Games For 2008: Prototype

By Alec Meer on January 21st, 2008 at 11:54 pm.

The idea is exactly what we all bay for – free-form play in a destructible urban environment, with gloriously unbound superpowers to flex and smash and crush and speed and ultrajump with. The heritage… well, that’s less compelling. Radical Entertainment’s most recent game, Crash of the Titans, may be nominated for a game writing award of dubious democracy, while The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction and Scarface may be fine examples of Here Is Your Console, Here Is Your Gamepad: Go, Be Violent, but they’ve hardly taken us to incredible new places. I can’t believe this will either, but it should offer superior brain-free fun. In a year shaping up to offer many more cerebral delights, such a presence is to be welcomed.

Prototype bears obvious signs of its ancestors, and of where action gaming keeps trying to go to of late. It’s set in a city. It stars a man of superhuman athleticism, his Parkour-inspired movement apparently simplified into auto-responsive free-running controls. Freedom, as only videogaming can mis-define it. Ah. It’s Assassin’s Creed with superpowers , isn’t it?

Well, let’s hope it is and it isn’t. Until I actually play this thing and am shown otherwise, I certainly can’t shake the comparison. Radical have talked up unfettered play between missions and intense storytelling during said missions. It’s the latter that’s the worry. Once bitten, twice shy- unfair to an entirely unrelated developer to AssCreed’s, but I fear the same sacrifices – noble dreams of choice, ultimately hamstrung by the limits of Xboxian memory and Playsated gamepads, with the cracks in the engine and interface’s capabilities papered over by painfully protracted in-engine cutscenes.

More than that – by the perceived limits of the player (even if his PC incarnation believes himself a smarter man, with his hyper-responsive mouse and his multi-buttoned keyboard). Plenty of us crave the open world, but so many, when actually presented with it, will lock up, desiring instead the obvious path, the easy sense of achievement of prescribed goals and expository voiceovers. And that’s why so many smart, talented developers will default to stilted cutscenes, to invisible walls, to ludicrously overwritten plots (the main character confirmed as being an amnesiac is all the proof that’s needed on that front). I haven’t seen anything of Prototype to make me believe it will be free of such things. Perhaps, though, it doesn’t need to be.

Assassin’s Creed, after all, remains a champion in free-running and in urban atmosphere. Anything prepared to take another crack at that, and further blessed with the more genuinely open antecedent of Ultimate Destruction and the perhaps inevitably cited GTA influence, bears further investigation. Like AssCreed, this stars a slim, hooded man of dubious morality. It’s fascinating to track the slow twist of wish-fulfilment of gaming action heroes over the years – where once we wanted bulging he-men, painted in crazy sci-fi and exaggerated fantasy, today’s trend is for everyday heroes granted exceptional powers. And so is Prototype’s star – while Radical’s finest hour to date might be the muscular excess of the Hulk, Prototype’s Alex is just this guy, y’know? A guy who’s been experimented upon to gain superhuman strength, speed, stamina, agility and – ooh – shapeshifting. Pretty spectacular shapeshifting.

The ability to absorb the powers of defeated foes offers up a potential 750 different power combinations, and that’s a number large enough to begin wondering whether this quietly is something very special. While the scope for destruction mutation promises much, it’s the non-combative aftereffects of the shape shifting that really entice – don the face of a military man, and his underlings will allow you into army bases, to borrow mega-death machines or order soldiers to attack innocents, thus diverting attention from your malign presence. Whether quietly undermining society has any significant purpose, or if it’s just a prelude to hitting stuff with your HANDS MADE OF ROCK or SPINE MADE OF, uh, SPINES, remains to be seen. There’s also talk of persistent tussle between the game’s key factions – the sinister Blackwatch and virus-addled mutants, with you and your myriad megapowers thrown in as a titanic curveball when you choose.

Prototype, then. It’s a big, silly, nonsensical action game, as can so often feel very, very good. This one additionally has the grace to let you go regularly tumble off the beaten path, to dabble in its big silly action without the traditional restrictions. It may not, so far, seem much like a pure-blooded PC game, but perhaps that doesn’t matter.

Trailer:

Hyperbolic mini-documentary about generic militaristic baddie faction:

Gametrailers promised they wouldn’t steal our faces if we thanked them for these videos.

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27 Comments »

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  1. JakethePirate says:

    Contest: How could the Black…something or others… (already forgot the name) be more generic?

    Also, one of the guys in the interview video looked like Seth Rogan.

  2. DigitalSignalX says:

    Repeatedly comparing it to Assassin’s Creed when there isn’t a PC version of ‘Creed available yet = *sigh*

  3. Arathain says:

    I loved Ultimate Destruction. I thought it was a very well thought out game, as well as a lot of silly, destructive fun. Not perfect, but it gives me a lot of hope for this.

