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Score: 90%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Radical Entertainment
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1
Genre: Free-Roaming/ Action/ Adventure

Graphics & Sound:
Close your eyes. Imagine for a moment that you are the most powerful force of destruction mankind has ever encountered. Whatever you've got in mind, I highly doubt it measures up to the kind of powers you are given in Prototype, the new sandbox action game from the talented minds behind 2005's The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. Prototype is not a perfect game, but it will certainly please anyone who wants to unleash fifty megatons of unbridled rage.

Prototype's visuals are good, but they probably won't win any awards. New York City has been rendered quite faithfully, and it's a joy to explore. You'll often see some popping textures and objects (depending on how fast you are moving), but the draw distance is usually far enough to keep you immersed. Overall, character models are decent, but many of the faces leave a lot to be desired. The camera doesn't get in the way that often, although it can be skittish at times. Because the nature of the action is so insane, both the animation work and framerate need to be top-notch. Luckily, they are. Every ridiculous stunt Alex performs (with or without the mutant/tentacle effects) looks as legitimate and realistic as possible, which is a very impressive feat on the part of the artists.

Prototype looks good, but it sounds fantastic. Barry Pepper (Saving Private Ryan, The Green Mile) brings Alex Mercer to life with a delightfully haunted performance. The com chatter picked up by the Blackwatch Special Forces varies from colorful insults and subtle dissent to abject terror. The game's soundtrack alternates between music you'd find in a horror movie and the orchestral score of the latest Michael Bay destructathon. The chaos you'll often create sounds exactly like it should; from the sickening sounds of tearing flesh to the screams of the pedestrians. All of this is designed to make you feel like the ultimate bad ass, and it succeeds.

To all the parents out there: Prototype wears its M rating as a badge of honor. This is one of the most violent and profane games of the current generation. There are two kinds of explosions in Prototype: the explosions that tear people into pieces and the explosions caused by F-bombs. The mature gamers who dig this kind of stuff are in for a real treat. Allow me to put things in perspective: multiply Ninja Gaiden 2's body (and limb) count several times, and you'll have a general idea of how violent Prototype is.

Alex Mercer has a number of serious problems. First off, he's got a bad case of amnesia. Second, a deadly infection is threatening the existence of New York City. Third, it seems as if Alex himself has been inoculated with a weaponized pathogen of unknown origin. His biggest problem? Save for his sister Dana and a few mystery figures, just about everyone wants him dead. Prototype's story follows a relatively standard template: Alex's quest for vengeance eventually blows the lid on a decades-old conspiracy. Truth be told, it feels like little more than an excuse for all the over-the-top action. When the action is as good as it is here, that's totally fine by me.

One last word of warning before I continue: if you want to play the hero, Prototype is not the game for you. Alex Mercer doesn't only kill genetically mutated abominations; civilians and military personnel alike will fall (in great number) to his powers. If you like to explore the dark side of human nature, this game will definitely help you work on your dagger-eyed sneer.

Prototype is an open-world action game that endows your character with a number of incredible powers. As Alex Mercer, you will kill, maim, and flat out ruin any living thing that gets in your way. By completing missions and killing enemies, you will earn Evolution Points (EP), which can be spent on upgrades, combos, and new abilities. Throughout the entire game, you will be constantly earning EP and upgrading your character. This character growth system is loaded with choices, but it's also easy to work with.

Prototype can be classified as a sandbox game, but it is structured to advance the narrative at a steady pace. Story missions and Event missions are scattered all over the map, and it is easy to identify which mission is what. You don't have to complete Event missions in order to unlock new Story missions, but they offer tons of variety (and EP). You can participate in an on-foot race, or if you're feeling stealthy, you can opt to infiltrate a military base. You can cut a swath of destruction through Central Park, or you might want to BASE jump from the top of a skyscraper to a highlighted bullseye.

At times, Prototype may feel a bit on the familiar side. Sometimes, it feels like The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction with an M-rated coat of paint. That statement carries both positive and negative connotations, but the positive outweighs the negative -- by a lot.

Prototype's learning curve is easy to scale (much like Alex Mercer's relationship with the Empire State Building). Since this game is a superpower origin story, you will learn to control Alex's abilities at the same speed that he does. Every time you unlock a new power, the game lets you know exactly how to use it. Learning the ropes is kind of a non-issue in Prototype, which is a plus.

