Sandbox has never been so bland.
I will confess, I found myself looking forward to Prototype, based on the mass media hype that we all were subjected to in the build up to the games launch. Here we had a great looking, open world game, revolving around shady experiments, evolving powers, free running and good combat. Throw in the ability to morph into other characters and absorb their abilities, and I was convinced Activision had a sure fire hit on their hands. It appeared to be a great mix of Grand Theft Auto (the comparison is a common, but fair one for all open world games!), the Matrix films, and some lovely gory sci fi thrown in for fun.
Prototype revolves around one Alex Mercer, a shape shifting, enemy absorbing, social oddity, who wakes up in a mortuary during his own autopsy. Alex (quite understandably!) is somewhat miffed at this, and smashes his way out of the building, using his new found strength and powers. The game then begins with the player controlling Alex in order to piece together his forgotten memories, find out who is behind his powers, and what they are trying to do.
Graphically, the game looks great. The whole game is set in Manhattan, which is well rendered and detailed, and feels like a real day to day city, with traffic, crowds of people, and well detailed shops and buildings. The character models are of a high quality too, and stand up well to close scrutiny. Turning on the 3D Nvidia Vision kit, the 3D is amongst the best I have seen so far, with the city having a real depth and height whilst the glasses are on.
Unfortunately, this does push the required technical specifications very high. During particularly hectic sequences, the model count can go quite high, and the frame rate suffers terribly as a result. One minute, you can be running down a street, with the graphics clipping along a a pretty 60fps, and then you get into a battle with 10 or more bad guys, and the game slows down to a treacle-like 15 fps. This unfortunately hampers the game terribly, as the most action packed moments can chug, and you end up fighting against the game engine, as opposed to your adversaries.
I didn’t care about Alex or any of the other characters enough to play through the mission
The sound quality is pretty good overall, with a decent level of voice acting, good “crescendo” music during fights and important scenes, and well used sound effects. The ambience of the city is well done too, with background noise dropping to the rustle of trees and birds in the park areas, to the chatter of pedestrians and the sound of the traffic on the denser areas.
The control scheme on the PC is pretty good too, with a nice blend of hotkeys and wheel menus for switching powers and disguises, mouse aiming for using weapons, and the ability to switch to a gamepad of you prefer. However, the sheer amount of options, and combinations of keys required for the better moves can be a little daunting, and remembering what to press in the more hectic fights is quite tough.
So, onto the gameplay. Well, the basic idea is very good, but wears thin very quickly. The missions are your standard “go here, hit that, run away” affairs, with very little variance. There is a wide array of side missions, but again, these do feel as if they are more to show off the controls than actually be of much importance. The absorbing ability is fun for a while, and as you play you unlock further skills to be utilised, but you can generally win most fights by mashing the buttons repeatedly until you win. This leads to fights becoming boring very quickly, as no real strategy is required at all. In reality, I spent far more time free running around the city, gliding from building to building than I did actually playing the game and its missions.
The reality is, I didn’t care about Alex or any of the other characters enough to play through the mission to see what happened next. The story is told in a very jerky, flashback way, and lacks a real coherence to bring it all together, or anything to really make it at all interesting. The game also allows you to kill hordes of civilians and police if you want to, with no real moral reason to try not to. In fact, other people give you health, so the game practically encourages it, with no real reproach for your actions.
The fun bits (gliding, fighting, etc) could all be performed out of the missions, and this ended up with me having more fun breaking into areas and starting fights randomly, than I did following the plot. On several occasions, I also managed to clear an area of enemies whilst free roaming, before unknowingly having to return there for the next mission. Why had I done this? Because the game failed the biggest test of sandbox style games; If you are going to build a big open world, for Pete’s sake put something in it!
Prototype ended up as a very repetitive mess of a game, overshadowed by its peers (Infamous, GTA, Mercenaries, etc) due to its inability to utilise its unique points. Having all these skills is great if they are useful, but wasted in such a bland environment. It really was like a pie made up of lots of tasty ingredients, that all cancel each other out with their flavours, leaving an insipid grey sludge. And then burning the bottom whilst it was in the oven.
I am afraid I would be loathe to recommend this game to fans of the genre, let alone players looking for something a bit different. It is too shallow, too clunky, and too plain for most players, whether new or old. It unfortunately appears to be an example of Activision trying to get a bite of the GTA pie, and failing miserably.
The Bad: Poor, incoherent storyline; one dimensional characters; large world is quite empty, considering its size; gameplay wears thin very quickly; required specs are very high for fluid play.