[13 July 2009]
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
PROTOTYPE PUBLISHER: Activision SYSTEM: Microsoft Xbox 360, also for Sony PlayStation 3, PC PRICE: $59.99 ($49.99 for PC) AGE RATING: Mature
Alex Mercer has become a monster in “Prototype,” and he wants to find out how and why.
That’s the setup for this open-world game — the second this year, after the PS3-exclusive “Infamous,” to put players in the shoes of someone who never asked for superpowers. But Mercer makes no pretense of being nice — there aren’t any of the moral choices that “Infamous” protagonist Cole McGrath was given.
Mercer wakes up in a Manhattan morgue with a chest full of bullet wounds and no memories. But he soon finds that he can consume humans, copy their shapes and absorb their memories. He also has enough strength to lift and throw a car, and the ability to run up the sides of skyscrapers.
After sifting a hint from an early victim’s mind, Mercer learns that he has a sister. With her help, he starts looking for clues to his disturbing transformation — and to the shadowy military group, Blackwatch, that begins taking over the city just as mutants infected by a strange virus start overrunning the streets.
Much of the story is presented as a flashback, as told by Mercer to a mysterious confidant nearly three weeks after the start of the game. The plot is interesting enough, but it’s told in a herky-jerky way that makes it tough to maintain any narrative momentum.
One neat storytelling device is the memories of the people Mercer consumes. Certain targets are marked as part of the Web of Intrigue, a chart of plot points made up of tidbits of information relating to the plot at large. Absorbing them gives Mercer new pieces of the big puzzle.
“Prototype” is far more gory and violent than “Infamous”; Mercer’s powers aren’t neat and tidy, and he’s not concerned with sparing innocent life. In fact, consuming civilians is often the only handy way to refill Mercer’s health when he’s in a tight spot, though soldiers and mutants tend to restore more.
Absorption and imitation are just the tip of Mercer’s shape-shifting iceberg. New abilities are unlocked as Mercer progresses through story missions, and he can purchase upgrades and new powers with the evolution points generously doled out for defeating foes and completing story missions and side challenges.
Mercer’s mobility and diverse combat powers make rampaging through the city a blast, but there are some control issues that make finer movements a pain.