Author's note: I realize this game is OLD and there are tons of reviews out there already. I mostly wrote this as part of a job application, and I figured I might as well publish it here too.
There has been a recent influx of non-Grand Theft Auto
open world sandbox style games. With Red Faction: Guerilla
putting the player into the shoes of a Mars-dwelling insurgent, and the upcoming BrŁtal Legend
taking place in a mythical world of heavy metal, the games do plenty to differentiate from the carjacking, hooker-killing granddaddy of sandbox games. At first glance, Prototype
may appear too similar to Grand Theft Auto
; it takes place in a digital reproduction of Manhattan (when Liberty City is based on New York City), and the player can steal vehicles, attract military attention, and murder just about anybody.
But the similarities end there. The gameplay at the forefront of Prototype
is not the vehicular combat or conventional weaponry (though admittedly, those parts are fun too), the focus of the game lies on antihero protagonist Alex Mercerís supervillain abilities, especially his free-running skills. The setup is painfully clichťd: Mercer wakes up in a morgue, with no memory of how he got there or why he suddenly has superhuman abilities. The story functions well enough to get the player into the game, but it wonít win any awards for originality.
Fortunately for Prototype
, the gameplay is fun and satisfying. Running up the sides of skyscrapers, jumping and gliding from roof to roof, elbow dropping an armored tank hundreds of feet below, slicing eight remaining soldiers in half with one swipe, then grappling to a helicopter mid-air and hijacking it is as fluid and visceral and entertaining as it sounds. The superpowers are varied enough that you would not use just one, though Mercerís claws, his first power, become obsolete once he obtains some of the later powers.
Many of Prototype
ís, missions can also be played stealthily if the player chooses, however, given Mercerís abilities, it is not the hide-in-a-corner-and-study-patrol-patterns stealth gameplay, it is more eat-somebody-and-assume-his-identity stealth gameplay. Itís certainly not as slow-paced as other stealth games, and it is for the most part, up to the player to decide if he wants to sneak around undetected or just jump in and murder everything in sight. One possible pitfall is that the AI requires the player to suspend disbelief in these cases; even though the military is actively looking for a superpowered terrorist, they donít look twice at him as heís running up the sides of buildings or when the person standing right next to an NPC mysteriously disappears, so long as Mercer doesnít have any of his powers activated. It is understandable why the design choice was madeóthe game would be frustrating if its main mode of transportation set off alarmsóit still strikes an odd chord to watch a team of highly trained military professionals dumbly ignore a man who is essentially flying overhead.
Another apparent disconnect is purely gameplay-related. Scattered across Manhattan are 250 glowing orbs that serve no purpose other than to encourage exploration and give Mercer some more experience with which to buy new abilities. Their existence is not a problem, as they are completely optional, but their placement is puzzling. For a game that makes it so fun to climb to the tops of skyscrapers and see how far it is possible to travel without getting close to the ground, there is a surprising amount of orbs hidden at street level. The grounded orbs encourage the player to walk around on sidewalks like a normal human being, which is exactly opposite of what the gameplay encourages the player to do.
All in all, Prototype
is a pretty great sandbox game. It does very well the most important aspect of a good sandbox game: it makes the world fun to explore and traverse. Additionally, the combat is fluid, and there exist several side missions that can be entertaining despite having no bearing on the story. It is at times punishingly difficult, and the aforementioned story is mostly bland (with one existential crisis inducing twist), but those elements can be easily ignored in light of how sublime it is to play as Alex Mercer.
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