  4. Phil H says:

    Hulk’s already got me sold on Prototype, for me it was what sandbox games should feel like(though I still wish the cities were bigger), but even more importantly, it was the goofy little things that gave it that extra little bit to make it completely awesome, like gliding around with the Used Cars balloon or Hulk Golf.

  5. StolenName says:

    I’m looking forward to smashing, crushing, stabbing and ripping asunder mindless meat-packs. There is never anything wrong with that and to be honest, I miss the senseless violence that used to drive the old school games like Mortal Kombat and, well Mortal Kombat. Here’s to stupidity and beyond! Seriously :)

  6. Alex says:

    The idea is exactly what we all bay for – free-form play in a destructible urban environment, with gloriously unbound superpowers to flex and smash and crush and speed and ultrajump with.

    Are we, though? After playing the mindnumbing Crysis, which wasn’t half as “sandbox” as it was supposed to be, I’ve recently begun seriously re-evaluating how bad “lineair” shooters/games really are.

  7. doc says:

    Banned Bloke says:

    Auto-responsive controls is a fancy way of saying “Click here to move character”. I hope it hasn’t come to that, because that is, of course, the sort of low common denominator advancement Assassin’s Creed has promoted.

    Why the hate? Are people that desperate for a climbing simulator game? Should it really take 27 button combos to successfully grip a ledge and pull up?

    It seems counter to the point to make a game where I have to pay attention to and mediate the thing my character is supposedly good at.

  8. James says:

    Ultimate Destruction was one of my more played games from the original Xbox, so I’m quite excited about Prototype. Co-op and shape shifting together in one game tends to grab my attention pretty quickly, though. If they can get some decent NPC AI going this time (i.e. not standing there and waiting to be hit by the flying bus), I’m pretty much sold.

  9. Schadenfreude says:

    Why the hate? Are people that desperate for a climbing simulator game? Should it really take 27 button combos to successfully grip a ledge and pull up?

    Just give me my jump button and I’m happy alá Prince of Persia. Makes you feel like you’re actually interacting rather than just “pushing up” for five minutes until you get to the next cut-scene.

  10. Kieron Gillen says:

    I was quite the fan of Hulk: Ultimate Destruction too.

    KG

  11. ɹǝʌo llǝɟ ı poƃ ʎɯ ɥo says:

    Ah, Assassin’s Creed. The poor man’s Crackdown.

    Personally, I can’t help thinking we’ve take some kind of step backwards since PoP:SoT with Creed. So I’m not gratified that lots of developers seem suddenly intent on aping it.

  12. Man Raised By Puffins says:

    @ɹǝʌo llǝɟ ı poƃ ʎɯ ɥo: In terms of what they did with the plot, I’d agree. Although as I’ve mentioned before I appear to be a lot more tolerant of it than most people, to the extent that I found it rather agreeable early on. As soon as it becomes apparent that the plot twist you can scent at the beginning is indeed coming it loses steam, and the less said about the thoroughly unsatisfying ending the better.

    However I really like the control system, for me it’s just the perfect match for the environments on offer. I’m not sure how well it’d fit with modern urban environments with a lot more verticality to them, but it’ll be interesting to see where Radical take it.

  13. ɹǝʌo llǝɟ ı poƃ ʎɯ ɥo says:

    Like Mr. Freude, I would have been happier if they’d actually given me a jump button. Also, I miss the Prince’s other theatrics like wall-running and trapezing and stuff. Altair just feels a bit lame and nerfed compared to my handsome Prince.

    Although, it’s fair to say that the free running was the game’s man redeeming quality. It certainly wasn’t its combat, storytelling, horse riding, investigations, assassinations or side quests.

  14. Rodafowa says:

    Ah, Assassin’s Creed. The poor man’s Crackdown.

    Yeah, reading this preview the game sounds very very Crackdown-y indeed. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – for all Crackdown’s greatness, it had a metric shedload of problems.

    I also don’t really get the sniffiness regarding the limits of a joypad – surely for a freeform action game like this, a streamlined joypad-friendly control method is exactly what you’re after?

  15. Zell says:

    I think the apparent contradiction between linearity and plot is partly one of, god help us, genre definition. You can present the player with a free roaming world, dotted with strings of more intense content, tied together to produce an overarching plot line. It’s just that then it’s an RPG.

  16. ɹǝʌo llǝɟ ı poƃ ʎɯ ɥo says:

    @Zell:

    Not necessarily. Look at STALKER. It definitely “presents the player with a free roaming world, dotted with strings of more intense content, tied together to produce an overarching plot line”, and at the same time is firmly within the FPS genre.

  17. Kieron Gillen says:

    I believe that Ass Creed’s take on platforming is primarily about the game not being prince of persia – the primary thing in that game was basically the platforming-as-puzzle-game. In this, the climbing and jumping is primarily a way of getting around, in an interesting fashion.

