Prototype Updated Impressions

We go back to the streets of New York in our latest look at the body-slicing, building-jumping, and mutant-battling antics of Prototype.

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Our first look at Prototype last year provided us with only a very brief glimpse of the upcoming game, but it was enough to make us want to know more about this ultraviolent open-world action game. What we learned back then was that Prototype's main protagonist--Alex Mercer--was a superpowered mofo with a mean streak, cutting a violent swathe through a near-replica New York City as he took on both military and mutant forces (and the odd innocent bystander). Developer Radical Entertainment unveiled a few more secrets about Prototype recently, giving GameSpot a better insight into Alex's plight, his enemies, and the whole "deceive or destroy" nature of the game's missions. And yes, there's still plenty of over-the-top body slicing and amputations to be had.

Opening up tanks--just another day in Alex Mercer's life.
Opening up tanks--just another day in Alex Mercer's life.

Prototype is set in New York, 2008, and will see you take control of Alex, an amnesiac who wakes up on the streets of the city with little to no recollection of who he is or how he inherited his awesome superpowers. Said powers include the ability to run at a tremendous speed, leap great distances, run up the sides of buildings, and pick up and throw trucks and cars with ease.

If this whole superpowered-being-in-an-open-world-game thing is sounding a little Crackdown, then never fear. As well as those previously mentioned typical superpowers, Alex can also assume different shapes, most notably transforming his arms into wicked-looking blades which do a great job of slicing enemies clean in half. Another ability lets Alex use his accumulated biomass to create a thick armoured skin. Alex can also "consume" anyone he comes across--he can take on the memories and abilities of any person by consuming their biomass (thanks to icky Spawn-like tentacles seeping from his body). Not only can he take their abilities, but he can also shape-shift into that person, allowing Alex to sneak within his enemies' ranks and even get away unnoticed from any chaotic situations.

This ability to assume the identity of practically anyone in New York is Prototype's greatest differentiator from other open-world games and is the basis of the game's "deceive or destroy" gameplay, according to executive producer Tim Bennison. Bennison says the team at Radical is aiming to present you with the ability to mix the pace of Prototype at will, either using Alex's superpowers for some blunt-force action or using stealth to achieve objectives (or both).

During a guided, hands-off demo of the game, a Radical rep showed GameSpot exactly how this would work by playing through a simple mission which required Alex to destroy two army bases in the city. The demo began with Alex perched on a billboard five storeys above New York, before performing a backflip and landing gracefully on the street below. Alex then ran at a great pace through the streets, jumping on cars and running along the sides of buildings in what was a very impressive demonstration of superpowered parkour. Upon reaching the first army base--which was surrounded by some heavy fortifications--Alex nabbed a nearby soldier, dragged him into an alleyway out of sight from his colleagues, and consumed his biomass. Alex shape-shifted into the soldier and then proceeded to calmly walk inside the defensive cordon. Once inside, Alex found an army commander, nabbed him, and then consumed the poor slob. Assuming the identity of the commander granted Alex the ability to call in an air strike, something he promptly did on the army base, destroying it in the process.

The Radical rep's second play-through of that mission was a lot less subtle and a lot more slaughter-rific. This time around, Alex was made to do a full-on assault on the first base. Armed with his two razor-sharp blades...um...arms, Alex easily cut through enemy soldiers, many of them being riven in two with a few simple button presses. He then commandeered a tank and used it to blast the base into kingdom come. This assault highlighted the uber-violence you'll be able to wreak during the game. One particularly bloody move saw Alex grab a soldier with one hand before crushing his skull into his shoulders.

Of course, there's a reason for all this madness. New York is apparently in the grip of a viral epidemic, with Alex playing a substantial but mysterious role in the proceedings. This strange virus has turned some of New York's denizens into large, green-skinned mutants who seem to share some of the speed and power of Alex himself. The second half of our guided demo showed Alex taking on four of these mutants, but instead of a head-on confrontation, the Radical rep made Alex flee from the scene. While escaping, Alex used his armour-skin ability, which gave him even greater strength (the character was pushing aside incoming traffic with much ease). Running wasn't a case of cowardice, however, as it ended up that the rep was leading the mutants into another zone of the city controlled by the military. The military promptly attacked the mutants, which allowed Alex to take a backseat to let the two sides duke it out.

Pitting different factions against each other will apparently be another key feature of Prototype, with different factions controlling different sections of the city at any one time. As well as the mutants, Alex's other key rivals within the game will be Blackwatch Special Forces soldiers, a supersecret branch of the military which deals specifically with viral outbreaks. Blackwatch forces will pack quite a mean punch in the game due to their previous experiences with similar viral outbreaks and will apparently be armed with weaponry specifically designed to take Alex Mercer down. While we didn't get to see Blackwatch forces in action during our demo, we did see some design concepts (think SS soldiers armed with grenade launchers and mean-looking short swords, and you'll get the picture).

Radical also let slip some details about Prototype's multiplayer aspect, with confirmation that the game would indeed support two-player cooperative play online. The entire single-player campaign will be playable for two people to tackle, and in keeping with the storyline, player two will take on the role of Alex's clone.

Alex can also shoot spikes from the ground to impale opponents.
Alex can also shoot spikes from the ground to impale opponents.

Even at this early stage, Prototype looks to have the goods when it comes to graphics. Alex's character model moves extremely fluidly, seamlessly leaping from car roof to building and back in a very impressive way. New York is also rendered well, with Radical saying the final game version of the city will be 70 to 80 percent accurate compared to the real thing. It's also populated with plenty of civilians, giving the city a more realistic feel. As for sound, Radical is reaching for the skies, confirming that Prototype will be one of the first games to support THX 7.1 surround sound.

There's plenty more we want to find out about Prototype. Radical is promising more details as the months roll on to the game's third-quarter 2008 release. Prototype will be available for the PS3, Xbox 360, and PCs.

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