Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2009-06-18 Xbox 360 Action/Adventure M (Mature) Radical Entertainment / Activision

When you think of Activision, you probably think of Guitar Hero before anything else, but helping prove that Activision hasn't retreated solely into the world of music and rhythm games is Prototype, a conspiracy-filled, science-fiction epic set in New York City that places you in the role of the Prototype, Alex Mercer.

After waking up in the morgue with a coroner's knife inches from his chest, Alex escapes from a strange military prison and finds himself, sans memory, in the middle of a bustling New York City. While relieved to once again be among the living, Alex is riddled with questions about his new-found super killing abilities, and vows for revenge against all those responsible for his new form.

To make matters worse, a virus forty years in the making has been released onto NYC's citizens, turning them too into mindless mutants, leaving Alex with yet another task on his to-do list: not only discover his true identity and destroy whoever harmed him, but all the while defend himself from the infected, ever-growing scourge.

Mercer is a shape shifter, able to consume any living creature, and where humans are concerned, assume their identity by shifting his appearance at the cellular level. This of course comes in handy when infiltrating military bases or escaping pursuit, while his gigantic metal claws help him out the rest of the way.

Your first real decision will be as to which type of person you want Alex to be, with the two extremes being to play it straight-laced, as more of an honorable being, only out for revenge and therefore only willing to kill military personal or the infected while sparing normal citizens, or as a balls-to-the-wall renegade, out to destroy literally everything that moves, whether human or mechanical.

While your own personal choice has no affect on the way the story plays out, it will add more challenge for those who wish to be as angelic a killer as possible.

However, as most will find, there is a nice balance that comes when you're willing to sacrifice the occasional human for the sake of speedy transportation or unlockable achievements, and really, with so many independently controlled characters on screen at once, it would be damn near impossible to not sacrifice as least a thousand civilians throughout the course of the game.

The controls for Prototype are complex, and contain a bit of a learning curve. Alex is forever gaining new abilities, each activated via a different button combination, which makes picking up even the basics of the game easier said than done. Alex can of course perform basic movements like running and jumping, but even these everyday abilities are upgraded over time, as Alex continues to evolve, allowing him to fun faster, and jump both higher and over longer distances.

The most basic commands, sprinting and melee attacks, are controlled via RT and X, respectively. Sprinting allows Alex to not only run, but also automatically leap or otherwise scale any object that may be in his path. Mercer can be thought of as a kind of jacked-up Spiderman, able to climb the sides of vertical structures, only without the annoying reliance on webbing.

Instead of webbing, traveling from the side of one building to the next is achieved by simply jumping, with jumps being chargeable, allowing for more impressive leaps depending on how long you hold down the appropriate button. Or, if you can't be bothered to move the left analog stick horizontally at all, you can simple hold both the RT button and the left stick in an up position to send Alex from one side of Manhattan to the other, with literally nothing able to stand in his way.

Add to this freedom of movement the ability to glide or dash while in the air, and you have an impressive set of skills, only made more so when combined with various motion-based attacks, like drive-by consuming or the grabbing and subsequent tossing of items while running.

But Alex's life isn't only about running from one side of NYC to the other, as there are thousands of people walking the streets below that need introduced to six feet of mother earth. Infected areas become more dominant as the game progresses, and are marked on the map by red shading (whereas military controlled sectors are blue).

The infected citizens wear bloody, tattered clothing, and run around the landscape similarly to the creatures in 28 Days / Weeks Later. Infected areas also house hives and infected water tours that continually spawn creatures known as Hunters, large, mutated creatures that run on all fours like a pack of wild dogs, forever chasing Alex until he confronts them or reaches a surface that they can't.

These hives and water tours can be destroyed, temporarily freeing that section of the city (and the few citizens that may have survived) from the virus, but at the same time should not take up all of Alex's focus, as the randomly scattered military bases around the map allow Alex to upgrade his weapon skills by consuming soldiers that specialize in things like assault rifles, tank control or air strikes.

These actions and more are generally only available in between missions proper, when you are allowed to freely roam about Manhattan causing as much or as little destruction as you see fit. By exploring the city, you'll also be able to find the various collectible items scattered throughout, and consume non-mission based personal in order to retrieve missing pieces of Alex's story.

Along with Alex's large, memory straining attack catalogue, stat tracking also abounds in the game. Whether you care about every detail or not, the pause menu allows you to view intricate details about each of your actions, such as how many military personal you've killed (or with what attack), how many characters you've consumed, how many civilian casualties you've caused, what missions you've passed, total military expenditure, high scores and medal rankings for side-missions (checkpoint races or wild killing rampages), and the list goes on and on. These stats are especially useful for those looking to unlock every achievement within the game.

With so many details to keep track of at once, not only in terms of what moves Mercer can use during battles, but also in the sheer amount of NPC's forever roaming the streets, the overall look of the game can become more than a bit chaotic at times. Burning rubble sends thick black smoke billowing into the air, blocking your vision, while infected buildings ooze blood and genetic material onto the streets below.

Most battles contain at least a dozen foes, whether those foes be on foot, in tanks, jeeps, helicopters or otherwise, but luckily, lag was never an issue. However, the entirely hectic gameplay did at times become problematic when I found myself randomly bouncing off of walls, trying to escape from five helicopters, three hunters and a handful of armed marines at all once, while fire and smoke obscured my vision.

Another disappointing factor comes with the lack of detail in Manhattan itself. While the most recognizable landmarks (like the Statue of Liberty) are present within the city, the rest of the buildings are entirely bland, and contain the same five or six basic designs, with the same grey or brown coats of paint, which make navigating on street-level almost impossible. Rather, you'll likely resort to scaling the city's skyscrapers (or forever pausing to look at the map) to determine the exact path you should travel on next.

Other than that, the graphics are fairly decent, with an overdose of blood released in battles and broken glass and concrete being left in Alex's destructive wake. The sound department too is acceptable, but in need of a bit of work, as regardless of the number of people walking on the streets, their dialogue is often repeated, while the sheer amount of destructive sound effects during battles all but demand the use of subtitles to be able to understand anything verbal.

Even though Prototype is, at its most basic level, a fairly repetitive journey into open-world game design, calling Prototype boring would be like calling Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas boring. Sure, each new story mission in Prototype is fairly similar to the last, but the same can be said for something like San Andreas. And just like GTA, there are enough side-missions and a large enough variety of free roam activities here to keep the game feeling pretty fresh and entertaining for much longer than it will take you to discover what really happened to Alex Mercer.

Special thanks to Neil Wood and Activision for providing a copy of this title.