Rental Review: Prototype

Posted: May 14, 2010 in Rental Review

Another 7 days with a game of my choice for the benefit of…  anyone unfortunate enough to find my blog I guess.  Let’s open up the box and see what’s inside.  The game disk is horribly scratched – crap, I hope it works…  I really don’t want to go back to the rental place that’s a whole 5 minute walk away.  It turns out fine, oddly enough, I guess having a tempermental disk drive has it’s advantages…  when it’s in the mood anyway.  I don’t know how people scratch the hell out of these things.  Why on earth would you move your system while it’s on?  *sigh* At least this game came with instructions.  Bonus!

This manual includes:

  • a paragraph or two on the story for Prototype and the rest of the page filled with epilepsy warnings…
  • TWO whole pages of controls, with white, gray and darker gray lettering on a very light gray background.  There’s at least 3 different actions PER button!  And every button is used, some in combination. Oi!
  • Several pages describing movement and powers and another couple on disguises.
  • Connection guide for Xbox Live!

Seriously?  With this complex a control scheme I would have put far more into this manual to describe things, though that costs money and makes sense so it’s too much to ask of any big name publisher.  I wonder what Dragon Age: Origins instruction manual looks like?  At least DA:O had a good intro movie that gave enough info to know what I might be doing when I start the game.  Oh well, I might as well jump right into the game since the manual is the Cliff’s Notes version or something…

“New Game”

…and straight into the opening cinematic.  Hopefully this helps inform me as to why I might want to play the game.

Apparently I’m Alex Mercer and I have no idea what happened to me, but I know I’m a killer, monster and terrorist…  why do I want to be him again?  I’m not a fan of the amnesiac hero concept, so this is already starting on the wrong foot.  That’s especially bad considering there’s supposed to be some parkour-ing to be done in this game and I’d probably trip and fall several stories.  I’ll try and ignore this because like it or not, I’m stuck with it for 7 days…  though, I’ve never tried to exchange–  I’ll keep that in mind for later.

“level 1: Tutorial?”

Now begins the game, I suppose.  I hope it does a good job of walking me through this nightmare control scheme…  or not, whatever.  The “tutorial” level, or the part that’s supposed to help you out with controlling an unfamiliar game, isn’t really one.  The game basically says: “Here’s a butt-load of enemies for you to kill, I won’t let you die so just follow the prompts on-screen and kick some bad guy butt!”  This would be fine, a lot of games do this – especially combat centric ones – but it only works if you throw a few enemies at the player at a time (like 3-5, no more than 10 for sure) so the player has a chance to actually read the on-screen prompts to know what the hell to do.  As you can tell, Prototype doesn’t do this, at all, as in: never in the game will you have time to read the on-screen prompts to get any sort of idea what you need to do.  This idiocy starts in the bloody tutorial!  We’ve gone downhill and I’ve barely even played at all yet…  *sigh*

So the “tutorial” swaps your powers around, I guess to let you know you have several, and you beat the tar out of anything that moves.  You do this for a bunch of different powers for about half an hour.  I just mashed “X” and “Y” to attack with a little “A” to jump discovering that there are also combos, charge moves and special attacks for each power.  Okay this is interesting, I guess I got the hang of it, thanks for nothing Prototype “tutorial”, now my thumb hurts.

“Just kidding, you suck!”

Remember that crazy first level where you kicked like a million asses and turned tanks into scrap?  Yeah, that’s not you…  sucker!  Well, it is you, but 18 days in the future- and you thought you were a badass, lulz.  Yup that’s right, the first level is educating you on the use of abilities that you won’t be able to use for another 4 hours or so.  It’s jump and punch time until you don’t suck anymore.  Why not just start me here?  It would be infinitely easier to learn the game’s controls if I:

  1. didn’t have to learn ALL the powers at once, and
  2. Had less enemies to deal with, which is pretty much where the game proper begins.

I guess a flashback game needs something to flash to, but this is rediculous.

