Previews

Prototype

Fun, dark and ultra-violent - we take a look at Radical Entertainment's genetic blood bath

When a developer pulls into the office with a game that generates a crowd of eager onlookers, you know it's either a) Ubisoft's Jade Raymond or b) a people-pulling piece of software.

Unfortunately, Raymond has yet to grace CVG Towers with her presence (well, apart from a big picture of her hanging on the wall - but that doesn't really count) but we'll happily make do with Radical Entertainment's Prototype instead thankyouverymuch.

Super-violent Prototype caused a bit of a stir when it displayed its wares at this year's Games Convention in Leipzig, and having just spent the last 20 minutes eyeballing it we can understand why.

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It's Manhattan, 2008, and the game relates the tale of Alex Mercer - or the Prototype of the title - a man more than human that emits the whiff of genetic modification by the military, who can shapeshift. He bears no recollection of who he is or how he has become what he has become but, as Radical Entertainment's producer Max Belanger puts it, he's "the ultimate badass".

Belanger describes current events as a "military conspiracy forty years in the making", and what follows, essentially, is a journey of discovery and revenge, with oodles of violence layered on top. And this is the first part of a planned trilogy...

Watching Prototype in motion, it's like Radical has read a mile-high stack of comic books and then set about creating a game - and we don't mean that in a bad way. Manhattan itself is a playground which Mercer can roam about freely, and Radical's certainly on the right track regards littering the streets with plenty of innocent pedestrians and vehicles.

KEPT IN THE DARK
The character of Alex Mercer is the embodiment of Radical's design goal to create a game so dark you'd need to put the lights on to see it, metaphorically speaking.

His face is in constant shadow thanks to a hoodie, and he can do crazy shit like turn his hands into massive claws that slice people in half, encase himself in bio-armour, run up vertical buildings, pick up cars and chuck them, leap from tall buildings and smash vehicles out of his path.

It's done in such a way that Mercer emanates a real sense of inhuman physical power, power which is beefed up during the game thanks to RPG-style development.

But it's the ability to assume the guise of others by 'consuming' them that's the character's signature move. It's also an ability that's particularly gruesome in its portrayal when it's performed; it invariably involves Mercer grabbing a victim in a Darth Vader-like death grip, dragging them into the back alley, punching the crap out of them, stripping off their skin and then absorbing their veins and sinews into his own being. If that sounds sick, try watching it. It's brilliant.

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Once a victim is 'consumed', Mercer then adopts their guise and as an added bonus can make use of special abilities the victim may have had. For example, in the mission we've clapped eyes on he's trying to destroy a military base, so he consumes a commander to infiltrate the base. However, it turns out the commander has the ability to call in air strikes, which is pretty much like striking gold for Mercer as he calls in missiles and watches as they fall from the sky to pummel the army HQ. Job done.

But Prototype is a sandbox-type game. Not only is the whole of 2008 Manhattan Mercer's playground (we've only seen Manhattan, but the game could well feature other locations) from streets to the rooftops of soaring skyscrapers, it means there are numerous ways to complete objectives.

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