Delayed Reactions – Prototype: Wait for the finished version
For People Who Like:
Infamous, Sand-box Style Gameplay, Spiderman: Web of Shadows, Brutal Bloody Gameplay, Hulk: Ultimate Destruction
+Story told in interesting way
+Parkour movement is fun
-Unhelpful camera assist
-Overly complex combat controls
-Overall lack of story severity
When I first saw screenshots and videos for Prototype, I was really excited. Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, a game by the same company, Radical Entertainment, had been rather well received and executed, allowing the player to enjoy Hulk themed open world destruction.
With Prototype they were given the opportunity to create an original IP, to make a game with similar destructive qualities in any theme they wanted, in any scope they wanted, and what a scope they chose. Here is a badass game about an apocalyptic scale outbreak starting in NYC, a character whose ability stems from the very catastrophe he’s trying to defeat, and the military forces who are simultaneously trying to fight back the infection as well as you. What could go wrong? A lot apparently.
You are Alex Mercer, an employee of Gentek, who discovered too much about the history behind the company’s viral research. When exposed to the virus, Mercer became something not quite human (a pretty big understatement) with devastating powers. You are granted with the task of uncovering the truth of the outbreak and fighting back the infection, kinda.
All of this sounds great on paper, but the game far from delivers. Most of your actions as Mercer feel ultimately useless. I started out trying to create a connection with the character and sympathy for his plight. I attempted to push back the viral outbreak by destroying the infection’s incubators, the hives. Everything regenerates as soon as you enter and exit a mission though which made everything I just did feel completely futile. So much for immersion.
The game is structured in the same exact way that every other sandbox style game is structured. You’re in a city, there’s stuff happening that doesn’t have to involve you and you can choose to interfere with no real consequence. Go to point A, start mission B, you get the idea. “Getting from point A to point B though, that’s the fun of the game right? You’re a super powerful character with gliding and Parkour abilities making it completely satisfying to bound across full city blocks, right?” asks myself two weeks ago. No, not really.
The Parkour is cool, and I love the idea that it automatically works. One thing I loved to do was lock onto a target and run away from it creating a very unique, cinematic chase camera. The character would flip and jump over obstacles and it was very satisfying. The need to run is never apparent in any mission though. Ultimately the Parkour is useless, nothing more than elaborate animation.
Early into the game you can unlock a glide ability which is much faster than running. Running is more fun, but takes so long to get around that I always opted for gliding. Gliding has to be one of the most dull movement options I’ve seen in a superpower game. Once I gained the ability to hijack a helicopter, that’s all I used to move around anymore. Plus, when you run around with Parkour or gliding, you ultimately trigger full scale assaults and have to constantly evade or destroy your pursuers just trying to get from A to B. Helicopters become the only discreet way to travel. Come on, I didn’t get this game to be a pilot thank you very much. I got it to be a badass.
The glide has a very short horizontal forward burst and thus quickly transitions from a kite flying ability to a brick falling ability. The player has two air dashes that can be used to regain momentum, but at best the player should not plan on getting too far with the glide. Also, in order to use the glide, the player must be holding the sprint button, also the air dash button, so you will frequently waste one air dash triggering the glide anyway. The control scheme is full of issues like this.
I understand fully when the player has to press two buttons at once to trigger a move, but typically it’s a combination of the shoulder button and face button, or two face buttons next to each other. I’ve rarely seen games require you to press the two opposite face buttons, let alone have tap, hold and ‘hold a long time’ do completely different moves for each of the positions. As annoying and awkward as it was, ok, I kinda got used to doing that, but what doesn’t help is that the target button is not a toggle, so you have to always be pressing the shoulder lock on button in addition to all this other stuff.
The lock on button is little to no help in gameplay. It’s supposed to lock on to whatever the most dangerous target is, but only sometimes does. The right stick, usually the camera stick, is used to change targets, which means you’re at complete mercy of the automated camera. I wished on so many occasions that I could nudge the camera while locked on. One of your abilities is to throw big objects, but the camera is glued to your target, so running to find objects that are off camera is as much fun as closing your eyes and dodging traffic, you’ll probably be dead by the time you get where you want to go. You could un-target, but good luck locking back on what you had just been targeting.
So what about the combat? There are some badass, devastating moves, but with no active defensive buttons, all the combat turns into strike, dodge, wait for enemy’s attack cycle to end, strike. That is until you get the tentacle arm. You can attack from a distance, which means this one weapon grants you the only defensive strategy you will find in the entire game. The hints and tips in the loading screen tell you to use all the powers to discover which are best for which situations. I tried so often to use other weapons in boss fights. Blade arm? Dead. Hammerfist? Dead. I never even came close to winning. Tentacle arm though? First try.
One thing I do like in the game is the way the story is told, the Web of Intrigue. Basically, the player can consume enemies and their memories to uncover story plot points, which in essence makes the story a collectable item. I loved this. I don’t give a crap about the collectables in the city, you don’t get anything for them, but I spent an extra 10 hours collecting these story points. They get redundant, but every now and then you get one that makes you go “damn, that’s messed up”. Finding these people though was the most boring part of my day.
Very few of these people are found in the story missions. Most of them are found by aimlessly wandering the city. Once I found someone, they were frequently killed by the infected horde by the time I jumped out of my helicopter, or if I was being assaulted, they were frequently killed by the military in collateral damage. This really sums up the whole game for me: Every element of the game that I liked was bogged down by numerous other things that annoyed me.
I’m not sorry I played the game, but I’m depressed at how good the game could have been, yet wasn’t. I had no emotional connection to anything that happened though I wanted to. The city was constantly on alert, so the open world felt like a chore to navigate, the fights were dull, boss fights were all the same, the controls annoying. The game reeks of missed potential. It needed much more polish before it was released. Not that it would have fixed everything, but hopefully enough so that I could have recommended this game. For now, stick to Infamous, Web of Shadows or Ultimate Destruction and you’ll have a better time.