Legend of Zork was an awesome game. The story wasn’t particularly inspiring and the puzzles were teeth-gnashingly frustrating, but this ancient classic sported the most brilliant graphics ever seen.
And that’s because there were none.
Yes, Zork was a small text-based adventure, big enough to accommodate the most vivid imagination (and tiny enough to facilitate easy piracy between one 286 rig and the next). No one could complain about jaggies or missing textures in their own mind’s eye; never mind that they hadn’t been invented yet.
Similarly, the following generation of point-and-click adventure titles like Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle and the almighty Police/Space/King’s Quest series had little to differentiate them from the competition save for witty plotlines and the promise of seemingly endless sequels. In fact, graphics were so blocky back then that the first few Leisure Suit Larry titles pixelated the naughty bits without even trying.
Prototype serves as a humble reminder of this bygone era when the handicap of lacking razor-sharp edges and gigabytes of texture detail were the reason games ended up being such a blast.
Although flawed in many areas and falling just short of epic greatness, it’s a title that’s oddly reminiscent of today’s abandonware classics where the fun factor was, as it should be, the only reason to play the game in the first place.
It’s 18 days in the future, and Alex Mercer, a seemingly-ordinary guy in jeans and a hoodie, is standing on a rooftop overlooking a devastated Manhattan. There’s blood and smoke everywhere as mutants and military personnel battle it out in the streets below as Alex tries to explain how this – the virus, the war, the nuke – all happened.
Cut to Alex as he wakes up one morning not in his nearby apartment, but on an autopsy table in a fortified military compound. He bolts, scares the daylights out of the morticians and escapes his prison with one giant leap over a 30-foot wall.
What the hell is going on?
This is where the gameplay and the story really begin. Players control Alex in a sandbox-style world which incorporates so many different elements and features that it’s difficult to explain every detail with the brevity expected of a game review.
Imagine the free-running parkour of Assassin’s Creed, but make it more fluid and chuck in the ability to leap 10 storeys and run vertically up a skyscraper. Then add in the unbridled destructive power of The Incredible Hulk, but quadruple the number of moves and abilities and make them infinitely cooler.
Now blend that with the disguises in Hitman, but turn the elegant garrotte manoeuvre into a life-sucking absorption trick that not only steals the target’s life and appearance but their memories and abilities too.
Oh, and let’s not forget the vehicle hijacking, the numerous side missions and the New Game Plus mode.
Things start off fairly normally as Alex begins with nothing but his parkour skills and a lot of unanswered questions. The story then unfolds in two ways from here: through cutscenes between the main missions, but more interestingly via a series of flashbacks unlocked by consuming select targets around the city. These could be soldiers with classified knowledge about the secret military operation, or doctors who know more about this mysterious virus than they should.
Each of these scenes is beautifully rendered as memories from the consumed person, revealing just a small portion of the plot each time. In sad contrast though the in-game cutscenes are bland, emotionless and a disappointing revelation at how bad Prototype’s graphics can really be, but they both end up working together to reveal more of the intriguing story.
As Alex unlocks more clues to his identity and who’s behind all this mess, he gains experience in the form of Evolution Points. These are used to unlock moves and powers, and damn: there’s certainly no shortage of either.
How about a set of Claws that shred enemies into tiny chunks, or erupt spikes under terrified foes? No? What about the Whipfist, a wicked bullwhip-style arm extension that can explode enemies from afar or serve as a zipline up to hijack-ready helicopters?
Still want more? Geez, we haven’t even touched on the heavy duty Blade that dismembers almost anything, the Hammerfist that grants players the sweet move of elbow-dropping a tank, or the body armour that can absorb ridiculous damage or just be used to plough through cars and surprised pedestrians.
And who can forget the Critical Mass powers than allow hundreds of slow-mo tendrils to impale surrounding enemies, or create giant shockwaves that splatter anyone nearby?
Yes, things may seem overwhelming at first with Prototype having more tricks at its disposal than a Rocky Street pimp, but gamers are gently eased into all this action at a sensible pace which blends just the right amount of new abilities with the desire to acquire more. In fact, as many as ten new upgrades can be unlocked after a mission, which makes its Diablo Factor* extremely high.
Unfortunately though, as Poison once sang, every rose has its thorn. And we’ll be honest here and say Prototype is often so damn thorny that it’s likely to shred your hand if you’re not careful.
The first and most debated gripe is the graphics: yes, some of the textures aren’t amazing, and yes, some explosions look like they were copy/pasted from Contra, but these are small niggles in a title that doesn’t really seem to care about its looks anyway.
Most of these details are sacrifices that were made to allow for the massive scale of the game, and even the questionable character models in the cutscenes are (almost) forgivable when one revels in some of the large-scale brawls that Prototype offers up.
We also got irritated with some insane difficulty curves here and there; actually, if there was a trophy for ‘Dying Innumerable Times on One Stupid Bloody Mission’, we guarantee it’s easy to obtain.
One mission saw a huge, powerful enemy introduced to us, and after finally beating it, we were given 5 more to deal with. Being overwhelmed like this is infuriating and exasperating, especially so early on in the game.
Equally tiresome were some of the side missions, especially the ones that seem almost impossible to beat until players have unlocked most of their abilities. How about waiting till we’re actually capable of doing something before taunting us with it, huh?
Speaking of side missions: Repetition is the enemy of any game if developers are not careful, and the whole experience can become a bit much if every one of these challenges is attempted during the course of Prototype.
We at MyGaming usually pride ourselves on completing a title with every optional extra under our belts, but in this case we recommend playing the story for all it’s worth as there’s only so much running and jumping any sane human being can handle before boredom sets it.
However, even though it has its share of flaws and will only last around 10 to 12 hours (and we could probably go on yapping about it here for roughly the same amount of time), Prototype is a title that has reminded us cynical old gaming types that there are still games that know how important the fun factor is.
Plainly and simply? It’s an awesome title that we definitely recommend, even though the experience is a fleeting one.
Think of it like a summer romance: it’s not meant to be perfect nor is it meant to last forever, but it’s one hell of a sweet experience while it lasts.
* If you haven’t read our Godfather II review, this is the desire to continue playing for countless hours in the pursuit of unlocking ‘just one more’ item or ability.
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