the streets of Times Square.

I had invented a new game. I called it ‘Climb A Bigger Building’. See, what you do, is you pick a building. Any building will do. And you run up the side of it. Then you look around and find a bigger building. Then you glide over to that one from the top of this one, and run to the top of that. Then you look around, find a bigger building and repeat the process. If you ever find yourself with superpowers, you should give it a try. This time, I was standing on top of the lightning rod at the top of the Empire State Building, looking around. I could see for miles in every direction. I was taking in the sights when I remembered the SUV I was carrying over my head. You tend to forget about these things after a while, y’know? I looked about and saw a tank driving past a street or two away. That gave me an idea. I hurled the SUV as hard as I could, then jumped after it, following the trajectory I’d thrown it in.

The SUV bounced off the heavy armour of the tank. Me, less so.

As the tank exploded behind me, I sprinted down the street, easily outpacing even the fastest cars around me as rockets and gunfire exploded at my heels. I vaulted over a couple of buildings, ducked into an ally, shifted my appearance to that of the Blackwatch soldier I’d consumed earlier and walked out, no one any the wiser.

Sometimes, random destruction was almost fun.

Manhattan Island is your playpen, and you are free to enjoy it however you wish. Want to spend your time taking in the sights, collecting the 250 TACOs (totally arbitrary collectible objects)? Have at it. Want to see how far you can fly or run? There’s the financial district over there, pick a building and jump from the rooftops. Want to wreak a bloody trail of havoc from Harlam to Central Park? Grab a taxi, grab a pedestrian and combine the two til one or the other explodes. Want to hijack a tank, take out every military base and viral hive on the map and make a daring escape in an attack helicopter, all while disguising yourself as Aunt Martha from Delaware? Try to keep the maniacal laughter to a minimum, people are starting to stare. You can’t enter buildings, unfortunately, so introducing the interior of the Met to the remains of a thermobaric tank isn’t an option, alas, but pretty much every other famous landmark in the city short of Lady Liberty herself is yours to see, climb, jump off and shoot at. Navigating it is simplicity itself once you get a grip of the controls, which is easily done within a few missions. Tearing through Soho on foot gives a feeling of speed greater than anything the GTA series has been able to accomplish in a car. Bombing down a road, jumping from car to car, like any number of action movie heroes gave me a feeling of sheer joy I hadn’t seen in ages. It’s a simple thing, to entertain those superhero fantasies of rooftop running and the like. To see someone take those fantasies and present them to you and say ‘go wild’ is another thing entirely.

The beast in front of me was called a Hunter. One of Elizabeth Greene’s deadliest, twelve feet of muscle and murderous intent. It let out a roar to shake the skull. Even the Infected were backing off from this one, and I’d seen them charge heavily armed marines bodily. I sized up my options. Running wouldn’t do me much good, these things were as agile as I was. I could pop my claws, but those were better suited to fast flurries of damage. My whip arm was good at a distance or with crowds, but here it would be next to useless. Right now, that left me with one option. I forced the biomass that made up my body into my arms, bulking them up considerably as I smiled grimly. Time to go toe-to-toe with the son of a bitch.

At the heart of the game is combat, and Prototype is no slouch in this department. Over the course of the game, you’ll unlock over a hundred forms, skills, moves and abilities, from extra health, to faster running speed, to increased jump height, to dozens of combat moves. You do this with experience – Evolution Points in this game – earned from killing enemies, completing missions or beating bonus challenges. New upgrades are made available periodically, usually at the end of every block of stages, usually with a fairly hefty pricetag attached. You don’t have to go grinding EP for them, since end-of-mission bonuses are pretty generous, but considering how creative some of them are – one word: Bodysurfing – you’ll find yourself wanting to just to see how you can mutilate your enemies this time. Combat, like the rest of the game, is frantic and fast-paced, and you’ll often find yourself running like a lunatic just to catch your breath and acquire a health refill from any nearby enemies, consuming being an instant kill for all humanoid foes, and also boosting your lifebar. Boss fights are similarly hectic, despite everyone on the internet seeming to think that the rules have changed just because it’s a boss. Of the three fights, the second, an encounter with a colossal monstrosity known as ‘Mother’ stands out – rather than being in an enclosed area, all of Times Square is your battleground, and you’ll need every last inch of the surrounding area to survive. The only thing really missing is that she’s sadly stationary. The sight of a beast like that chasing you around the cityscape is something that has to be in the inevitable Prototype 2.

And finally, we come to the story. The tale, as its presented, is admittedly flimsy, little more than a compass that points you in the direction of your next victim. The real meat lies in the Web of Intrigue, 131 targets you have to track down and consume to gain their memories, and the heart of the story. It’s weird that the game should be upfront about everything else, but make you work for the detail. The story missions themselves are surprisingly varied, and even those missions we all hate are made awesome within the context of the game: enforced stealth missions? Sneak into an army base, eat everyone, you won’t blow your cover unless you actively attack anyone, no matter what you do (and that includes running vertically up walls). Escort missions? We do it with tanks around here, motherfucker! Protect missions? Armour up like the Guyver, pop your sword arm and watch the organs fly! If there was an underwater stage, you can bet they’d even find a way to make that a thing of wonder.

Prototype is, without a doubt, the most fun I’ve had with a game since Devil May Cry. I swear the thing was catered specifically to my tastes. There’s very little in the game I’d change – perhaps a little mercy invincibility while the military rectally violating your lifebar with missiles would be nice – but lots I’d add. The feeling of the army and the Infected escalating to deal with the growing threat represented by yourself is good, but it doesn’t go far enough. The most powerful units in the game, the thermobaric tanks are only seen a handful of times, and on one of those occasions, you’re piloting one! More variation would be a welcome sight. A reason to care about the general non-infected populace would be good to see as well. I’m not saying we have to implement a badly-designed morality system, just give us more to do with them beyond eating them, slicing them or picking them up and hucking them at things. Make them more than health packs on legs. And maybe a branching storyline, one path helping the military, the other spreading the infection, with different storylines and upgrades available on each (oh dear, I’ve accidentally described inFamous, whoops!). Other than that, give us more of everything and I’ll happily see you next year for Prototype 2.

There’s monsters in Central Park. Something evil and obscene lurking under the streets of Times Square. The skies have turned a sickening orange, the colour of oblivion. The screams of the dying mix with the cries of the carrion birds, the only real victors of the viral outbreak. These are the end times. And I’m the only one who can keep things from getting worse. I know the men responsible for this. They’d better hope whatever they have between them and me is enough, because I’m just getting started.

*Staticnote: since the release of this game, Activision have announced that they will not be supporting the PC version of the game. A bad move considering that, for a lot of people, the game has a lot of flaws and bugs, chief amongst those being a lack of proper graphical options; the game failing to register any attached pads or controllers at startup, including official 360 pads; and a game-breaking issue with the sound, which not only ruins all cutscenes and voices, but also cripples the performance of the game, rendering it all but unplayable. By contrast, the PS3 version had a minor problem with optional installs that was identified and patched within 3 days. The lack of effort shown by Activision has been, in a word, atrocious, with all of the fixes being discovered by the community at the technical support forums, rather than any official channels. While there are hacks and workarounds for most of these, I cannot, in good faith or judgement, recommend the PC version of this game to anyone. The game itself is wonderful, easily the single best game I’ve played this year, but for the love of God, please, don’t bother with the PC port.

Comments off