Now I realize that I have no powers aside from jumping really high, running up the sides of buildings and being able to punch pretty hard.  This is where the game should have started, you know, at the beginning.  Anyway, let’s try and make the best of this shall we.  We’re in Manhattan and some sort of zombie virus has gone off, turning civilians into ravenous beasts and the military has come in and quarantined the island.  There’s a mini-map on the HUD to show where the missions are and other symbols showing where the mini-game/side missions are.  There’s generally only one story mission on the map at any time with the rest being optional.  Movement through the city is fast and quite fun.  At the beginning of the game there are no vehicles to drive and you’ll discover once they are, that running and jumping is much faster anyway.  Completing missions and side quests reward you with EP (Evolution Points, because everything needs to have some RPG in it these days) with which you may purchase “new” powers to use.  The side quests consist of checkpoint races, kill all of “X”, gliding challenges, kill all of “Y” etc…  and come with a time limit, with gold, silver and , bronze rewards for beating it, each worth more EP than the last.  They’re great for acclimatizing you to the game world and control scheme, but some are far too tough without buying some upgrades to powers or jumping requiring you to stick to the main path for a while.

“Fill in the _____”

The story is broken up far too much in this game.  Being an amnesiac, you know nothing of who you are or why you’re in the situation you’re in so some blank filling would have been nice.  On that subject, there are “nodes”, or sections of your brain that can be refilled, thus filling in the story, but you must go find them yourself.  These are called Web Of Intrigue targets and are represented on the map by orange head shaped icons.  These only show up as you get near enough to them and I found a few times that they get pretty close to most story mission zones, thus making them vulnerable if a fight breaks out.  Yes, these people who hold the story are killable and could ruin a shot at 100% completion without any action from the player.  Dick move guys.  Good thing this is a rental.

The main story missions are sometimes just a beat ’em up stage while others are a stealth type deal in the vein of the Hitman games.  I’m not sure why there’s a stealth element at all here.  It’s fun when it works, but it rarely does.  Example:  Early in the game you’re given the “disguise” power, which allows you to “consume” (kill and absorb people into your body for their form and health too, yeah, don’t ask) a victim and disguise yourself as them.  The main enemies in the game are the military and these are the types of people you will generally disguise yourself as.  The game tells you to consume people and disguise yourself in alleyways or alcoves so nobody sees you.  This would be fine except that pedestrians and the military especially, stay on the sidewalk all-the-time, never moving into these concealed areas of their own volition.  There’s a power that allows for more stealthy consumes (which the game never tells you how to do), but that’s not available until later on in the game.  So you end up consuming a soldier, having the alarms go off alerting all other soldiers, then running around on the rooftops until they stop the alarm- then drop down to the ground in an alley (if you can find one, otherwise it’s alarm evasion all over again), disguise yourself again, then start the mission proper.  Most missions involve infiltrating a military base (the previous run-on sentence), only to have to consume the base commander while you’re there, surrounded by soldiers with no cover.  Better hope that nobody spots you while you’re doing your mission, because you’ll have to do it all over again once the alarm subsides again.  Good thing you can just rush in and beat the tar out of everyone instead, though you may die in the process.  Oh!  Don’t kill the commander while you’re rampaging…  it takes a while for him to respawn so you can finish the mission.

At one point a few hours into the game, red and blue zones start popping up on the map.  The red zones are where the infected are, while the blue ones are military installations.  Roaming around in these zones will help in finding the hives and bases in the red and blue zones respectively.  Destroying the hives and taking over the bases removes the like coloured zone from the map.  Infiltrating bases and consuming specific targets there can gain you abilities like better damage with the military’s weapons or the ability to drive/steal tanks, apc’s and helicopters which is required for certain missions.  These are generally diversions as any mission requiring an ability you don’t have will conveniently place a soldier with the required knowledge near the beginning of the mission.  Removing the zones from the map makes travel easier though as the infected or soldiers won’t be there to shoot at you or eat you every time you pass through.

“So many powers, so few buttons”

The combat is quite satisfying with devastating combos and fun moves.  It’s animated brilliantly, though I’m not a fan of the ugly Alex Mercer character model.  As long as there’s plenty of space about, the combat flows fluidly, but throw in narrow alleyways, streets or indoor locations and it becomes a fustercluck.  Holding down the R-trigger makes Alex sprint and perform parkour like stuff when he hits an obstacle like a car or wall.  Anytime you want to run away, you need some place to run to but that usually ends up being up a wall or to some place you didn’t want to go as he runs so fast.  You can target enemies with the L-trigger, but this is unwieldy.  It locks on an arbitrary target that may or may not be what you want to target in the first place and flicking the right stick doesn’t normally choose a target I wanted to hit either.  Nevermind that the right stick is used to control the camera too, which really needs a nanny (me) to even point at the action, so I kind of need that more than targeting.

