canuckeh's Prototype (Xbox 360) review

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Flushed out of my system

 

I hate myself for finishing Prototype. I really do. Here was a game that was begging not to be played, in spite of the time (presumably) normal people spent designing the game’s dozens and dozens of incoherent video cutscenes, recording hours of voice work and crafting numerous story-specific missions. No, I think the people at Radical Entertainment mock anyone that makes an attempt at completing Prototype’s storyline, as opposed to just playing the game the way it was meant to be played.

Proto…I mean [PROTOTYPE], was intended to be a concentrated sandbox murder game. You play as Alex Mercer, a hybrid of Albert Wesker’s organ-powers and the clueless indifference of Heroes’ Peter Petrelli. You’re some kind of bizarre bio-weapon capable of reshaping yourself with an assortment of fleshy weapons and abilities, including fleshy claws, fleshy tentacles, the Soul Edge and other phallic tools that cause pain and/or pleasure. You can also run fast, jump high, scale tall buildings, glide in the air, hijack military vehicles, hijack military guns, “consume” other people for health (which is to say you eat them in a strange fleshy way, promoting cannibalism) and assume the disguise of your last meal. The person or persons that pitched the game’s idea to Activision must have some dark fantasies that they intend to live through within Prototype.

(And between this game and Splosion Man, I swear, cannibalism is the new hip thing in video games.)

It also happens that a viral outbreak in has unleashed Resident Evilian monsters across the city, and you’ll witness these Nemesiseseses routinely fighting the army during your moonlight drives in . And there are civilians. Hundreds of them, all fleeing in panic mindlessly as opposed to, say, getting the hell out of town. Right off the bat, you can see the potential for he who fantasizes of the New Yorker’s extinction. Prototype often feels like it was designed with the intent for the player to end as many digital lives as possible, in as short a time as possible. Drive tanks and effortlessly run over automobiles with or without the Right of Way, dismember your way through a crowd of innocent bystanders, eat an unassuming teenage girl and start boxing the aliens in disguise…my favorite is one that doesn’t even involve any fleshy spikes. “Patsy” lets you, while disguised as a soldier, accuse another person of being Alex Mercer and sic the National Guard on his or her ass.

Playing the game, I was definitely reminded of another great Radical Entertainment game in the Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. That game succeeded because it understood why people love the Hulk character; it’s not because they wanted to see Bruce Banner struggle to contain the beast, but to see Bruce Banner fail and let the green giant generate property damage. But while the Hulk game had a playful sense of destruction and chaos (you could punt civilians and turn cars into boxing gloves), Prototype just feels excessively gory and monotone. There’s no shock value or gravity to the game’s gratuitous nature, it’s just gore for the sake of gore. And I can’t help but ponder as to who would actually enjoy this large scale of sociopathic fantasy. I’d wager that if the culprit of the most horrific school shooting you can think of was still alive or free, that their favorite game would be Prototype.

If one thing is for certain, it’s that Prototype is definitely a gamer’s game. Take one gander of the controller button layout and the biggest Wii Sports fan will jump in the air, panicking like their Mii just dropped the bowling ball. If my last date tries to cuddle up to me after our last Lego Batman playthrough and ask “hey sweetheart, can you teach me how to play this Proto-thingy?” then I would probably respond with panic and demand a sandwich. Every button on the controller is used, often with multiple combinations and intentions. I stopped playing Prototype for a couple days due to living life to the fullest, and when I returned to my lonely Xbox 360, I actually found myself forgetting many crucial commands. There are at least four or five different menus accessible at any time with button presses to access your omni-list of powers. Powers that you can apply to either slay the masses, or attempt the game’s many sidequests. The best sidequests are the ones that involve racing through checkpoints, as the game considers rooftops and building-sides to be adequate racetrack material. Other sidequests include more ordinary objectives such as “kill this” or “kill these” or “eat that.” Your reward for completing these objectives are points to spend on the amazon.com-sized catalog of possible moves and powers to unlock to further your chaotic delusions.

So your enjoyment of Prototype will depend on how quickly you get bored with carving Jack-o-Laterns out of the Jacks and Johns of New York, and how soon you get bored or repetitive side-quests. Judging by how much fanfare Infamous got from people’s willingness to repeat the same sect of missions over and over in the name of “liberating 2%” of a third of the city, then Prototype will make fans out of several people. But the issue with this game is that once you do realize that there is no point in slap-chopping civilians and raiding the same military base over and over, that you may have to consider playing the game’s story missions.

Oh those dreadful story missions.

