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Prototype

Feature: Why this sandbox bloodbath could be one of 2009's finest

It must be tough being Alex Mercer. He's a man for whom even the very simplest of tasks, like catching a bus, enjoying the hustle-bustle of the New York streets, or buying a newspaper, is only ever one button-press away from tragedy. Wherever he goes he just cannot help but leave a trail of bloodied spike-impaled bus-drivers, crowds of scythed-in-half tourists, and middle-aged WHSmiths till ladies absorbed into his thirsty body. Ah well. Accidents will happen.

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"Today we discovered something really cool and devilish in the game that we'd never found before," Radical's executive producer Tim Bennison tells us as we meet in the final months of Prototype's development. "If you find the correct 'tiered-roof' building in Times Square, you can take an enemy to the top and execute seven flawless continuous body slams and smash him into the pavement of Times Square for a perfect kill. Have you ever seen a slinky-toy move down a bunch of big steps? Replace that concept with Alex Mercer obliterating a Blackwatch soldier on each tier of a skyscraper and you're halfway there." We solemnly nod as we take in this information, pausing only to ride a pedestrian's body like a surf board - bubbles of gore in its wake - into a yellow cab's wheel arch.

Leap of faith
Never before have so many acts of extreme, extreme violence been accessible via one gamepad. Blood practically weeps off the right and left triggers. For the uninitiated who've missed our previews of this in the past, Prototype sees an authentically recreated New York beset by a mysterious infection. The iconic city is rapidly becoming a warzone in which the military battle to contain everything from mutated zombie-like civilians to bounding wads of angry muscle that are rampaging through its streets.

At the centre of this is our aforementioned angry young anti-hero, Alex Mercer, suddenly gifted with abilities such as consuming the guts, appearance and talents of those around him, picking up cars and using them as battering rams during rush hour, and performing wrestling moves on tanks from skyscraper rooftops. Prototype simply lets you do anything; just so long as it involves suffering and bereavement somewhere down the line. Or possibly just jumping really high.

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As the game continues, more and more abilities are opened up, each one with various different slots to plug your amassed Evolution/Experience Points into, unlocking fresh moves and increasing your already remarkable capabilities. Hammer Fists let you knock rolling artillery into the stratosphere. Claws let you call up vast stalagmite-spikes to impale your targets. Blade Arm turns everything beneath your right elbow into the sort of goliath metal accoutrement usually waved around in Soul Calibur. It's all an extremely messy business. If Prototype had a mother, she'd almost certainly be ashamed of it.

"We've really beefed up the concept of traditional power progression," explains Bennison, bringing order to the buckets of gore set out before him. "The goal is to make players feel extremely powerful from the start, while correctly balancing the enemy threat so that you're always on edge and feeling challenged. The devastation that any one of these powers can cause is pretty spectacular - this is not a Tekken-like one-on-one fight, this is one man taking out 20 elite soldiers with a single killer move. One of our favourite things to do in the office recently is see how many moves we can pull off while descending from a high jump. Our top QA tester can actually jump off a skyscraper, fire off two RPG shells into a tank below, and then pull off the hammer-fist 'elbow drop' to decimate the tank in about four seconds."

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