Developer: Radical Entertainment
MSRP: $49.99 (PC)
I was reluctant to play Prototype. Every video I saw had a asshole in a hoody, punching tanks and blowing shit up. Before you ask, no, I never played Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, which to some is the equivalent of admitting that you’ve never seen a Star Wars movie, eaten bacon, or peed in the shower. But from everything I saw, Prototype was just a re-skinned, mature Hulk. Maybe that wasn’t a bad thing, but it sure as shit wasn’t selling me. That being said, I’m not sure what provoked me play it. Perhaps it was my enduring masochism that drove me to the Steam download store that night. My cursor hovered over the “Purchase for Myself” button for several moments before I closed my eyes and pulled the trigger. This bullet had Resident Evil 5 written all over it.
I played through the intro with gritted teeth. I hated it. It was too fast. It was too easy. It was too ugly. Everything was orange. I friggen hate orange. And then it ended. It ended like getting a cavity drilled ends; relief that is only agony replaced with an utter lack of feeling and a lingering ache. My dentist used to give me a lollipop afterwards. Whether it was for enduring the pain or ensuring my return, it was noticeably absent that night. Instead, I received a cutscene. Ahhh, the tender morsels of videogame storytelling. I didn’t hesitate to eat it up; however, it should be noted (and here seemed like a good a place as any) that Radical opted not to give you the option of seconds, as I could not find, for my life, a way to re-watch these precious bits of plot. Having this knowledge beforehand, I might have treated these moments with a little more reverence. It should also be noted that I am a story whore, as I will endure almost anything if a decent story can be wrung out of it. After the first cutscene, I was sold that there was some substance here, beneath the frantic leaps and fatal flailing; I prepared myself for a bumpy ride.
To my great surprise, the game, after the intro, seemed to get better. Perhaps it was the gradual steps the game took to familiarize you with the controls, aspects of the game, so forth and so on. I guess it can be compared to slowly entering a pool, from the stairs in the shallows instead of being pushed over the edge into the deep end. Not only did the game seem to be getting better, but I actually found myself *gasp* enjoying the game. It wasn’t the gruesome consuming of my foes, the devastating powers, or the even more devastating devastator moves, but the freedom and fluidity of the gameplay. At no point did I feel hindered in what I could do. In fact, movement became fun. Unlike even GTA IV, another open-world “sandbox” game, traversing across the huge cityscape of New York City was less chore than it was exploration. As I played it (on the PC), I couldn’t help but marvel at just how damned good the game looked. Even at max settings, with crowds of people overrunning the streets, tanks unleashing brilliantly rendered explosions, and infected hunters leaping across the roofs above me, there was never a drop in frame rate. Along with simply having great looking graphics, the simple use of colors had a tremendous effect. As Alex traveled between parts of the city that were controlled by either the military or the infected, the colors and the atmosphere would change dramatically. Military zones were often washed in bluish hues while areas of the infected were bathed in an unnatural orange haze.
As the game progresses, so do Alex’s powers, and the chaos that is overtaking the city. It’s hard not to get sucked into anarchy. On multiple occasions, I found myself running at the sound of gunfire, only to discover that it was the military firing indiscriminately into a crowd of civilians to eliminate whatever infected were moving among them. Amidst the turmoil, Radical cleverly incorporated a unique form of story development (prepare yourself for marketing buzzwords): “the web of intrigue”. Despite a corny name, the web is one of the most interesting ways I’ve seen a story told. As you move throughout the missions, or while simply traveling across the city, red icons appear alerting you that someone is nearby with knowledge of you, your incident, or something related directly to the plot of the game. When said person is “consumed” (i.e. gruesomely murdered and sucked into your body via black tendrils of death), you are treated with a short glimpse of the person’s own memory. Each personal account includes some mix of in-game footage, original art and authentic images as well as some top notch voice acting. While many of these nodes are built into the game’s progression, the vast majority of the 130+ are left for you to seek out on your own. For me, this did not seem like an issue until much later, in fact, after beating the game, when I realized that I was effing baffled by the story when it concluded. While initially I was put off by this, like a nagging itch, I was pulled back to the game to seek out all of the missing videos, so that I could finally piece the story together in its entirety. I regretfully inform you that at the time that I’m writing this, I have yet to do so. I should also inform you that since I have started writing this review, I have stopped to re-enter the game no less than three times. Even now, all I can think about is seeking out each hidden landmark, getting gold medals in all of the various minigames spread across the city, and finally wringing every last bit of story I can from the game. And the game is indulgent. With both a “free roam” mode and a “new game+” mode unlocked upon completion, Radical Entertainment has truly given the player a great deal of replayability, a feature desperately lacking in most single-player only games. With that being said, do yourself a favor and play this game. While it won’t be 2009’s game of the year, it certainly packs enough to tide you over until the heavy hitters come out this fall.