So Mercer wakes up in a morgue, with no recollection of who he is, or why he has so many pink penis claws erecting from his body. To find out, he’ll have to complete a series of arbitrary storyline missions and eat the brains of the unassuming parties involved in the name of watching annoying flashback sequences from the “Web of Intrigue.” The web is poorly named in the regard that there isn’t any actual intrigue; just several sets of random clips that are less about symbolism or making any kind of plot progression than they are about looking all flashy and horrific. I learned quickly to just skip all the memory sequences, as Mercer will bring the player up to speed with his frequent soliloquies anyways. There’s nothing terribly wrong with the plot in Prototype (other than “it gets carried away with throwing one Russo-like swerve after another near the game’s end”) but it’s not motivation enough to play through the game.

A tangent: I am so sick of hearing about games with “comic book-like storylines.” One, every other game already had a comic book-style storyline, so you’re not doing anything unique besides justifying the generic nature of your storyline. Two, Prototype and Infamous are both just jumping on the Heroes bandwagon, and in turn rendering themselves a ripoff of a ripoff of actual comic books.

The actual gameplay part of these missions consist of the same kind of cloned mission objectives one expects out of any sandbox game that isn’t a Grand Theft Auto. You go to locations and kill things, you kill more things, you escort things, and you do all of them many times over. Some objectives feel a bit drawn out (such as going to one military base and destroying it, then finding out there’s another base to destroy…and then another…)but for the early story missions, the game doesn’t feel as stretched out as Infamous and NOWHERE CLOSE to the levels of redundancy that Spiderman: Web of Shadows reaches.  

But as you make your way through the game, many smaller plagues begin to infect your system. Checkpoints, while appearing on a somewhat frequent basis, are ill-positioned. One objective had me escorting a slow, plodding tank from one point to another, and then protecting the tank from pink monster thingys as the tank did the work that Alex Mercer should be powerful enough to do anyways…and then repeating twice more. While the fact that the game has a handful of escort missions alone should be punishable with a spiked-mace lashing, that the game doesn’t place a checkpoint after the tank FINALLY arrives at its destination amplifies the frustration that stems from your inevitable death.

And you will fail. With great frequency. It’s as if the karma from the endless murdering of virtual citizens that didn’t have it coming was biting you in the ass. Enemies will swarm and fire at you from off the camera. Some enemies are genetically superior enough to smash 9/10s of your health in a single swipe or attack combination, even if Mercer is wearing his super-scabby-armour. One boss will unleash an attack that saps all but a thimble-full of health…in tandem with other homing projectiles…in tandem with respawning enemies ambushing you from behind. Prototype is certainly a game short in mercy, as there are numerous moments like such that are a great deal more frustrating than they ought to be. Thus, I found myself begging for the game to have cheat codes of some sort, only to be disappointed to find none. If the Grand Theft Auto games should’ve taught something to the world, it’s that sandbox games and cheat codes go together like peanuts and salt. Speaking of meals, instead of self-regenerating health, you heal by feasting on the innocent. And it becomes quite annoying to flee from the scene of a battle to look for a snack…especially since later missions surround you only with zombies that give you a single cashew’s worth of nutrition. Hence I would find myself at ground zero, trying to scrounge up as many zombie-treats as I can, while still being overwhelmed by the pink-thingys of death.

I resorted to strategy guides to discover the best means of accomplishing the game’s later objectives. Would you like to know the ideal strategies for the later sect of missions? Drive a tank to your objective, keep shooting your objective until your tank blows up, then…run away and find another tank to continue what you started. All of those elaborate super-powers that I spent my hard earned evolution points on were suddenly worth squat.

And the targeting system just isn’t sophisticated enough to handle the kind of chaos that the game promotes. Need health? Want to lock on to a human sandwich? Good luck with that, the targeting system is focusing on helicopters first. The worst case scenario of may be the game’s final boss. I discovered that the best way to defeat this adversary was to throw large chunks of explosive scenery in his direction. But you can’t pick up objects without first breaking your target-lock. So I release the lock, pick up a missile hoping he hasn’t cheap-shotted me from behind, and attempt to regain my lock so I can penetrate his backside with my newfould warhead. But you’ll have to scroll over the many smaller soldiers looming the battlefield first before the targeting system focuses on the final freaking boss, whom by then would’ve unleashed many health-draining attacks on Mister Mercer here.

I was not satisfied with myself when I finally finished the 6-7 hour campaign. I was not glad that I overcame this incredibly difficult beast of a game. Nor was I relieved that this frustrating challenge was out of my system and I could focus my attention on more relevant matters in life. No, I was angry at myself. I was mad that I didn’t just give up and spend my time on something more productive. I look back at those 6-7 hours with few kind memories, knowing that the only reason I finished the game was because I’m enough of a completionist to force myself into seeing Alex Mercer’s tale to its twisted end. Even writing this review has been a draining affair for me. The final verdict on Prototype? The campaign is vile, but the sandbox element is at least appealing enough to those that like…death. I stand that aimlessly ending the lives of fake people loses its luster within minutes, but I know that there are many people (of questionable morality) that beg to differ, so this is the game for those crazy diamonds.

3 stars

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