The enemies are varied and diverse aside from military targets.  Some infected require specific type powers to damage them, which isn’t a problem, I like to think.  The issue arises when you need to switch powers on the fly.  Switching is done with the D-pad, up is a user selected offensive power, left is the current disguise, down is for the selected defensive power and right is for a vision power.  You can have an offensive, defensive and vision power on at the same time, but switching them up is an exercise in frustration.  Example:  Say you have the claws power on and you need to swap to blade quickly, in the middle of a fight where you’re getting swarmed.  If you press up on the D-pad, you will turn-off the claws power reverting to just fists…  if you want to swap to the blade power you must hold LB, use the right stick to select the blade power from the radial, Mass Effect style, menu- then release LB.  Doesn’t sound like a big deal yet does it?  The game does not pause when the menu is brought up.  It simply comes up, blocks the middle of the screen (where you’re getting owned) and takes over the right stick functions (camera movement) for selection duty.  This nearly makes it a certainty that you’re gong to be staring at a blank corner when you’ve finally selected the power you needed to kill these specific monsters and will probably die before you get to use it.

Why could this not be mapped to up on the D-pad?  Just don’t make it a toggle and have it cycle through the available powers instead?  How about taking yet another cue from Mass Effect and, I dunno, pause the freaking game when the radial menu is called upon.  Too bad the defensive powers aren’t really helpful as these might have been the answer.  There’s a shield power that reduces damage to the player until it breaks and needs to recharge and the armour power that’s just a suit of armour really.  With the shield power on you can’t jump on objects like cars using the R-trigger like you can without (you can still use “A” though).  Instead you push everything away like the umbrella in Dead Rising.  With the armour parkour is also limited and jumping is nerfed.  I get that there needs to be a negative to a power that minimizes damage to the player, but eliminating all dodging or evasive maneuvers when active makes these powers a waste of time versus anything more agile than a Tank.  I had better success with no armour/shield as I could dodge with a tap of the R-trigger or jump higher and move faster to evade and take no damage as opposed to less.  This game mechanic needs more time in development, me thinks.

“Just kidding, you suck…  AGAIN!! LULZ!!!one111!!”

At about the halfway point in the game, everything goes even more pear-shaped.  So you’ve been playing for about 5 hours or so, doing some story, following those Web of Intrigue targets, maybe a few mini-games and some base/hive destruction.  You’ve made over a million EP in total, spending it on a whole ton of powers that let you smash harder than the Hulk and jumps so high and glides so far they’d make Superman jealous.  Then, arbitrarily, it happens…  “I’m sorry Dave, I can’t let you do that” *poof* all your powers are gone except for the ones to do with movement.  Back to square one, again.

I really didn’t want to play after that…  forced story sequences that remove all that the player has been working on for the whole time they’ve been playing is insulting.  The fact that the player did nothing to deserve it, except play the game as intended is rediculous.  This is twice that the player has been punished by this game for merely playing it.  No.  Really.  *sigh*

I did eventually come back and finish this mission chain, resulting in my powers coming back, but by then I was already finding my own fun in the open city of Manhattan.  Since the powers were back I figured I’d play around with the mini-games and the red/blue zones and just generally mucking about doing the parkour thing and jumping and flying all over the place.  There are hint orbs and landmark orbs hidden all over the city, like Crackdown they make a constant noise when you’re around them.  They’re a fun diversion, adding to the replayability of the game, but they seem tacked on specifically for such a purpose.  This is probably why the Web of Intrigue targets are killable aswell.  It’s a fun game, when you ignore the game and simply have fun on your own.  I suppose it’s like the story: You want to know? Figure it out yourself… not what I was expecting, but it does the job I suppose.

As it turns out, Prototype has some redeeming qualities and quite a few issues.  I think with a revision of the control scheme, especially in regards to power selection, level design and story/character development this game could have been excellent.  Unfortunately all we got was a DIY game that punishes you for simply playing it and that’s a shame.


Played for 8+ hours, completed 18/31 story missions, most of the mini games, a whole bunch of Web of Intrigue targets and a collection of hint and landmark orbs too.  Xbox360 version, standard controller.


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