Friday, June 26, 2009

What I've Been Doing, and What You Should Be Doing

photo courtesy of IGN

For the last few weeks, I have been mildly obsessed with [Prototype], the new game from Radical Entertainment.

I really wanted to finish the game before sharing my thoughts, but it took me a dang long time, since I there was just so much to do aside from the missions. And while everything is exceptionally fun, taking my time with the game also let me see its (few) flaws as well. Let’s start with those, since this will mostly be a glowing review.

The story of the game starts off at the end – you are a super powered viral freak, 18 days after a major infection has spread throughout all of Manhattan. The military is out in full effect trying to maintain order (and keep the virus from spreading off the island), but there are monstrous mutants wreaking havoc all over the city. You play as Alex Mercer, who seems to be patient zero, and within whom the virus has taken a unique form – Alex can jump over buildings, glide through the air, mutate into different combat forms, run up the sides of buildings, throw cars at helicopters … the list goes on. So, starting at the end, fully powered and causing destruction, is fun, but you must realize what comes next – the flashback. So, jump back 18 days to Alex waking up in a morgue. He has no memories, and doesn’t even know he has powers yet. I don’t mind the taste of the good life to come before having to learn it all over again, but as the game starts as a flashback to a specific point in time my problem with the story is that if I run around doing all the side quests and not the main missions while the sun rises and sets over my head 25 times – well, that was more than 18 days, wasn’t it?

photo courtesy of IGN

This nitpicking is far from the only problem the game has. The targeting system can be horrible at times, refusing to catch on to close and/or strong threats. Many times I found myself on a rooftop, surrounded by Hunter mutants and helicopters, only to have my targeting system lock on to the “hive” building across the street. Also, while the graphics in the game are pretty good, they’re nothing spectacular, and they stay the same. What I mean by that is, from the beginning of the game, all of Manhattan is open for you to explore. And, since running around as a super powered freak is ridiculous fun, explore you will. But that’s it – you can easily plug anywhere from 15-20+ hours into the game if you take the time to go after everything, and the sights never really change, and all the brownish buildings do kind of get a bit boring. Staying with the graphics, there is also a problem with pop-ins coming through the dreaded haze. At the beginning of the game, I climbed up to the top of the empire state building and looked around, and the haze wasn’t all that bad – but as the infection spreads throughout the city and more and more of it is on fire, it’s hard to see a few blocks ahead of you sometimes. The pop-in graphics sometimes don’t pop-in until you’re right within a few meters of them, which also makes finding all the collectible landmark orbs in the city a lot harder – you can be on one rooftop looking at another, not see an orb, and then jump over to it and there it is.

But this all aside, this game is pure fun and enjoyment. While I knew it would be heavy on hand to hand combat, I had no idea that the game was a huge open-world brawler, whose combat mechanics reminded me of old school favorites like Streets of Rage. I must have been more than 5 hours into the game before I realized how cool the combat was, and I spent about 2 hours just running through infected streets brawling with mutants in various forms – not a mission, just having fun. The RPG elements of earning experience points to spend on new powers and moves were great, and truly rewarding.

photo Courtesy of IGN

Once the flashback has started, as I said, you have to learn all the powers you tasted in the opening scene. You start off being able to do a few cool tricks, but right around the time you are able to upgrade, the enemies get harder (hello, hunters!) and make you plan out your upgrades. I got this damn cool claw power, running around with lady deathstrike-esque hands and ripping people to shreds – then I met the hunters and had my ass handed to me. So, upgrade to the hammer fists, and then I could hold my own. And once I got the whip fist power and could hijack helicopters mid-air …

The (main) missions started out a bit run of the mill for me – I was ok with that because the game was so fun, but I thought they would be like that for the rest of the game. Nope. Right when you’re getting used to things, the hook comes and you get stripped of powers, forcing you to plan different attacks and new strategies. The missions get varied, the boss fights are cool, and the learning curve is just about spot on.

If you just stick to the main missions, you can probably run through the game in about 10 hours – but as I’ve been saying, there’s a ton of other stuff to do. Race events, challenges to get a certain amount of kills with certain weapons, and these really cool gliding events, where you jump from a rooftop, glide towards the target and try to land in a bulls eye. There are the landmark orbs I mentioned – 200 of them hidden throughout the city, plus an extra 50 hint orbs. And if that’s not enough, the in-game military is constantly setting up new bases to fight the infection – and each new set up is a new chance to infiltrate the base and consume key personnel in order to upgrade your abilities. Plus, once you finish the game, you can play through again using all the powers you’ve built up your first time through.

The game is nothing but extremely fun, and has more than enough to keep you coming back – if you haven’t played it yet, get to your local retailer and plunk your money down – you won’t be disappointed.

- Goodchild

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