Prototype is one of the first games I played after building my gaming PC several years ago, and it’s probably the game that first made me feel like the effort involved in doing so was totally worth it. Not that it’s perfect or incredible or anything—it has plenty of flaws that ensure that you’ll eventually forget all about it—but the game allows for so much freedom that you can’t help but love every moment you spend with it despite its many, many annoyances.
It’s often compared to Infamous
Prototype and Infamous released around the same time, both (apparently coincidentally) featuring the same kind of comic book-inspired, unlikely-superhero story and gameplay. The two are so similar, in fact, that almost everything I wrote in my Infamous review is true about Prototype; both are the kind of game that you’re bound to enjoy, but never really love. Also true of both is that the gameplay can become a bit repetitive, tending to throw you into the same kinds of situations repeatedly rather than giving you something fresh and new to deal with.
There’s a totally linear story
Unlike Infamous, however, Prototype has only one ending. While you’re given the freedom to wander around the world between missions at your leisure, there’s only one “next mission” marker to get to, and that means that there are no good or bad endings to achieve. That linearity allows Prototype to build up a truly interesting story that’s slowly filled in, though the ending comes with an unexpected and under-explained curveball that forced me to look up an explanation online. It’s a shame that the final bit of the game’s story is where it stumbles a bit, but that doesn’t necessarily render the rest of the game unfulfilling; there are many storylines happening concurrently, and I felt that most of them were resolved satisfactorily.
I have the power!
Also unlike Infamous, you have a wide range of powers available at your command from the very beginning. I’d even go so far to say that Alex Mercer, Prototype’s playable character, is one of the most powerful characters ever used in gaming. Though many powers are unlocked over the course of the story (such as your claws, blade, armor, and ability to see “infected” people with a special kind of vision), you’re given the freedom to run up walls and sprint with great speed from the very beginning, and you’ll quickly unlock the abilities to float across the city and use powerful “devastator” attacks that inflict huge amounts of damage on all characters around you.
The most interesting and entertaining power, on the other hand, is Alex’s ability to consume NPCs and take over their appearance. This can be used for stealth throughout most of the game, mostly for the purposes of infiltrating military bases, entering tanks without raising alarms, and escaping pursuing enemies. You’re even able to unlock the ability to consume people stealthily, meaning you can disguise yourself as a civilian and consume a military officer without even raising an alarm. Not only does consuming restore a small portion of your health and allow you to disguise yourself as the person you’ve consumed, but you also end up holding any weapon that they were holding. This can be a great way to surreptitiously obtain an ever-helpful rocket launcher.
Throughout the game, you’ll see characters with a marker over their heads that indicates that they’re important. Consuming these individuals unlocks a short cutscene that summarizes a memory of theirs that’s relevant to the story, and I felt that this was an interesting way to flesh out the world and provide some back story. Not every memory that you unlock will seem equally helpful, with some even telling you things that you already know, but it’s still a unique way of doing things.
Level up grindfest
One of the biggest criticisms I have about the game revolves around your acquisition of new powers. When you complete missions, kill enemies, or destroy infected buildings, you gain “EP” which is then used on the level up screen to unlock new powers. However, you never seem to have enough to unlock everything, so you’re reduced to running around and engaging in meaningless side content in order to unlock new powers. That wouldn’t be too bad if that side content was at least interesting, but it’s mostly just finding glowing blue “landmark” bubbles and engaging in minigames. The minigames are especially atrocious, being of the “race to here” and “kill a bunch of waves of enemies” varieties. It all comes across as incredibly arcade-y and sticks out (in a very bad way) when contrasted with the seriousness of the main story.
Boss fights are hard, though
While it’s possible to put off leveling up your powers for quite awhile thanks to how powerful you are against normal human enemies, that all changes the moment you find yourself in a boss fight. Not only are Prototype’s boss fights extremely challenging compared to the fights that precede them, but they also have a tendency to be lengthy affairs that throw endless waves of enemies at you while you’re trying to fight. Despite your character’s immense strength, failing to recognize (and prioritize) the hordes of enemies lunging at you from all sides can quickly lead to death, and this can become incredibly frustrating.
What makes hordes of enemies so deadly in this game isn’t necessarily the large numbers of them, though. If that were the case, military bases would be extremely difficult (and they aren’t) because of the huge numbers of enemies you find inside of them. What really makes hordes so dangerous, particularly in the later sections of the game, are enemies’ tendency to run faster than you and lunge unexpectedly, throwing you off balance and causing you to lose control for a brief—but valuable—second. For example, if you’re trying to throw a car at an enemy, getting hit means taking damage, dropping the car before it’s thrown, and opening yourself up to other enemies’ attacks for a brief moment. It can become surprisingly overwhelming, and I can’t think of another game that throws hordes of enemies at you with quite the enthusiasm that Prototype does.
Do you like QTEs?
If you don’t, then this probably isn’t the game for you. Midway through the game, you’re expected to disable “virus detectors” that can reveal your presence even when disguised, and this is done through a QTE sequence. Playing with a mouse and keyboard, I didn’t find these sequences to be so bad. On an Xbox controller where I was less familiar with the colors of the buttons, however, I really struggled.
You’ll also face QTEs when hijacking helicopters and tanks, though those are of the “mash Y until it’s hijacked” variety. I know that older gamers in particular have a tendency to dislike QTEs that require button mashing, so I find it unlikely that such gamers would get much enjoyment out of Prototype.
The AI is kind of stupid
Actually, “stupid” is a serious understatement. Not only can you fall 50 stories and land right in front of a police officer/military officer without raising any alarms, but escaping from pursuing enemies into an empty alley and shapeshifting to another form always loses them (provided they don’t see you when you transform). Little bits of stupidity like that can be distracting, though I suppose it’s nitpicking to expect realism in a game where you can run up buildings vertically and defy virtually every other law of physics in existence.
However, having the ability to run up the side of a building doesn’t excuse something like this: if you’re in a helicopter and an enemy on the ground throws something at you (usually a car, in my experience), dodging doesn’t do as much good as you’d think. That car will follow your helicopter as you dodge to the right or left, even going so far as to alter its trajectory to follow you as you fly up or down to avoid it. The suspension of disbelief only goes so far, and something like this is way over the line of what’s acceptable.
The graphics are okay
Prototype isn’t an extraordinarily pretty game, but it’s pretty enough to avoid being ugly. Some of the textures you’ll encounter will be bland and lacking in detail, and the city itself (New York City, of all places) manages to look the same no matter where you are—with the only difference being that some sections are overrun by monsters—but the area itself is interesting enough. Prototype’s biggest graphics-related sin, however, is its shameless reuse of its character models; modeling and animating a billion different characters probably didn’t seem very practical because of Alex’s ability to shapeshift into them, so there are only a few different kinds of characters littered throughout the city. Because of this, you’ll frequently shapeshift into someone just moments before you see an identical lookalike run past you. It can be a bit distracting to have so many identical twins walking around the city, but I found shapeshifting to be an interesting enough power to be worth the compromise. Of course, your mileage may vary.
The music is also just okay
“Orchestral and forgettable” is one way of putting it, though I actually found one or two themes to be surprisingly musical. Still, the style of the whole soundtrack is very same-ish, so even those otherwise musical tracks blend in and are easily forgotten. That being said, the ubiquitous orchestra strings do a good job of building up the game’s tension; I just would have liked to see more variety to the soundtrack than that constant buildup of tension.
Here’s what you should do: