Three games share a shelf in the jumbled, arbitrary cataloguing system of my brain. Crackdown, inFamous and Prototype. There are obvious parallels; all present large, open-world cities through which you guide a super-powered hero, stomping, zapping, or slicing through whatever has the temerity to stand in your way. Each has produced two titles (barring inFamous’s downloadable Halloween bash).
Every once in a while I realise that I want to play one of these and when I do, only the right one will do. If what I want is some electrical goodness with Cole in inFamous, then Prototype won’t do. If I want some Crackdown, then invariably I end up wishing that I still had #1, because #2 just doesn’t quite cut it for me.
Each game has its merits and problems, but today I am going to drool about Prototype*.
Let’s get this out of the way; it’s not a happy game. Next to the cell-shaded, pastel tongue-in-cheekery of Crackdown’s Pacific City, or the flashy light-show and chewy city of inFamous, it gets rather lost in the noise. You’re in New-York and it’s a bad day; an apocalyptic infection is spreading through the population and a shadowy military organisation is doing its best to contain the threat, turn it into weapons tech and kill everyone who might let the cat out of the bag. In game 1 you play the man who released the plague, who becomes the main antagonist for game 2. The city is uniformly dark, mist-shrouded and crumbling, filled with screaming, terrified citizenry and the ravening horde of bloodthirsty creatures into which the plague is transforming the populace. Bestriding it all, the player is a viral super-soldier; their body replaced by the microscopic nasty; mutable, plastic, strong and hungry.
It’s dark, it’s oppressive and its brutal, but…it’s also a massive amount of fun. It’s one of those games that you could never defend to the moral majority; you will kill as many innocents as bad-guys in your quest; unthinkingly, whimsically, just because you need the extra sliver of health-bar that they will afford you. The closest thing to a decent motivation is the desire to save your daughter in game 2, but that doesn’t stack against the litany of horror that you will unleash. It’s a guilty pleasure, there’s no denying that. However, I have never played a game that imbued the player with such a sense of power.
By the end-game, you will be jumping from the street up to the roof of an apartment building, gliding off that to the nearby skyscraper, the side of which you will then run up vertically before launching yourself from the peak and riding the wind half-way across the city. You will be throwing RPGs back at the soldiers who fired them before slicing a dozen guys into gory strips with a single swipe of your tendril. You will tear the turret off tanks and beat the rest of the machine to death with it. You will have so much military ire thrown at you that this power is not more than you need. Then, at the height of it all, you will slip around a corner and assume the guise of one of the soldiers you just ate and let the raging military machine wash past you as it loses you in the city. In that guise you will sneak through military bases, walk right past their commanders and strike direct at their heart.
Prototype gives you the tools to instigate incredible carnage without it ever being beyond your control to get away from it. If you have your head on and the controls down, you can summon up the hordes of hell, dump them on a tank factory, stir it with your spoon of violence and jump right in to the middle, laying about yourself in a surprisingly well controlled and easy to manipulate whirl of blades and splattery, Thing-like explosions of viral flesh and body-parts. Your options are manifold; at any time you might elect to steal that tank, rather than pull it apart. You might jump onto the helicopter and steal its rocket pods to fire at the building-sized monster you’re all fighting. You might steal the face of a soldier and pick up a rifle to help take down the bad-guys incognito. You could go hand to hand…well, no, more like giant-metal-flesh blades of slicing to huge, malformed, bony cudgel with a mutated monster, or just spend your saved-up energy on exploding in a giant sphere of tendrily, gooey spears that will kill – or severely main – everyone in sight. The choice is yours. And whatever you chose, it’s awesome.
Never will you find yourself with a thirty-second climb up the side of a building like in inFamous. Never will you make a bad jump and land in a hail of bullets that will cut you down in moments like Crackdown. Never will you be able to tell your therapist about the things you have enjoyed doing in the guise of Alex Mercer of James Heller – or the things that they become.
So; it’s not as pretty as inFamous, or as cheerful as Crackdown and it seems to fall outside many people’s recognition, perhaps because of that dark, disturbed nature…but I would argue that for pure escapism, for the representation of unimaginable power and enough carnage to stretch the legs of the god you will portray, there’s no substitute.
*: assume I mean Prototype 2, unless indicated otherwise. They are very similar, although #2 is larger, prettier and has a more refined control scheme, the effect of both games is much the same.