Prototype lacks polish, but there's a ton of fun to be had here
Radical Entertainment's Prototype is bags of fun. The game clearly identifies itself as a Jack-of-all-Trades, which means that if you enjoy open-world games, you're almost guaranteed to find something you like in here. The downside is that Prototype may have over-stretched itself, because while there are many aspects to the gameplay, they all lack a certain degree of polish. However, if you're looking to have some wild and mindless fun, Prototype will certainly appease.
The game puts you in the shoes of one Alex Mercer, a man who finds himself waking up in a morgue and realising that something is badly wrong. He has amnesia. After escaping the morgue, Alex finds out that he can do some pretty wild stuff, like turning his limbs into claws and absorbing other people's biomass to gain their memories, likeness and abilities. This comes in handy, because Manhattan has been struck by an airborne virus--that, conveniently, can't cross bodies of water. It's turning the population into lumbering zombies or aggressive mutants. On top of that, the entire military is after both him and the victims of the virus. Mercer doesn't like that, and he sets out to discover the truth and punish the ones responsible for his suffering.
It's a tale that I enjoyed unraveling, particularly because of what the game refers to as the “Web of Intrigue.” Alex has to ability to consume every humanoid you come across in the game, but 130 of the NPCs running around in the city are marked by an icon hanging over their head, indicating that they know some small detail of a greater plot that got Mercer where he is. Upon absorbing them, a small clip gets played that fills you in on the person's knowledge. If you absorb every single Web of Intrigue-target, you should be able to piece together what happened to Alex. These clips look really good and are always interesting. It's a great way to present the story, and seeing that icon appear always got me excited.
The game also has 31 missions to go through, that have Alex going after the perpetrator behind all the shenanigans, fighting lots of Blackwatch soldiers and interacting with some mildly interesting characters, like his sister, his ex-girlfriend, some twisted army captains and scientists. The cutscenes aren't all that special, usually simply consisting of a character informing Alex of his mission, Alex staring at them blankly and then leaving the room to fulfill said mission. It's not all that engaging, but it gets the job done, and the voice-acting is pretty acceptable. As long as you don't go in expecting an emotionally-laden plot such as the likes of GTA IV's, Prototype's tale should do just fine to keep the action moving.
The main thing Prototype has going for it is the enormous amount of moves and powers Alex has access to. Over the course of the game, you will spend millions of points to upgrade him, and with each upgrade, his arsenal of destruction grows. By the end of the game, its size will be... considerable. Alex can transform his limbs to become hammers, whips, blades and claws. He can also learn a large amount of combos, he can fly helicopters and drive tanks, he can absorb people and then use their likeness to infiltrate bases, he has pretty awesome locomotive powers that allow him to run on walls and jump incredibly high... there's an entire laundry list of stuff that you can do, and thanks to the brevity of the upgrade menu, a constant stream of power-ups keep the gameplay fresh over the course of Prototype's storyline, which will probably take you about 10 to 12 hours to complete on the normal difficulty setting.
However, with Prototype's expansiveness also comes a lack of polish to each individual aspect. You have a lot of combat options and combos, but the core combat engine is far from perfect. Alex is all about big moves, and once he gets going with an attack, he's practically impossible to stop. When you know that most of the game's challenging enemies are quite difficult to stun, you know that frustration lies in store. Just picture this: you've just charged up and unleashed one of Alex's big attacks, but the big mutant does not get stunned by it. You notice the enemy is about to retaliate, but you can't get Alex to stop his animation. The result: you get pounded. The only solution is to either trade health with enemies during every encounter, or employ hit-and-run tactics on them. Neither way is especially fun or fulfilling. Much the same way with the “social stealth.” You can absorb soldiers to infiltrate bases, but aside from having a few chuckles by accusing other soldiers of being you and seeing them get ripped to shreds, there's not a whole lot to it. If you were hoping that there would be some stealth mechanics in place, you might be disappointed. The only way to get detected is to do something really obvious, like grabbing a soldier in plain sight and absorbing him. I wouldn't exactly call running on the side of a skyscraper subtle, but apparently, you can totally get away with it without being seen in Prototype.
Make no mistake though, despite Prototype's rough edges, the game manages to be a ton of fun throughout. The powers are somewhat bland, but there's enough variety between them and you get new ones constantly, long before you discover the flaws in the previous ones. The action is very visceral as well, something that comes through especially when you use the whip. Slashing open dozens of victims with a single attack never got old for the gore-loving psychopath in me. And, against the trend, Prototype does not contain moral choices. Alex is out for revenge, and he does not care who gets killed on his way to his target. He's the ultimate anti-hero, sucking up an innocent bystander's body for a sliver of health without a second thought. Which is awesome in the way only games can be awesome. In fact, my greatest joys in Prototype came from simply stepping out onto the street, jacking up some dudes and letting the chaos unfold. Prototype's world is designed to be a bomb ready to be set off at any time by the player. As soon as you kill a soldier or two, every NPC starts running like mad, mutants will come at you, wrecking everything in their way and the military will step in, attempting to kill you and the infected. Explosions go off everywhere, tanks roll in, helicopters fly over, mutants are throwing around cars and you are are smashing the place. It's awesome. If booting up GTA, using a cheat to unlock a tank and simply going wild, trying to get up to 6 stars was your idea of wild fun, Prototype will feel like a dream come true. The world truly is your playground, and this is the best thing the game has going for it.
If you don't feel like progressing the story, you can take on one of the game's many side-missions. These missions range from absorbing certain individuals' biomass to doing checkpoint races to simply wreaking as much havoc as you can possibly can within a set amount of time. I didn't find them to be particularly engaging, so I didn't do much of that stuff, but they give out excellent amounts of XP to buy power-ups with and they can be quite fun occasionally. The bossfights, on the other hand, are not good. There are two true bossfights in the game, and both of them consist of running away, doing a charged attack, dealing some slight damage and losing of lot of health in the process. After that, you kill some grunts to regain health and repeat the whole thing. It was very, very tedious. The combat in Prototype looks cool but is not all that fun to control, unfortunately, and these bossfights further highlight that point.
If you're looking for a game to show off the 360's graphical prowess with, Prototype is not your game. The game does not look great. The city, which is modeled after Manhattan, is square and grey (unless you're in an infected zone, where gore and other organic substances cover the streets.) It's not the most compelling city you can find in a sandbox-game, but it's fun to traverse with Alex' adaptive parkour abilities and ends up working quite well in the “playground”-context of the game. The character models aren't up to much either, which shows through rather harshly in the cutscenes, where faces aren't at all expressive. The animations, and Alex's in particular, are great though. Another major plus is the framerate. Even when the action really heats up (which happens on a regular basis) the game remained silky smooth. That's probably the reason for the game's subpar graphics.
I quite like the sound-design. The music did a good job of making the game's bossfights feel more epic, all the moves have an appropriately brutal sound to them and the voice-work is quite decent. The powers and abilities take center-stage in Prototype, and the presentation proves it by being pretty unremarkable.
Prototype is good, mindless fun. It has flaws, and could have used some more polish, but if you can forgive it those flaws, which shouldn't be too hard, you'll definitely find something you love in this expansive sandbox to go wild in. I suggest you play it.