Prototype: Activision Preview Event|
Written by Mark Smith
May 22, 2009
After what seems like years and years of waiting the gaming world is about to be treated to one of the most visceral action titles of our time with one of the coolest concepts for a game character and game design. Of course I am referring to Prototype, the latest title from Radical and Activision that will be assaulting Xbox 360’s and PS3’s in early June. I recently had a chance to check out a nearly finished version of the game at a recent press event in Las Vegas; at least when I wasn’t being distracted by viral-infected zombie dancers, and smoking-hot cocktail waitresses in camouflage bikinis and fishnet stockings dispensing antidote serum…oh wait…those were shots.
For one night only, the Rok Vegas nightclub at the York, New York Hotel & Casino was given a major facelift to totally immerse members of the press in a mutant-ravaged New York City with an attack chopper hovering overhead, street debris scattered about, and massive panoramic display screens on the ceiling showing game footage. Dozens of game stations were setup around the perimeter allowing me to sample the first several levels of Prototype on both the 360 and PS3, and with the help of Radical staff, I even got to flash ahead to a later level and experience the more powerful elements of this amazing new game.
The ambient volume in the club prohibited me from hearing any relevant story elements from the various cutscenes so I just skipped them, but what I learned from talking with the development team, you will be playing Alex Mercer, who, on screen reminded me a bit of the lead character in Assassin’s Creed. It must be the hoodie and his sneaky movement style. Alex wakes up in the morgue with no memory (much like me after this event) while outside in the city, a virus has mutated much of the population into mutant freaks known as the Infected. A special military organization known as Blackwatch has been charged with protecting the city and the non-mutated population. Sadly, that doesn't include you.
Alex is infected with the virus but rather than full-on mutate into one of the hideous creatures you will be fighting, his infection has bestowed upon him certain powers that you are only just beginning to discover when the game begins and powers that will grow and advance into something quite superhuman by the end of the game. Alex has unprecedented movement and agility and the game movement and animation is modeled after the art of “Parkour” allowing Alex to run and leap over cars, run up the sides of buildings, and leap massive distances. I was totally reminded of Mirrors Edge, only Alex’s moves flow together much more naturally and you are able to appreciate them from an exterior view.
Alex has other viral-induced benefits such as shape-shifting, which not only plays a huge part in the stealth aspect of Prototype, but also allow him to morph his physical body into deadly biological weapons like claws, blades, shields, and more. But Alex must also keep an eye out for Blackwatch who will certainly be watching for him as noted by the awareness meter in the lower corner. If Alex performs any “superhuman feat” while Blackwatch operatives are watching the detection meter will rise. If it gets too high they will attack in full force until Alex can escape their view and either avoid detection or morph into somebody else. Yes, by grabbing certain characters, Alex can absorb that person then take on their shape; a useful tool for not only avoiding detection but also impersonating important people to gain access to restricted areas. Additionally, you will also acquire memories of those absorbed, which are indexed in a massive nodal tree structure called the “Web of Intrigue” with each memory telling a part of the overall story that spans nearly 40 years.
The game takes place in New York City, and I have to admit this is one of the best representations of the Big Apple to date. The city is massively complex and offers some extreme verticality for untold gaming potential in all three dimensions. As I stood there in Times Square, a place I have stood in so many other games, the amount of detail, the signage, the neon, the traffic, and the sheer number of people walking around was dazzling. Civilian AI was also quite realistic as were their reactions to my possession of a weapon or better yet, walking around with a random pedestrian clutched in my Darth Vader vice-like grip.
The action and the combat are fluid, frantic, and fantastic. The controls are amazingly simple considering the flamboyant visual style of the attacks and the sheer amount of violence and stylized blood and gore being shown on the screen. If you thought Wolverine Uncaged was violent you ain’t seen nothing yet… At least with Alex, a lot of the violence is masked with creepy tendrils that reminded me of Venom from the Spider-Man games. But there is still plenty of dismemberment and blood. And despite Alex already being the ultimate human weapon, you are still able to pick-up and use any of the military firearms lying around.
There is also a fairly comprehensive upgrade system for skills and abilities, so Alex can advance as the story evolves and the game becomes more challenging. While the opening levels serve as a great in-game tutorial, but you will constantly be acquiring new abilities throughout the story and you have a great deal of freedom in how to “build” your own version of Alex to suit your own playing style. I’m a big fan of action games, but I’m an even bigger fan of stealth, so I was stunned at the seamless inclusion and perfect balance of both elements in Prototype.
There are even some vehicle encounters that allow you to fight, or even hijack choppers, tanks, and probably some other things I haven’t seen yet. The only thing more exhilarating than picking up and tossing a rooftop air conditioner at a chopper is doing a charged jump attack on an enemy tank and watching the hunk of steel explode with a single pile driver attack. The most exciting moment of the night for me was tossing a car at an approaching chopper and having the flaming debris hurtle straight towards me forcing me to retreat toward the front of the screen…just like that scene in Aliens. The wreckage was smashing cars and crushing civilians. It was awesome!
Using Radical’s new Titanium engine they are able to render a massive cityscape and populate it with thousands of responsive characters, gigantic bosses, and super-intelligent Blackwatch operatives that will challenge you every step of the way. While I couldn’t appreciate the sound during my gameplay experience, this game engine will also be one of the first to support the THX Neural 7.1 Surround for total audio immersion. I can’t wait to get this game cranked on my Onkyo home theater rig.
Before this event I only had a casual interest in Prototype, but this is now one of my most anticipated games of the year, and we only have to wait a few more weeks before we can all experience one of the most unique and original games of this generation. Prototype is going to change the face of large-scale action gaming in ways you can’t even imagine until you actually get your hands on a copy on June 6th.