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PROTOTYPE

Developer: Radical Entertainment
Publisher: Activision
Platforms: PS3 (reviewed), Xbox 360, PC
MSRP: $59.99 for PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, $49.99 for PC
ESRB: M
http://www.prototypegame.com

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PROTOTYPE is the story of Alex Mercer, the survivor of an evil military experiment that has left him genetically mutated, without memory, and hunted. And, with shape-shifting abilities that allow him to use some pretty sick weapons and disguises, also the hunter. This free-roaming romp through a diseased NYC can be both extremely fun and frustrating at times.

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This is a big open world game and as a New Yorker I really enjoy playing open world games that take place in something resembling NYC. Yes, Radical did a great job capturing the gritty look and feel of NYC. There are buildings with scaffolds and gridlocked intersections. There are the popular landmarks such as Madison Square Garden, Washington Square Park, Central Park, and Times Square. Yet in all the accurate look and feel, the map and the actual buildings are merely representative and not accurate. My apartment, a floor in a West Village townhouse, is somehow a massive skyscraper. So they win some points here and it is cool to think about going on a rampage in NYC, but it ain’t NYC.

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The story is very deep and told through a series of different mechanisms such as flashbacks and flashforwards. One aspect of Alex’s powers is the ability to consume a person – including their memory, clothes, and weapons. As you consume each person you get a video flashback sequence which backfills the story from their point of view. It’s a very interesting mechanism, yet it is extremely disruptive to be in the middle of a massive battle that gets interrupted by a flashback and then you are shoved right back into the action. Yes, you can skip the video, but it is still disruptive.

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My major gripe with the game, which overall I have really enjoyed, is that for the first hour or so it is pretty damn boring. Honestly, I almost gave up but am glad I stuck with it. In fact, my first reaction was “OK, Activision blended Spiderman with Wolverine. Great. Been there. Done that. Next.” But for some reason the next day I went back to it. In starting you off slow, Radical runs the risk of losing your interest. After a few hours though, you can upgrade your characters weapons, powers, and movement and really start to kick some ass which is where it gets fun.

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Prototype is a game of massive destruction. Your weapons are actually mutations that are growing on you. You can have sharp claws, a long chain, a blade, or a massive fist. Each weapon has a normal attack, a special attack, and a grapple – plus a bunch of combos. I prefer the long chain. In addition, it is trivially easy to hijack tanks and helicopters. One of my favorite things is to hijack a tank, infiltrate a military base, and then spin around in circles firing the cannon and leveling everything in sight. In Prototype, you are indeed a one man wrecking crew. By combining weapons, powers, and armor, there really is nothing you can’t destroy except the actual buildings themselves.

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A major aspect of the game is free roaming through NYC. Not only can you free roam during the game by simply not accepting your next mission right away, but you can play in pure free roam mode which I find quickly degenerates into an all out battle between me and everyone else in NYC (ah, just like real life). You accomplish this in a number of ways such as jumping, running up and along buildings, and gliding. After a few upgrades, you can literally get from Battery Park to Central Park in a minute (that is if you don’t stop to kill anything). And the running and jumping from rooftop to rooftop is very fun in and of itself. In addition, there are lots of side quests like races, battles, fetches, which earn you extra EP so you can buy more upgrades.

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The game looks great and sounds great. It’s one of the first games in Dolby 7.1. My mark for realistic sound is if the cat gets spooked by some background noise and that has happened a few times in Prototype. The soundtrack is pretty good and it is fairly subtle, unlike other games where you have to turn down the soundtrack just to hear the action.

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So, to wrap this up, Prototype is a very good game bordering on excellent, but it falls just short. It is a little tedious in the beginning, then there is this golden period where it is pure fun, but then in the end you’re so powerful that battles become monotonous. That said, I’m having a hell of a lot of fun trashing NYC!

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