Prototype

Tagged: Game

Videogame (2009). Radical Entertainment (RE). Designed by Eric Holmes, Dennis Detwiller. Platforms: PS3, Win, XB360.

In Prototype, the hero is a Monster. In present-day Manhattan, an unknown virus is radically mutating the population, turning them into grotesque Zombie-like killers. The player's character, Alex Mercer, is a Superpowered amnesiac, a condition which also appears to have been caused by the devastating disease. As a protagonist, Mercer offers the player a remarkable sense of enablement; he is a superhumanly strong and agile Shapeshifter who can adopt forms which allow him to glide across the sky, punch through tanks, and pull helicopters from the air. His goal at the beginning of the game is simply to take revenge on those who infected him. Ultimately, it emerges that he is the one responsible for the plague, having deliberately released the virus when he was about to be killed by its owners, for whom he had helped create it. There are other twists in the tale.

The game's design is that of an action Adventure, one which combines a spine of linear plot with a selection of optional missions arranged in a modular structure (see Interactive Narrative). Gameplay is extremely fast paced, with players typically having the option of penetrating dangerous areas by mimicking the forms of government soldiers or simply by attacking everything in sight. As in the somewhat similar inFAMOUS (2009), players can roam the city more or less at will, though most of their time will be devoted to (somewhat repetitive) combat. There is a strong element of body horror, as if the director of Tetsuo (1989) had been inspired by biology rather than machinery. Players gain the ability to enact a wide range of disturbing bodily transformations upon their characters, as well as the need to regularly ingest people in order to absorb their biomass and memories. (This last device is used to reveal the embedded backstory of Mercer's past through the minds of his victims, as well as to bestow upon him the skills needed to use military weapons and vehicles.) While the chaotic ruins of Manhattan Island are effectively depicted, and the subtext of the story is interesting, the game's relentless focus on carnage and dismemberment is less appealing. Ultimately, there is little more tiresome than fountains of human viscera. Interestingly, many players seem to have found adopting the role of the monster troublesome; the heroic death experienced by the protagonist of Halo: Reach appears to have made for a notably more popular experience (see Halo: Combat Evolved).

Prototype 2 (2012 RE, PS3, Win, XB360) designed by Matthew Armstrong, John Howard is a broadly similar, but arguably less interesting, sequel, in which the protagonist is James Heller, a soldier who has been given superhuman powers by Mercer. Mercer, meanwhile, has become a crazed messiah determined to infect the whole of humanity with the virus which transformed him. Heller devotes himself to hunting down and killing his maker, pausing only to indulge in bouts of macho posturing. Prototype 2 attempts to present its main character in more conventionally heroic terms than did its predecessor, though the gameplay benefits gained by killing and consuming passing civilians may make this a difficult role for players to enact. The game ends with Heller dedicating himself to preserving humankind by destroying the infected before they can spread the disease any further. Ominously, this is precisely the role which Mercer adopts at the end of the first game.

Related works: Colossal Mayhem (2012 RE, PS3, XB360) and Excessive Force (2012 RE, PS3, XB360) are expansions for Prototype 2 which contain additional weapons and abilities for the player. Prototype (2009) is a six-issue Comics series which serves as a prequel to the original game, while Prototype 2 (2012) is a Graphic Novel, set between the first and second games and authored by Dan Jolley (who wrote the script for Prototype 2). [NT]

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