Alex Mercer is having a bad day. He just woke up prepped for autopsy on a morgue slab, with no idea of how he got there. Instead of sticking around and filling him in on the story so far, the scientists doing the prep work made a beeline for the door, where they’re stopped by a military squad and summarily executed.
Things go from bad to worse for Mercer when that squad turns their guns on him, but he finds to his astonishment that a few dozen rounds aren’t enough to send him back to the morgue. After an impossible getaway, Mercer learns two crucial facts: He is patient zero for a viral plague which will soon overwhelm Manhattan, and this same plague has turned him into a living weapon.
Armed with the steadily evolving powers the virus has given him and a hunger to use them against anyone involved with its creation, Mercer sets off to kill his way up the food chain until he finds whoever put him on ice in the first place.
That’s all you need to know to get a handle on Prototype, Radical Entertainment’s latest monster in a sandbox. Very much a spiritual sequel to Radical’s Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, Prototype is a complex engine fine-tuned to deliver as many avenues toward wholesale carnage as possible on a current-gen console.
Prototype never tells much of anything about its plot, at least not in the way that mere mortals understand “telling.” Mission-specific cut scenes reveal a little about what’s going on, but as implemented they’re little more than an excuse for Mercer to remind the world just how angry he is and how he’s going to make those bastards (whoever they are) pay.
If you want to know anything about Prototype’s backstory, you have to find out the same way that our protozoan predecessors did: by eating your way to the top. Scattered throughout the game’s quarantine zone are 200 persons of interest, each of whom has a tiny bit of knowledge of the conspiracy surrounding the virus. Mercer, at this point a well-preserved extreme-sports zombie, has only to snatch one off the street and pop open his head. Boom! One scattered memory cocktail, ready to be consumed and added to the Mercer hivemind.
It works, but all the fresh meat in the world can’t make Prototype’s story more than a typical forgettable revenge scenario draped over the game like the unstylish hooded jacket that protects the eyes of the unwary from the unspeakable horror Mercer has become.
Which is exactly why you shouldn’t bother worrying about it. Make no mistake: Alex Mercer is no longer human. He’s a biotech T-1000 with a thinly defined vendetta and an outfit cribbed from an Eminem video, and New York City is his playground-cum-feeding trough. The point of Prototype, then, is to act as the metaphorical Roman in this intra-apocalyptic Rome. Eat, drink, and use the multitude of tools at your disposal to be sickeningly merry—because tomorrow, everyone will probably be dead.
Don’t worry about why you’re going; concentrate on how you get there. Though Prototype’s missions are refreshingly varied, they pale in comparison to the entertainment value to be had by simply spending an hour or two decreasing New York’s military or plague-ridden populations. (Civilians, being lunch, don’t count.)
There’s a certain organic flow to moving around in Prototype that is rarely done well in games with so many travel options. Imagine Assassin’s Creed by way of Crackdown, with a superpowered engine of destruction that can either free-run across New York’s rooftops, pass unnoticed through the crowd below, or hijack the closest land- or air-based military transport and run rampant through the city, and you’ve got an idea of what Prototype can do.
And you’ll be doing a lot of that, often as quickly as possible. For being the pinnacle of weaponized biotechnological advancement, Mercer is something of a glass cannon. Successful combat strategies are plentiful, given Mercer’s abundant talent pool, but they all boil down to overwhelming front-loaded damage and hit-and-run tactics.
Prototype’s only true shortcoming may be the press it isn’t generating. Mercer is almost comical in his near-complete amorality. Thousands, perhaps millions, die in his wake, and he poses no objection to the copious carnage done by his own hand unless the threadbare plot calls for him to mewl out a “I hope I’m doing the right thing!” or two. Even then, it’s right back to missile salvos down Broadway and automobile Frisbee golf in Central Park.
Despite its unparalleled potential for bloodshed, not a peep has been heard from the usual opposition. Where are the parents’ groups? The religious diatribes? Does the lack of sex in the violence keep protests at bay? It’s a statistical improbability for Mercer to have not killed a couple of hookers in his weeks-long rampage. Doesn’t that count?
Someone call Grand Theft Auto. I think I’m on to something here.