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Previews

Prototype

Preview: Steve Hill takes a look under a mutated hoodie, but decides not to hug

Rightly or wrongly, hoodies have something of a bad rep, the wearers of the much-maligned garments being widely blamed for the majority of society's ills.

Thanks to Vivendi's forthcoming Prototype, that reputation is set to get a lot worse, as the baggy top sported by antihero Alex Mercer hides a lot more than the acne-ridden visage of a callow youth lurking outside an off-licence, spitting needlessly.

While the craze of happy slapping has thrown up some appalling acts of immoral behaviour, we've yet to see a clip where 15 people are sliced in half with a flick of the wrist. Yep, it's going to take more than an ASBO to stop Mercer, as he wages a one-man war across the streets of New York, taking on the full might of the military, along with hordes of bloodthirsty disease-ridden zombies.

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Why? Who knows? Mercer doesn't even know himself, joining the (very) long list of amnesiac characters that start out with a mind blanker than a cheque, and gradually piece their past together over the course of the game.

However, not for Alex the tried-and-tested method of asking around and seeing if anyone has heard anything. Instead, he goes straight to the source, by consuming people and absorbing their minds to create a composite of his restored memory. He doesn't eat them, but it's a pretty unpleasant process all the same, involving sticking his arm in their chest and turning them inside out.

SHAPESHIFTER
As well as downloading their memories, Alex can also shapeshift into any person he consumes, thus putting into practice the first half of developer Radical Entertainment's so-called 'Deceive or Destroy' gameplay.

The 'Deceive' mechanic is not a new idea, and indeed older readers may recall PC ZONE cover game, Messiah, wherein a cherub called Bob climbed into the arses of his intended victims and possessed them. More innocent times perhaps, as today's equivalent involves a hoodie-wearing killing machine, twisted innards and a gallon of blood. This is an effective trick all the same, letting Mercer gain entry to areas that would be inaccessible in sportswear, such as military bases.

These are dotted around the city, not simply as somewhere to sneak into, but
as a pre-emptive measure against the thousands of feral zombies wandering
the streets of Manhattan. As is probably apparent, something is rotten in the Big Apple, which has been struck down by a terrifying phenomenon, the scale of which has not been seen since the days of disco. The situation is so dangerous that the military has cordoned off parts of the city into Infected Zones.

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While this continues, Alex Mercer is certainly not feeling himself, what with his newfound ability to shapeshift. That's not even the half of it though, as he has somehow transformed into a superhuman walking weapon capable of leaping tall buildings and tossing vehicles around like confetti.

He's even picked up a bit of that 'free running' business that was fashionable about two years ago - around the time Prototype was conceived. Mercer is suddenly a dab hand at it, able to literally run up the side of a building at a jab at the keyboard. And given that he's bang in the middle of New York, he has plenty of opportunities to do so.

SCREEN TEST
This sounds good on paper, but it's even better on a giant screen in front of hundreds of baying punters. Unveiled at the recent Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, adverts for the game were hard to miss, and the presentation drew a decent crowd, hosted by senior producer Tim Bennison and lead game designer Eric Holmes - a fiery Scot who impressively used the words 'fucking' and 'systemic' in the same sentence.

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