Prototype's learning curve may be easy to crest, but by no means is it an easy game to beat. Alex Mercer may be an impossibly powerful being, but he's not invincible. A single Infected or Blackwatch soldier poses no threat, but if enemies attack in number, Alex can be overwhelmed in a heartbeat. In addition, the folks at Radical Entertainment have created some really crazy boss encounters, many of which are long and challenging.

The combat is tough, but several of the mission objectives vary in difficulty. Some missions are absolute cakewalks, while others may frustrate you to tears. The missions that are usually the most frustrating are usually the longest ones, as well. They occasionally suffer from poor checkpoint placement, which can make some repeated objectives seem more tedious than they really are.

Prototype sticks to a very welcome convention of the sandbox genre -- the game has tons of replay value. You'll want to go out of your way to complete every Event mission to the best of your ability. If you want to fully upgrade Alex's abilities (which you will), you're going to have to sink several hours into the game. You'll also want to find as many Landmark collectibles as you can. Two hundred of these glowing spheres have been hidden in New York City, and you'll need to have the controls fully mastered if you want to find them all. Players who want more meat to their Extras will definitely want to complete the Web of Intrigue. Every time Alex consumes an figure of importance, his most relevant memories are played back to Alex. The Web of Intrigue adds a number of interesting dimensions to the story, and it's well worth completing.

Game Mechanics:
The Left Analog Stick controls Alex and the (X) button launches him into the air -- the longer the button is held, the higher he will soar. Basics aside, you will probably have the (R2) button held down for the majority of your time with Prototype. It is your all-purpose "sprint at fifty miles-per-hour up the side of a building" button. The game makes the understatement of the year by simply calling it "the Parkour button." When you become locked in combat, holding the (L2) button will lock on to a target. Flicking the Right Analog Stick in another enemy's direction will snap your targeting reticle accordingly.

Alex's powers are assigned to a radial wheel which can be accessed by holding the (L1) button. A deft flick of the Right Analog Stick will allow you to choose your power. While all of this is going on, the action slows to a crawl, allowing you to choose your next mode of destruction without worrying too much about the mayhem around you. Alex's powers are classified into four main categories, and each selected power is hotkeyed to the D-pad's four buttons. The four categories are: Offense, Defense, Disguise, and Vision. After you've selected your powers via the radial wheel, you can activate and deactivate them by tapping the assigned D-pad button.

Combat controls are handled similarly to those in other action games. Light and heavy attacks are mapped to the (Square) and (Triangle) buttons, and some attacks can be charged by holding the right button down. Most combinations require special inputs, from simple button sequences to two simultaneous button presses. The (Circle) button acts as a grab button. You can grab just about any detachable object in the environment, from air-conditioners to cars. Tapping the (Circle) button will allow Alex to throw the object; holding the button will charge up the throw.

If you happen to grab something humanoid, a tap of the (Triangle) button will initiate an unspeakably violent finishing move in which Alex actually absorbs the poor chump into his own body. Consuming any kind of biomass will replenish Alex's health and push him closer to Critical Mass (which allows you to unleash a deadly area attack). That's not the only benefit you can gain by achieving these grisly kills. Alex is a shapeshifter; he can assume the identity of anyone he consumes. This consume/shapeshift ability comes in very handy when you're supposed to be stealthy. Furthermore, some targets for consumption are marked on your minimap. If you manage to consume them, you will be rewarded with new Event Missions or nodes for the Web of Intrigue. There are some context-sensitive actions, but they are mainly reserved for airjacking helicopters and prying manways off the tops of tanks.

The upgrade system does a decent job of letting you know how to pull off all of these ridiculous moves, but it won't hold your hand. Still, after a few visits to the Upgrade Menu, you'll be flying thousands of feet across the Manhattan skyline, cannonballing into helicopters, and surfing on the entrails of your enemies. I'm telling you: this game is insane.

At this point, it would probably be redundant for me to say that Prototype is a must-buy, but there is one more issue that needs to be addressed. I've been asked several times if Prototype is better or worse than inFAMOUS, another awesome sandbox action game. If you want an answer, you won't get one from me -- both are fantastic games that deserve your time and money. What I can say is this: if you want a fascinating story, choose inFAMOUS. However, if you want unparalleled carnage, it doesn't get any better than Prototype. Regardless, you should definitely pick up a copy of this game the minute it becomes available.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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