As far as blockbuster opening sections go, the first 10 minutes of Prototype are right up there with the best of the best. Finding yourself in control of one Alex Mercer, the game hand-holds you through a ridiculously over-the-top opening section with limbs flying here there and everywhere. Not bad considering you start on a mortuary slab.
After that, it's all about the tale of just how a ridiculously over-the-top state of affairs - which see poor civilians slaughtered by infected beasties, while army tanks are regularly spotted traversing the streets - came to fruition.
As one Alex Mercer, you seem to be infected with some kind of super hero inducing skill juice. Your most basic of initial skills allow you to run up the side of skyscrapers, and plummet down to the city below without a mere scratch. You can even "consume" characters to shape shift into them to shake off your enemies, increase your health, or get into previously restricted areas. Yet the army seems intent on tracking you down and causing and terminating you; Mercer is understandably a little eager to discover just what the hell's happening.
Special mention must go to the story itself for keeping things ticking, thanks to its mish-mash of qualities. While cutscenes and chance to see memories of specific characters to reveal more of the back story are both well done, it still leaves what is essentially a quite simplistic tale inherently confusing and difficult to comprehend. It's never explained, for example, just why Alex is more than happy to slaughter uninfected civilians for no reason other than a swiftly consumed health boost.
Set out in much the same manner as the recently praised inFamous, Prototype offers a hefty cityscape to explore. Manoeuvring around is easy enough, with rooftop hopping the preferred method for the thrill seekers among you. You can, with a swift hold of the right trigger, initiate a parkour-esque running style, allowing Mercer to hop over objects in his path. But this particular mode of travel requires a little more than holding the analogue stick forward and the trigger pressed down. Not exactly testing your skill levels.
You can upgrade the talents of Mercer via the menu screen, with new possibilities regularly unlocked. Everything from faster running, higher jumps, and brand new monstrous abilities to transform your limbs into hulking masses or sharp slicers are included to be purchased via your won XP as you see fit.
Yet as exciting as these new skills can initially seem, never do they truly again hit the heights of that initial few minutes. Missions descend into either stealthy infiltration or merciless slaughter, giving the initial sandbox appearance a quite generic gloss. You can traverse the city and try your hand at various side missions to earn extra XP and unlock yet more additional quests, but still none of these differ wildly from the norm.
The fighting system too is a major let down. Targeting is flimsy at best, and the camera regularly fails to give you a decent viewpoint of what's ahead, particularly when the action really heats up. All ultimately lacks real weight and excitement, and feels like a system that's severely lacking in any quality control. It's functional, but simply missing any real fun qualities.
Similarly the aesthetics are a huge let down. Though a large amount of action can be going on at any one time, textures are lacking in detail and any kind of brilliance. It's safe to say that the visuals in particular are a long way behind the likes of inFamous, Gears of War 2, and other vaguely sandbox releases such as Red Faction: Guerrilla, or Grand Theft Auto 4.
With so much hype behind it, Prototype finally arrives as a huge missed opportunity. With more mission variety, an improved camera, and a tweaked fighting system, we could have had a hit on our hands. Instead its merely just another generic third person action title that doesn't deserve to be thought about until it drops to a budget price.