The last thing Prototype is trying to be is a modern day version of Assassin's Creed set in Liberty City, so stop making those comparisons right now.
Oh fine, there's parkour and it's set in New York City. But the game has more in common with its cousin The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction than it does with anything Ubisoft or Rockstar created; and it doesn't have some pretentious sci-fi or overwrought gangster premise. Seriously – when you're elbow-dropping tanks and flinging pedestrians into airborne helicopters, do you really need some character-driven excuse to have fun?
What Is It?
Prototype is a singleplayer action game set in a sandbox world that happens to be New York City. Gameplay focuses on the sinister superpowers of amnesiac Alex Mercer that allow him to, among other things, rip people apart and absorb their appearance and memories. It's coming out on PC, 360 and PS3.
What We Saw
I spent an hour with the 360 version of the game in a private hands-on appointment, going through the first tutorial mission and a second steal-the-helicopter mission set about a third of the way through the game.
How Far Along Is it?
This build is shy of release code by a bit – Trophy/Achievements haven't even been worked out yet – but it looked pretty smooth for a game two months away from shipping.
What Needs Improvement?
Why Do I Care About Alex?: No matter how vast, pretty or interactive a sandbox game is, it gets boring if you have no connection to the main character. Radical has kept details of the plot pretty close to the vest so far, so maybe there is some compelling reason why I should care about this hoodie-wearing mutant. But unless and until I found out what that is, Alex could get old fast after the first hundred elbow-dropped tanks or so.
What Do You Mean No Multiplayer?: Sounds like Radical bit off more than they could chew when they first announced Prototype – this game was supposed to have a badass multiplayer to go with the badass gameplay. But it doesn't, and I'm docking points for promises broken.
Simultaneous Releases Make Me Nervous: I only saw the 360 version of the game, so I don't know how it plays on PS3 or PC. But I have noticed a sad trend where games that go for simultaneous releases on all three platforms usually break one and leave the other out in the cold for DLC – that's PS3 and PC respectively.
What Should Stay The Same?
The powers: Remember those old Nintendo ads that said "Now you're playing with power"? I think this is what they had in mind. Alex Mercer has all kinds of weird mutant tricks that allow him to run up the side of buildings, tear through the streets of NYC at a blurring rate, glide like a bat, and – of course – kill people in weird ways. One of the weirdest I saw in the tutorial level was where his hand turns into a black and red writing mass that he slams into the ground, which causes a huge set of spikes to jut out from the ground in front of Alex, flipping cars and impaling people.
The control scheme: Alex has a lot of superpowers and a lot of people shooting at him because of said superpowers; players need to be able to handle his big bag of people-killing tricks and get him the hell out of trouble at the drop of a hat. Thankfully, the controls lend themselves to both, with most of the mutant moves mapped to the face buttons, plus a "flee" option mapped to the right trigger that performs most of Alex's parkour moves without the player having to find surfaces that are viable parkour platforms – so for example if you're running through a crowd, Alex doesn't shove people aside and stumble, he just vaults over them and then runs up the side of the building because the flee button allows you to parkour off of pretty much any surface (unlike a certain game that I said we shouldn't compare Prototype to).
So Many NPCs, So Little Time: The Titanium engine developed for Prototype can support a lot of NPCs on screen at one time. Dave Fracchia, VP of Technology at Radical (and former software dev on Reboot), told me that the engine can handle between 80 and 100 pedestrian NPCs plus another 100 or so vehicles. That's 200 things for me to wreck, maim or otherwise inconvenience via Alex's superpowers at any given time. Awesome!
Gotta Absorb ‘Em All: A major storytelling method for the game is the Web of Intrigue – a network of memories that Alex collects by absorbing people. Some of the Web you'll unlock by progressing through the main plot; but there are lots of non-essential memories that fill in Alex's back story that you can gobble up by seeking out and absorbing random NPCs all over town. Having this storytelling method might not make the plot any better (or worse, as the case may be), but it definitely gives you something extra to do in the game. And the really fun part? They might "misremember" stuff, so you'll have absorb even more people to get a clear picture of what really happened to Alex to make him the freak he is.
Prototype was a cathartic game to play, but not at all mind-numbingly repetitive. The varied superpowers, dense city and numerous ways to break a helicopter (you can jump off a building and sort of glide into its propeller – so hilarious) kept things interesting, even though I couldn't get into the plot. I'm almost willing to say that even if the plot is horrible, that won't make the game less fun; repetition is the enemy of sandbox games, not pretentious plots. But I'll have to wait and see. Maybe Radical can cook up something so pretentious, it sucks all the fun out of sucking up people's memories.