Prototype Hands-On Impressions

We finally get our first hands-on time with modern-day superhero smasher Prototype.

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We've seen Prototype on and off a few times in the last year, and though the game appears to be humming along nicely on the development side, until now we've been limited to watching demos of live gameplay. The wraps came off yesterday when Radical--under the watchful eye of Activision--allowed a handful of international media to try a work-in-progress Xbox 360 build for themselves.

Alex Mercer has a few bones to pick. Literally.
Alex Mercer has a few bones to pick. Literally.

For those who haven't been following the project to date, Prototype puts you in the shoes of Alex Mercer, a man with a mysterious past, over-the-top superpowers, and a penchant for payback. Unfortunately, though he's hell-bent on dealing out a gory death to anyone who stands in his way, Alex remembers nothing of his former life--so he's not entirely sure who is to blame for his predicament. On the way to finding answers, Alex will come face-to-face with three groups: the frightened citizens that occupy the game's modern-day New York setting; the mutants who occupy part of the city and seem to recognise (but still want to destroy) Alex; and the Black Watch, a shady, secretive government agency trained to deal with containment during an outbreak. Of course, the latter begs the question as to whether or not such an infection has occurred previously, and it's a point that the development team is keeping close to their chests at the moment.

Although our demo was only a short single-player level broken up into three distinct elements, it did give us an indicator of the action to expect when the game launches this year. Dropped into NYC, we were told that the game would include a noninteractive scene, but for the purposes of the demo it wasn't shown. Our objective was to take down a small group of Army grunts standing nearby in a fanned formation. This section was designed to give us a gentle introduction to the controller configuration, and we quickly found the action by punching and kicking using the X button. The B button let us pick up and throw enemies, and once they were beaten down, we could pick up military weaponry and turn it against its owners. Though superheros aren't necessarily best known for their use of machine guns, tanks, or rocket launchers, the frequency at which we were attacked suggested that we could use all the help we could get. That said, if you're more of an up-close-and-personal kind of player, there's definitely Hulk-style fist smashing here.

Once we had completed the first mission, our new objective had us traversing part of the city to take out another military group. As you'd expect from an open-world superhero game like Prototype, you won't opt to jump a cab or train when you need to move. Instead, the right trigger is your friend when you need to zip through traffic in full sprint, or throw gravity to the wind and scale buildings Spidey-style. Holding any button charges up an attack or physical move, and by holding down the A button, we were able to jump significantly higher. Double-tapping the A button once in the air puts Alex in a glide mode, and you're able to steer him gracefully through the wide New York streets on the way to your goal as mayhem swirls at street level below.

Next we were given our Wolverine-style claw weapons. Given that Alex is a shape-shifter, it's simply a case of bringing up a radial menu to select the right weapon for the current situation. Slashing our way through another small group of armed soldiers, we got a feel for the targeting and combo mechanics available. Jumping with the A button, targeting with the left trigger, and then tapping Y unleashed a long-range air dash with a claw swipe on the end that was particularly useful for covering ground at speed. Gifted for the purpose of the demo, we were then given a sword-looking blade-arm extension that Alex used against one of the other enemy types you'll come across in Prototype: hunters. These large, pink, humanoid-shaped foes are not unlike Left 4 Dead's Tank class and use their brute strength to thump down on your skull and generally knock you around. Our new glaive made slightly shorter work of them, and though lightly armoured military personnel took only a few hits to defeat, hunters took us as many as five deftly placed strikes to polish off. Charging and then releasing the Y button performed a powerful ground attack, which occurred in slow-motion and made use of a zoomed-in cinematic camera angle.

With humans and hunters out of the way, we were given a taste of the hammerfist. This is a weapon that once selected causes Alex's hands to grow and mutate into large, spiked clubs. Though slow to aim and fire, the tanks that we came up against were able to deal huge amounts of damage to our character. As a result, we took to the air and used bombing-style air-to-ground slams to rain death from above. Smoke and floating debris littered the screen after a tank took a shot, obscuring chunks of the screen for a few seconds at a time.

Between mutated freaks, military troops, and the mysterious Black Watch, Mercer's got his hands…err, claws…full.
Between mutated freaks, military troops, and the mysterious Black Watch, Mercer's got his hands…err, claws…full.

The last mission that we saw had us taking to the skies and making use of our glide to reach a small army encampment in which an unguarded commander stood waiting for our interaction. By grabbing a target and repeatedly tapping the Y button, Alex consumes their biomass. This function not only restores health and grants Alex the unit's physical form and abilities--which can be used as a disguise or to learn how to drive a tank--but it also gives him their memories. This is used as the game's key storytelling mechanic and will include 20-second cinematic cutscenes that help to fill in the gaps. Consuming the commanding officer unleashed a Michael Bay-esque 360-degree panning camera shot that demonstrated one of Alex's devastator attacks, a multiprong tentacle manoeuvre that destroyed every target within a city block. Devastator abilities can also be triggered manually at any time with the Y button once you've filled the "critical mass" bar located at the end of your health meter. Dealing damage will grant you this energy, and though it doesn't deplete like a timed combo meter over time, taking damage will cause it to drop in chunks, presumably to avoid letting you spam them excessively.

Whether you're killing Army men, mutants, or the Black Watch as you roam the streets, you'll be earning the game's currency in the form of evolution points (EP), which can be spent on upgrading skills in one of three trees. Spending points increases Alex's proficiency in dealing damage, mitigating hurt, and his sensory skills--the last of which will apparently help during certain missions. EP are also rewarded for successfully completing side missions, and though their bountifulness will slow as you progress through the story, you'll never be forced to stack points in a single tree to continue. Radical reps also assured us that there are enough EP to eventually unlock all of Alex's abilities.

Prototype is showing plenty of promise and is sure to appeal to anyone keen on laying waste to a mutant city. Prototype will punch and smash its way onto the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC in June this year. Check back soon for more GameSpot coverage.

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