    (There’s a debate I was following, where a dev was saying that they’ll never see a GTA in a old-world-thing, because walking and horsing around just isn’t very interesting. The Parkour-movement was AC’s attempt to deal with that particular problem – so if it was as tricky to pull off as PoP could be – i.e. you had to think about it a lot more – it’ll lose its utility as a transport device. If it’s going to be routine to fail, you’re just going to walk…)

    Not that I think AssCreed is entirely successful, but I can see why they did it.

    KG

  18. ɹǝʌo llǝɟ ı poƃ ʎɯ ɥo says:

    @Kieron:

    But, as it always seems to, we come back to Crackdown. It had rather more traditional platforming mechanics, including giving me the ability to jump and shuffle and grab and drop, and was the better game for it.

    The argument that “it’s not fun to do free-roaming in The Olden Days because we don’t have cars” is silly when you notice that the cars are almost completely superfluous in crackdown, unless you’re doing the completely optional street races.

  19. The_B says:

    I could be barking up the wrong tree here (and showing some shameful ignorance) but isn’t the Thief series kind of a little like the “GTA in Ye Olde Times”?

  20. Schadenfreude says:

    Nope. Thief 3 had mild pretensions to that sort of game with the City hub level but beyond that the series was a linear series of missions and not very GTA at all.

  21. Hieremias says:

    I could be barking up the wrong tree here (and showing some shameful ignorance) but isn’t the Thief series kind of a little like the “GTA in Ye Olde Times”?

    Erm, no, it’s not. The first two Thief games were a series of independent missions tied together by a storyline–like nearly every FPS ever made (though this was sneaking, not shooting).

    The third Thief game incorporated a “City hub” between missions, which was decent but the incredibly small size of the areas lessened the impact. Still, you’d never mistake it for a go-anywhere, do-anything world like GTA or its clones.

  22. Man Raised By Puffins says:

    Is Dracko getting automatically deleted now? While I didn’t agree at all with the Assassin’s Creed criticisms he put forward in his last post (now vanished into the ether), it didn’t seem to be objectionable.

    @ɹǝʌo llǝɟ ı poƃ ʎɯ ɥo: Personally I found the core mechanics of movement in Assassin’s Creed on a par with Crackdown in terms of how satisfying it is to move about, but this is always going to be a matter of personal opinion. I’d also agree with Kieron that grafting traditional platforming mechanics directly into Assassin’s Creed would make the game much more frustrating, particularly as you don’t have the superhuman damage resistance or the ability to rewind time to fall back on if you miss a jump.

  23. Kieron Gillen says:

    He hasn’t apologized for his previous behaviour. I believe we’re deleting him until he does.

    KG

  24. Solario says:

    Looks like a fun game, and the Hulk: Ultimate Destruction background endears it to me, but yeah, the story itself seems very… Well I’m pretty sure our main character’s real name is Gen McNeric, ok?

  25. Chris R says:

    I loved Crackdown, the jumping was one of the most fun things in that game… However, it always frustrated me when I would have to jump at the side of a building until I finally managed to grab onto a ledge. I looked silly, like a flea jumping around without purpose.

    If a game would incorporate Ass Creed’s seamless (i thought) Parkour-movement with the insane jumping, running gameplay of Crackdown, I’d be in heaven. Hopefully Prototype will do this. I don’t want to have to jump at a building 3 or 4 times before I finally manage to latch onto a ledge or something silly. What I WANT is to jump at a building–and if I miss, or haven’t jumped quite high enough–have the character grab a small crack or something and then allow me to jump again from there, or scramble around until I find another suitable place to jump from.

    Crackdown was almost there, but with the free-moving style of Ass Creed it would have been amazing.

  26. Alexander says:

    Open world specialists, we went a lot deeper in story than most games ever considered going.

    Is no one talking about the gigantic STRAPONS these [abuse removed. Don’t do it again – Admin] are wearing PRETENDING they are just simply stunningly innovative? This trailer is really shocking, not even the way it’s completely super PR representationally ironed into almost being an over-oiled hypemotor, but simply the statements in themselves. Talking about extreme representation.

    We really thought about these blackguards… they have to look scary.. I have never been more goddamn annoyed by a concept artist pretending ‘so to make them less human I did not give them a face’ is a conscious decision. I have never heard bullshit like ‘we are not going to let any creativity be hindered by the limitations of 3D technology’. I really don’t understand what is new about a ‘biological outbreak’ that turns everyone into super-ultra-mega-zombies. Oh gosh, morale! Do I shoot the innocents, or is the virus worse. So we start with the ‘mindset’. Germany in 1932, none of it was an accident, they intend to look intimidating. Gosh innovation!

    I am whimpering.

  27. Alexander says:

    Hey worst of all, I admit I thought it was interesting watching the topmost video; damn me for watching the second.