CES 2009: Prototype Updated Impressions

Wreak havoc on an unsuspecting New York City in this open-world action game from Radical Entertainment.

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The story that drives Prototype is a mysterious one. As Alex Mercer, you suddenly wake up in a morgue imbued with a suite of superhuman powers, ranging from the ability to sprout razor-sharp blades from your arm to a knack for scaling buildings with a spiteful disregard for gravity that Spider-Man could only dream of. Alex doesn't know how he got there or why he's been transformed into a hyperkinetic Swiss Army knife of a human being; all he knows is that he's angry and needs to find out where to focus that anger.

Yes, you can punch a hole through people. Why wouldn't you?
Yes, you can punch a hole through people. Why wouldn't you?

The story that unfolds is pure conspiracy fiction. Besides Alex, the other two factions at the heart of the game are the military and a shadowy organization known as the Black Watch. The latter are a secretive group organized for the express purpose of suppressing outbreaks just like Alex's. "The implication being that this isn't the first time something like this has happened," says Radical Entertainment studio head Kelly Zmak, who recently treated us to a demo at this year's CES.

Alex's newfound powers give him a lot of potential to cause mayhem in the game's open-world setting, which is an increasingly chaotic and riot-filled representation of Manhattan. Zmak began the demo by displaying a few of Alex's most impressive abilities. For starters, Alex can take off running at the speed of a car, zooming through traffic while effortlessly leaping up and over oncoming cars. He can also dash up buildings, leap into the air, and delay the effects of gravity by gliding through the air with a blood-red contrail behind him. On the ground, Alex can make mincemeat of pedestrians by turning his arm into a variety of weapons and slicing up hapless passersby in a rather startling display of blood and severed limbs. It's clear that Prototype will earn every last bit of the M rating it's sure to receive.

However, as in any sandbox game set in a modern metropolis, Alex can also use vehicles. Zmak went with the big guns in the one story mission he showed for us, "Rolling Thunder," which tasks you with killing as many infected creatures as you can within two minutes. The draw here is that you need to drive a stolen tank while doing it. These infected monsters come running out of the woodwork, and you need to take them out in a frenzy while keeping an eye on how much collateral damage you cause (actually, that last part is optional depending on the type of antihero you want to be). The better you do, the more evolution points you earn to unlock new abilities for Alex. This in turn helps Alex advance the story by letting you take on more advanced mission types. However, another way you can find out more about your past is by taking on the form of other human beings. This not only lets you remain hidden from your enemies, but also lets you consume that person's memories, adding more nodes to the web of intrigue that helps fill in the details regarding what happened to Alex.

But we're not sure if you can punch a hole through this giant monster.
But we're not sure if you can punch a hole through this giant monster.

After this mission, Zmak took to the air by having Alex dart up the side of a building and hijack a helicopter. This is done by way of Alex's ability to turn his arm into a grappling hook, shooting it out and latching onto a helicopter. Alex pulled himself onto the chopper and killed a pair of pilots, instantly becoming capable of wreaking havoc from a brand-new vantage point. At this stage in the game, the draw distance stood out to us as noticeably lacking when looking down onto the buildings below. This contrasts with the solid visuals on the ground, which display Alex's movements and the ensuing blood-splattering mayhem with a nice panache.

Overall, Prototype looks like an interesting addition to the sandbox action genre with its focus on superhuman powers that let you tear apart the city in some truly gruesome ways. You can expect to see more on the game as its summer 2009 release draws closer.

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