The strangest thing about my Prototype experience was all the while I was playing it and struggling to find enough profanities to curse it down to the depths of Hades in this review, I couldn't wait to play it again. This is a video game that somehow manages to look spectacular while it gives you a royal reaming. And it has so much going on in it that it's literally impossible to take it all in in one play through.
For instance, the way Alex Mercer moves about the gamespace is a game all on its own. His movements, based on Parkour, turn him essentially into a kind of indestructible flying squirrel. He can perform astounding leaps over traffic, run up the sides of skyscrapers, jump and glide from one building to the next and fall from any great height and suffer no injury.
Free Roam Manhattan
Then add to this the ability to free roam anywhere in a convincing and sizable replica of midtown Manhattan. What to do? Explore! Look for one of hundreds of glowing orb 'landmarks', each of which when found gives you more Evolution Points, the game's currency.
You can also choose to participate in various so-called Events which are like time trials of special activities such as get this many kills as fast as you can or run through an obstacle course of waypoints in which, for example, the obstacles are buildings (*chuckle*). Successfully complete Events with varying degrees of proficiency to gain more Evolution Points.
Or if you feel you don't have enough details on Prototype's convoluted back story about a lethal virus being released in New York City and Alex Mercer's hunt for the truth behind it and his own identity, you can always go hunting around the gamescape for Web of Intrigue targets. Consume those targets and replay their memories in a full motion video to get more clues to the Prototype mystery and once again pile up even more Evolution Points.
Special Shapeshifting Powers
Pile up enough Evolution Points (and they do pile up quickly, I give the game that) and it's time to go to the Upgrades section in the game menu where you may browse through what eventually becomes a dizzying array of special shapeshifting powers as well as other combat, health, defense and armor upgrades. Purchase a new upgrade (or eight or ten) and back into the game you go to see what new havoc you can wreak on the military, mutants and monsters with your Blade, Claws, Hammerfist, Muscle Mass and special mega-powerful Devastator attacks.
No doubt there is a lot to play with here. Too much in fact. Individually, the special combo key presses required to unleash each of the various attacks and powers and whatnot were relatively easy. But taken as a group, the options available to the player were staggering compared to the amount of time typically allotted to mentally select the right move for the right situation, remember what key presses executed that move and then successfully execute that move all the while dealing with the finicky controls. There was just simply too much to consider to instantly recall and accurately execute amidst the increasingly chaotic gameplay.
Add to this the often horribly confusing objectives and the aforementioned heel-dragging way they were sometimes fed to you as well as the lack of any option to review key gameplay tutorials (why the heck it was decided to regularly delete these from the game menu Logs screen is beyond me) and the first run through Prototype may add up to a whole lot of hair pulling, teeth gnashing frustration.
In fact, my first run through Prototype was largely a giant and hellaciously annoying recon expedition to simply get the lowdown on how to complete all the missions in order to remove that task from a potential second run through the game. Then the plan was to run through the game again and focus on possibly developing some sound gameplay strategies and an effective character build.
Casual Gamers Beware
Unfortunately I suspect that only hardcore gamers will take on and complete the challenge of Prototype being primarily egged on by things like the thrill of using the Whipfist power to grapple onto an enemy helicopter and hijack it in mid-flight or doing elbow drops off five story buildings to destroy tanks in one hit. Others may invariably throw up their hands in a fit of despair about a third of the way through wondering if it's possible to develop any kind of strategy at all in a game that instantly throws the kitchen sink at you the minute you fart in the wrong direction.
In short, Prototype looks spectacular and has huge potential but tapping into that potential may be a difficult task to those who derive their primary video gaming enjoyment from learning how to play a game with finesse within a reasonable amount of time.
As for me, I'm relieved my first playthrough of Prototype is over and am now actually looking forward to playing it again. And I may even do a video walkthrough and post it to my Youtube channel.
But hey... Don't hold me to that.
~ Major Slack