The shape of things to come

New York City. A hooded figure stands motionless in the centre of Times Square. It's morning and there are people everywhere. And we're not talking about the usual video game approximation of a crowd. It's a kinetic cluster of bodies merging and stirring through sun-bleached streets. The camera swings upwards revealing vast, intricately-rendered skyscrapers reaching towards a cloudless blue sky, turning white as the harsh sunlight hits their sides.

This is not the compromised parody of NYC we've seen a hundred times before in games like Spider-Man or True Crime - this is New York, as realistically, cinematically and lovingly rendered as it's ever likely to be. Car horns blare, sirens howl, people shout to one another and you genuinely feel like you're standing in a real city. You can almost smell the asphalt and the hot dog vendors.


And then fantasy takes over. The hooded figure springs to life, pushing violently through pedestrians, sliding across the tops of cars and sprinting up the sides of buildings. And then we see it - a gargantuan insect-like egg jutting out of the centre of the road, pulsating and oozing. People begin to panic and the crowds scatter like buckshot. And then the attack choppers come buzzing in, followed by trundling squads of squeaking tanks and platoons of soldiers. Something's about to go down in Times Square.

Mercer me
But before we tell you what happens next, let's explain the premise of Prototype. You are Alex Mercer, a mysterious science experiment gone wrong. Thanks to the genetic meddling of a shady organisation you are, to all intents and purposes, a shapeshifter. You look like a hoodie-clad twentysomething human but that's a clever disguise to help you blend into your environment. See, you don't really have a shape because you can be anyone you want by absorbing their DNA. Which, unfortunately, involves killing them.

But back to Times Square. For reasons the developers are yet to reveal, your objective here is to destroy the alien egg. And this is where you first discover Mercer's powers. Using his shapeshifting ability, Alex can morph his body T1000-style. So to protect himself from projectiles the egg's hurling at him, an organic armadillo-like shell envelopes him. It's natural body armour. Then he mutates his arm into a strange blade-like appendage - think Resi's Tyrant - and swings it at the egg. But, because this is a game and as such is designed to make your life hard, the army are after you. Complicated? Well, let's leave Times Square again.


Prototype's about a conspiracy. A big one that you have to solve. You do so by finding clues. The entire expanse of New York can be freely explored, and hidden in its darkest, hardest to reach corners are pieces of the 'web of intrigue'. These can be phone taps, documents, people... you know, Watergate-type stuff. And by piecing it all together - quite how this is done, Radical won't say - you solve the mystery of your origins and are led directly to whoever made you a shapeshifting mutant.

Time to explore more of Alex's abilities. A group of soldiers rush at you, firing their M4s and generally being aggressive. You calmly drop to your knees and plunge your hand into the pavement beneath you. Suddenly from directly under the marines dozens of spikes thrust upwards and skewer them, killing an entire troop instantly. So not only can Alex form deadly shapes, but he can stretch like Mr Fantastic and tunnel through the ground beneath him. But that was nothing - he has tanks and choppers after him now. Luckily you can 'borrow' enemy vehicles.

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