Meet Alex Mercer, the most destructive force in video games
Alex v/s ManhattanAt its core, Prototype is essentially the same game as Radical Entertainment's last venture, The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, with a strong focus on pandemonius destruction. But an open-world and an endless list of super powers give the gameplay a fresh feeling. There are other new additions as well like an interesting stealth mechanic and the narrative is delivered in a unique manner, through a series of flash backs. Even though it can be frustrating at times, the core combat system is the big draw here and the constant destruction around you make it a fun experience.
The setting is a zombie infested Manhattan that's been put under quarantine after a virus breakout. You're free to explore the whole island from the get go. Apart from a few landmarks like Times Square or the Empire State Building, the city lacks any real character. The rest of the areas feel like a series of mono-color skyscrapers with the exact same architecture but sadly that is exactly how the real Manhattan is so it's hard to blame the developers for it.
On a Power TripHowever, that's not such a bad thing because the combat in Prototype can be an absolute blast. Alex has access to a cavalcade of mutant powers that can make you feel like a demigod. Alex can turn his arms into different types of melee weapons and they all have different kinds of melee attacks and combos associated with them. All the finishers are incredibly brutal with gauges of blood being spilled every second on screen and people getting impaled or chopped in half. The upgrade system lets you enhance your power of choice and the carrot-on-stick effect can leave you with more combos than you can remember.
Alex can use his incredible strength to pick up any inanimate object and throw it at your enemies and its a good way to take care of those pesky helicopters. You can also pick up ranged weapons (like assault rifles) to do some ranged damage but they are generally weak and not as satisfying. The third option is of course vehicular combat, using a tank or helicopter. The helicopter is an especially efficient way to take out enemies while remaining at a safe distance but its not as savory. It's worth noting that all these offensive abilities mix very well with Alex' enhanced movement and allow you to pull off some outrageous maneuvers. You could be riding a tank one sec and kicking helicopters the next. The game is most fun when it allows you to just explore all these varied options without overwhelming you with enemies.
Chaos & Monotony: Prototype's biggest buzzkillsAnd that brings me to the only pet peeve I have with the combat: Alex does get thrown around a lot when things blow up around him and this makes the camera swing around erratically. There is a lock-on system here to help you make sense of all the chaos around you but its a little inconsistent. The target switches without warning sometimes and this can inhibit the flourish in your combos. This makes taking on huge armies of mutants a rather frustrating experience. Otherwise, when taking on limited forces - the combat is a blast.
There are a few defensive upgrades available here to balance the gameplay. Alex can consume any living being to gain a small portion of his health back. He can also use his shapeshifting abilities to form stonelike armor or shields and you have to use these defensive abilities intelligently if you want to survive against the increasingly difficult enemies the game throws at you. The game's difficulty curve can get frustrating at times. Some of the later enemy tactics force you to run, hide and consume constantly, with a couple of boss fights lasting more than half an hour. While the initial setup for all the boss fights are grand, the subsequent difficulty issues take the fun out of them and leave you a little underwhelmed.
There is also a stealth mechanic if you want to avoid taking the military head on. Consuming people gives Alex access to their memories and allows him to mimic them. You can imitate military personnel to infiltrate bases and get your hands on vital intel or learn valuable skills. There are multiple side missions which use this exact mission structure. Sadly, for all the variety in combat, the game is seriously lacking in terms of sidemissions. They are just a handful of movement and combat challenges repeated over and over again to the point that it becomes mind-numbing to best them all
The uneven nature continues with the game's presentation. The visuals have a very gritty feel to them, as you would expect in a Manhatten-under-seige scenario. The frame rate holds up pretty well, even through all the frenetic action. Alex animates impressively, but his voice acting is a little kitschy. The dialogue between the characters is generally very uncomfortable and leaves a lot to be desired. The soundtrack has a couple of good pieces that get your adrenaline going but the main theme repeats far too often and becomes an issue during the lengthy boss fights.
Prototype is not the perfect game but it tries to negate its failures by overwhelming the player with quantity. It has a huge variety of destructive powers to play around with and along with the great freedom of movement, this results in a sandbox experience where you're constantly in the thick of things. The combat might lose its sheen after the first 20 hours or so but it will keep you thoroughly entertained till then. An excellent rental (or bargain buy) if you're in the mood for wrecking Manhattan over the weekend.