Monday, July 6, 2009
The release proximity of seemingly-similar titles inFamous and Prototype reminds me of Dante's Peak/Volcano in 1997 and Deep Impact/Armageddon in 1998. It seems odd that two titles that resemble each other in so many aspects would be released so closely to one another. However, it became quickly apparent to me that Prototype is far more about chaos and wanton destruction than inFamous, which was far more restrained and methodical in nature (at least, as restrained as a game about a crazy lightning man can be). Rather than climbing and gliding around the city like a moderately-powered superhuman, Prototype has you sprinting up skyscrapers, shooting blood out of your hands to fly, and elbow dropping tanks and helicopters from the top of the Empire State Building.
One of the main features of the game's narrative is the "Web of Intrigue". However, the word "intriguing" is about the last word I'd use to describe the plot and characters. Alex Mercer comes from the "who am I and how did I get these powers?" school of lazy character development. Similar to Wolverine, Alex's quest is simply to discover his identity and go after the men responsible for his abilities. Cutscenes are poorly written, flashbacks are a mess, and there isn't a single character in the game with any personality. Alex is a generic brooding protagonist, and I couldn't have cared less about his backstory or quest for revenge.
As unlikable a protagonist I found Alex to be, I certainly can't say the same about his powers. Like Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, Prototype features a downright silly amount of ridiculous and powerful abilities to purchase. By the end of the game, you'll be surfing on human bodies, diving face-first into the ground from absurd heights, manning helicopters, using a giant whip arm to kill tons of enemies at once, and causing a cluster of hellish spikes to burst from the ground, impaling any nearby enemies. You can cause a stupid amount of trouble in this game, and some of its most enjoyable moments come during Alex's insane killing sprees.
There are dozens of incredible moves you can pull off, but the sheer amount of button combinations and abilities can sometimes clutter in your head. Alex can turn his arms into giant fists, a whip, and a blade, and there are numerous unique moves for each of them. On top of this, there are several Devastator moves that you can only pull off when your health is at certain points, and obviously a ton of movement-related commands. The best strategy is to find a few that are really useful and/or entertaining, and use them the majority of the time.
Movement isn't nearly as refined as it was in inFamous. If you saw a blast shard in Empire City, you knew for sure there would be a sensible way to get Cole to it. In Prototype, its chaotic and frenetic nature makes it much harder to make precise motions. I saw a collectible on top of a spire, and tried to reach it by numerous means. I tried to sprint up the side, but Alex kept falling off. I tried to slowly climb the spire, but the game kept glitching and making him fall. I even tried stealing a helicopter and diving out from high above the collectible, but I still couldn't get him to where I intended. When the action is fast and furious, it's not too difficult to make Alex do what you want. However, he can become a huge pain when you have a specific place you want him to go.
Despite the focus on violent insanity, Prototype actually features a stealth element. You can consume any standard-sized character and take on their physical appearance. By utilizing this, you can quickly evade strike teams and military personnel by ducking into an alley and changing your skin. You can also don military disguises and sneak your way into bases. Once here, you can absorb specific soldiers to increase your various weapon and vehicle skills. It's certainly not as deep a system as those featured in stealth-based games like Metal Gear or Splinter Cell, but it's a nice break from the onslaught of action elements.
Visually, there isn't really anything noteworthy about inFamous. The framerate stays consistent throughout, but no graphical element stood out to me as particularly impressive or terrible. It's another videogame recreation of Manhattan, and you won't see much here you haven't already seen. However, it does display onscreen chaos very well. Explosions and severed limbs are everywhere you turn, and the streets of NY are heavily populated with (understandably) terrified civilians.
As different as inFamous and Prototype are, a review of either game is bound to draw comparisons to the other. If I was to compare them to action movies, inFamous would be like Die Hard. It's full of action and popcorn thrills, but still manages to build some interesting characters, scenes, and tension. If inFamous is Die Hard, then Prototype is Crank. It throws plot and characters out the window and focuses squarely on balls-to-the-wall action. Despite its seemingly shallow nature, Prototype can still be a ton of fun if you're in the mood to simply run roughshod through countless enemies and cause a whole lot of damage.
First Play: 9.0
Replay Value: 8.5