PROTOTYPE Sony PS3 Review

     July 11, 2009

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If one ever wondered what the love child of Altäir (‘Assassin’s Creed’) and ‘Venom’ (Marvel Comics super-villain, more on this below) would look like, that – my friends – would be Alex Mercer of ‘Prototype’ for the PS3. ‘Prototype’ is open world ass-kicking at its finest; it’s rare to be that in control of an action game character and the world he/she populates.

Sure, the game is a complete ripoff of both the ‘Assassin’s Creed’ plot, mission and enemy detection system…not to mention the uncanny resemblance between their two main characters. Quite frankly, however, I don’t care. ‘Prototype’ is a blast to play, and controls like a dream for a title with so much going on simultaneously. More after the jump:

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A simplified version of the plot features an infected New York City, one with our hero (Mercer) awakened – and superhuman via a virus prototype- trying to make sense of it all. He quickly discovers he’s quite resilient to bullets, likewise  athletic enough to put Bo Jackson to shame.

The story unfolds via a string of mid-size missions threaded together by Mercer trying to discover who wrought this virus upon him. The usual paramilitary, biogen lab is at fault, and Mercer assumes responsibility for bringing it down. Insert the usual moral dilemma of right versus wrong, justice with bad intent over righteous chaos. Ah, the videogame playbook of choice.

The game’s name comes from Mercer’s ability to absorb enemy characters, and with it their powers and memories. Absorbing characters – akin to ‘The Matrix’ – likewise produces knowledge of new skillsets. (‘Whoah, I can drive tanks!,’ Keanu would declare gleefully.)

While ‘Prototype’ is fairly linear, high production values do a fantastic job of keeping things interesting. The Big Apple is pixelated beauty, ditto sending Mercer through combat rampages within it. Scaling New York City landmarks and creating Hulk-like damage ripples (more on this below) upon landing are often breathtaking.

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‘Prototype’ remains well aware of the abilities Mercer is capable of unleashing, and certainly does its best to level the playing field. Enemy AI is clever, and releases full scale assaults when it has you in its sights. Helicopters drop rappelling soldiers, tanks motor in for backup, bazookas try to pick you off from around the corners.

Mercer, however, has a few tricks up his sleeve via skill upgrades. Experience points exchange for combat, tactical and health additions, all seamlessly integrated into gameplay.

Still, reckless abandon will inevitably lead to quick deaths. Skill upgrades and/or enemy weapon adoption does not mean guaranteed victory. ‘Prototype’ places a premium on strategic assaults, and rewards a blend of brains and brawn. Drawing too much attention and/or enemy fire will deliver FedEx demise.

With this being said, something gnawed at me.

For all its good points, ‘Prototype’ felt strangely recycled. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but the presentation and feel seemed akin to watching the Unreal Engine skinned as a new intellectual property. Yes, an original entity, but something felt carbon copied nonetheless.

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One simple Google search, and the answers came quickly. It appears the above Venom and Hulk references were unintentionally spot on. ‘Prototype,’ many online argue,  borrows from earlier Activision titles (‘Web of Shadows,’ ‘Ultimate Destruction’) quite liberally. Watching YouTube video of these predecessors confirmed this speculation.

Having not played the two earlier Spiderman and Hulk titles, respectively, it’s unfair to conclude ‘Prototype’ as recycled gameplay. Still, consider it foolish to completely dismiss this notion if you own ‘Web of Shadows’ or ‘Ultimate Destruction.’

Playing devil’s advocate and back to the Unreal reference, a developer and/or publisher has a right to maximize earlier product in future one, especially in areas of physics-based coding and environment depiction. In this instance – and based on subpar reviews of ‘Web of Shadows’ and ‘Ultimate Destruction’ – it appears Activision only made these better via ‘Prototype.’

SUMMARY: ‘Prototype’ is a fantastic open world action title, one backed by solid AI and tight gameplay. Still, owners of ‘Web of Shadows’ and ‘Ultimate Destruction’ might find redundancy here, with a great deal seemingly borrowed to make this newest Activision iteration.

CONCLUSION: B+

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