Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC
Reviewed on Xbox 360
A plague is overtaking Manhattan. Alex Mercer is at the center of that outbreak, although he has no memory of his past life or recent actions, and no understanding of why he can survive lethal bullet wounds and leap to the top of buildings like a plague-bearing superhero. As he unlocks the secrets of a virus that can use every base-pair of his DNA to turn him into a superhuman, Mercer will battle a secret wing of the military created to combat his very genetic code.
Playing Prototype made me angry. It's been quite a while since a game just pissed me off. Once I got past the opening cut-scenes, I had the distinct feeling that I'd played this game before. I was expecting that. It's been nearly impossible to miss everyone comparing this game to inFamous, so that was hardly a surprise. The thing is, it only took a few minutes to realize that Prototype isn't inFamous. So why was it so familiar?
Right off, the controls felt mushy. It was easy to go on a rampage and smash everything nearby, but hard to exert the precision control that would let me avoid civilians and only smash the military that were using me for target practice. By completing a few missions (and killing a lot of people), I was quickly able to upgrade the Prototype protagonist so that I could sprint up buildings, make gigantic leaps, and smash the ground to knock back my enemies. I was almost immediately picking up cars or air conditioning units and hurling them at helicopters and tanks that pursued me around Prototype's version of Manhattan. I was able to rapidly purchase a wide assortment of moves, but they almost all amount to mashing the two attack buttons and watching the protagonist flatten his surroundings.
It all clicked when I thought about the graphics. It was really bothering me that the graphics in Prototype are, frankly, crappy. They look like textures from the original Xbox, upscaled to look a little better on the Xbox 360. The city has a whole lot less detail than the platform should be able to support, details pop in and the character animations are particularly wooden. Some of the characters look good, but the game looked like I should be playing it on a last generation console. That's when I realized that I had played this game on a last generation console.
Prototype is simply a reskinning of The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction from 2005, also by Radical Entertainment. I enjoyed that game. In 2005. Now, I expect something more. If I wanted to play a sulkier version of The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction I'd light a few candles, put on some depressing music and mope while playing the original game. The only real difference between the two games is that Prototype involves a sulking Alex Mercer whose powers come from agents for biological warfare, whereas the Hulk was transformed by radiation. Alex Mercer, like the Hulk, is hunted by a massive military operation for the powers he possesses. Alex, like the Hulk, uses that power to lay waste to entire city blocks. Even the character animations for the protagonist in action are the same.
Since the play is so similar between the two games, the only real difference is the setting. Alex Mercer is a 1990s alternative-graphic-novel comic-book character to the Hulk's 1960s and 1970s cold war refugee. Mercer can absorb the genetic material of others to grow stronger, even shape-changing to create weapons or assuming the shape of others. Aside from this allowing for a few poorly implemented stealth missions, Mercer uses most of the same moves as the Hulk from The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction.
I feel like a teacher, busting a student for just turning in the same term paper as last year with a new date and cover sheet. It feels like Radical Entertainment added a plot that tries for intense and only achieves hokey (in spades). They also turned much of the game's urban population into zombies (which better explains their AI, anyway). But they didn't change the game, or bother to substantially improve its play or graphical performance. That's what made me angry.
Add onto those complaints the irritatingly invasive in-game advertising, and the incredibly repetitive nature of the play (a few repeated mini-games and a zillion collectibles are used to extend the fairly short plot). Worse yet, as I gained more powers, I ended up accidentally killing the folks I was supposed to absorb because my controls were out of control. I never had that problem as The Hulk. Finally, near the ending of the game Radical presented me with two of the most annoying boss fights of all time. I strive to finish every game I review, but I must confess that the final boss fight was too irritating to punish myself with.
I really enjoyed The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. On the Xbox. In 2005. I didn't like playing it again. On the Xbox 360. Four years later.