Even before their release, Prototype and inFamous were being compared to each other. After finally having played both, I can finally see just how different they are, but their similarities shouldn’t be ignored. Prototype and inFamous are like twins separated at birth and raised by different developers. Both are open world games with an angry main character who suddenly finds himself with superpowers and must find out why while the city goes to hell around him. What separates these games is how they expand upon that premise with gameplay. Prototype attempts to be something grander and more unique than its developers can ultimately handle while Infamous is content to be a more typical action game, though one polished to perfection.
The best example of polish in inFamous is Empire City itself and how we traverse it. Cole, the protagonist in inFamous, moves much slower than Alex, the protagonist in Prototype, but Empire City is designed around this limitation. Since the city is a fictional place, developer Sucker Punch isn’t constrained by realism, so they’re free to design it however they wish. The city is broken up into three islands with electric train tracks circling each island. Since Cole can control electricity, he’s able to “surf” on these rails at incredible speeds. The city layout is more impressive as we move inwards where we find a comprehensive network of cables connecting each building. Cole can surf these cables as well, and once he learns how to hover, he can hop from cable to cable, moving through the city like Tarzan through the jungle. He may move slower than Alex, but the environment complements his powers. This city was built with Cole in mind.
There’s nothing special about the layout of Manhattan in Prototype. Buildings aren’t connected in any meaningful way. They just exist as landmarks to break up a monotonous series of streets. However, while Empire City makes up for Cole’s limited powers, Alex’s powers make up for the bland Manhattan. There’s no denying the fact that it’s exhilarating fun to run up the side of a skyscraper and make a superhuman leap off its peak into oblivion. Either glide a few blocks to another skyscraper and do it again or drop to the ground like a meteor for some amusing destruction. Buildings don’t have to be connected because Alex can get around fine with his array of powers, and these powers are the best example of Prototype’s ambitious goals.
Many of the powers in inFamous are just electrified versions of a typical shooter arsenal. You have a lightening machine gun, sniper rifle, rocket launcher, and even grenades. In Prototype, all combat is hand-to-hand, so no direct comparison can be made between these powers and guns. The base powers are somewhat standard: a claw for slicing, a fist for pounding, armor, but then there’s the more unique whip and our ability to absorb enemies and shoot tentacles from our body and launch spikes from the ground. These powers set Prototype apart from other action games.
Its ambitions extend beyond unique powers. After absorbing an enemy, Alex takes on that form and can use his disguise to infiltrate the enemy’s base. He can also hijack and drive any military vehicle. The city is split between two warring factions, the military and infected humans. Both sides have a well defined presence in the world with bases and territory and are just as likely to attack each other as they are Alex. The “web of shadows” is a clever way to flesh out Alex’s back story. When we absorb certain people we see flashes of their memories and each flash is a piece to a larger puzzle. We get to see the secrets that connect all these seemingly random people and discovering these connections help us understand the scope and depth of this grand conspiracy.
But in its attempt to do everything, Prototype does nothing particularly well. Traversing the city is visually exciting, but precise movement is near impossible. We have amazing powers, but switching between them is confusing, clunky, and can’t be done easily during combat. You can’t join a faction or play them against each other, and no matter what you do, the infected will take over. Going stealth is awkward because you can absorb someone in the middle of a crowd, and no one seems to notice or even care when you jump 50 feet into the air. The game is a cauldron of great ideas that never quite gel together.
Comparatively, inFamous attempts very little. There’s no stealth, no factions, no vehicles, no especially unique powers. It’s a game that is all about platforming and combat but what excellent platforming and combat it is. These two aspects of the game fit together perfectly, and you’ll often find yourself doing both at the same time without realizing it. This is the better game.
Video games are a strange medium because a well-executed idea is more important than an original idea. Dead Space is blatantly derivative, but it’s still an excellent game that deserves all the praise that it receives, as does inFamous. Prototype is not a particularly well made game, but it does contain some interesting mechanics. With the iterative nature of games in mind, perhaps the sequel to either game will learn a few things.