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Games For 2008: Prototype

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:

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Alec Meer

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Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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