After being infected by a deadly virus and losing all his memories, everyman Alex Mercer makes the only sane choice: to kill everything in Manhattan until he remembers something about his former life. New York has been quarantined by a shadowy military force and mutated freaks roam the streets- providing a bloody canvas upon which to perpetrate some creative and imaginative rampages.
Rather than a chesty cough and some sniffles, Mercer's virus has gifted him with a bewildering array of upgradeable shapeshifting powers. Spiked claws, massive bludgeons, a massive sword, chitinous armour and an astoundingly useful spiked tentacle can all be used to hilariously gory advantage- especially when mixed with an ability to effortlessly run up skyscrapers and glide immense distances on jets of blood. A slew of unlockable techniques also provide an enormous variety of nasty combat options, though they have admittedly been squashed onto the controller in a cluttered and uncomfortable way. Having to press X and B together feels like medieval torture rather than an intuitive control scheme- but this doesn't stop Prototype being an immensely enjoyable slaughter simulator that delivers cathartic stress relief by the bucketload.
Normal sandbox games just don't cut it any more... after being able to run up the Empire State Building, karate-kick a helicopter out of the sky, plummet onto a tank and cracking it like an egg. And then surfing a hapless soldier down the streets on a wave of his own internal organs for fun. Hell, you can even hijack vehicles and commandeer regular firearms if the situation calls for it. It's easy to get carried away, and Prototype actively rewards players for taking half an hour off to commit mass carnage all over the city. Gory mass murder has rarely been this much fun.
Mercer's most subtle ability is also his most important. He can consume soldiers and civilians to gain their appearance- meaning that stealth is a viable alternative to balls-out butchering. Alex can also absorb memories from over a hundred respawning civilians to gain insight into the overarching Web Of Intrigue that surrounds the virus outbreak. These short interlinked videos are much more interesting than the main story itself... but more about that later.
This gloriously over-the-top combat provides the perfect framework for a gloriously over-the-top experience, but unfortunately this is where Prototype ultimately fails. Every aspect of its presentation is dreary and boring enough to trigger chronic narcolepsy in even the most unimaginative veteran gamers.
Let's start with the visuals. Prototype is built around an ageing engine with a foggy draw distance, grainy textures and an overall lack of detail... which could have been compensated for by providing a colourful and vibrant sandbox playground. Just ask Crackdown. However, Prototype's Manhattan is is uniquely dull and uninspired; dominated by rusty tones and samey vistas that will leave most gamers screaming for a little colour and variety. Sure, we like gritty- but not at the expense of fun.
And then there's the story missions. You'd think that Mercer's skillset could be leveraged into imaginative objectives, but the main missions all boil down to killing the same kind of targets over and over and over again. Some deeply unpleasant timed escort and defence challenges also rear their ugly head, with cheap bosses that soon turn the exhilarating action into an unremitting grind. There's a lot of content on offer (including timed challenges and side missions), but they're all variations on a repetitive theme.
The story and characterisation are the worst offenders. The plot, premise and basic context are actually fairly sound, but it's delivered with grinding and overbearing exposition that soon becomes a chore to wade through. Emotionless voice acting and truly unlikeable stock characters further compound the problem. Put simply, Prototype refuses to have any fun with its premise. For future reference, developers: if you don't have an interesting story to tell, don't bother telling it. Just let us run up buildings and kill stuff for the sheer fun of it. It doesn't help that Alex Mercer is easily one of the least interesting protagonists in videogame history. Seriously, he makes AC's Desmond seem genuinely charismatic and charming in comparison. His stoic, gravelly one-liners were clearly intended to lend him an cool edgy vibe, but they only manage to convey the overwhelming impression that he's bored with the whole situation. If Alex doesn't care, why the hell should we?
- Wonderful, brutal, joyous combat and creative rampages
- Awesome consumption mechanic
- Loads of content and side missions
- Boring, repetitive main missions
- Mediocre graphics highlighted by dreary visuals
- Apathetic story and characterisation will leave you cold
The Short Version: Much like Alex Mercer himself, Prototype lacks enough personality to be truly interesting. The gleefully OTT combat jars with the humdrum presentation and repetitive missions. Break through the apathy, however, and there's a lot of content to enjoy- making it a perfect choice for a weekend rental or to satisfy a lull in your gaming routine.