A while back, the inimitable Keith Stuart at the Guardian Gaming Blog wrote a rather interesting piece about gaming hackdom and whether or not the people who review games should be expected to play they games they review right the way through. This stymied me at the time because while I believed (and still do) that it’s something reviewers should do, it’s a rule that I couldn’t claim I’d religiously stuck to up until that point. Then I played – and didn’t finish – a game called Prototype for review purposes. I gave it a score, published the review and then finished it. I then vowed to never review a game until I had played it all the way through until the end. Here’s why…
If you haven’t played Prototype then a quick description is that it’s basically Hulk: Ultimate Destruction crossed with inFamous. To wit, in the game you play a mentally unhinged superhero (Hulk: Ultimate Destruction) with a penchant for parkour (inFamous) and wreaking widespread destruction (Hulk again). The game’s protagonist is a bloke called Alex Mercer who was experimented on in a highly secret government project to create a race of super-soldiers (yes, another one!), who has lost his memory. He wakes up on a slab in the morgue and, after killing a couple of innocent bystanders, decides to rip apart New York in search of answers. Hilarity ensues.
Despite its drawbacks, I actually enjoyed Prototype. It wasn’t subtle and it wasn’t exactly elegant – in fact in some places it was downright ugly – but it had a kind of reckless appeal to it and the violence in it was so over the top it prompted more laughter than anything else. Unlike its nearest parkour superhero competitor, inFamous, it didn’t bother with a moral compass; Alex Mercer was a sociopath and anyone or anything in his way – to the truth or just to the next rooftop – was fair game. As I used Alex to kick, stomp, rend and tear my way across the game’s map, I warmed to Prototype’s chaotic charms. This was an open-world beat-em-up which reminded me of the halcyon days when GTA offered gamers gleeful abandon, decent stories and cartoon violence in the same package. Alex Mercer may have been a nutcase, but he was loads of fun, and after a hard day’s work, he offered release through reckless abandon. Prototype was to inFamous as ice hockey was to figure skating and while the latter appealed more on an aesthetic level, the former satisfied any pugilistic urges I had at the end of a stressful day.
With that in mind, I felt quite favourable towards Prototype and when time came to review it, I decided to give it an 8. When I described where I was in the game to a fellow games hack, I was told I had one more boss battle to go, so I felt I could review it with a clear conscience. So I did. And then I played the final boss battle and swore that if I’d done that ahead of the review, I would’ve knocked it down a point or two.
The reason for this is that, while it’s still great fun, Prototype has one of the worst targeting lock-on functions of any game I’ve ever played. Pull the left trigger and your about as likely to target a car parked a block away from Alex Mercer as you are the massive beastie bearing down on him. For the most part of the game, this isn’t too much of a problem. Yes, it leads to the odd instance in which Alex gets turned into paint, but usually the wonky target lock will allow him to pick up an item he can hurl or shoot at anything he’s fighting, so it’s not too bad. The final boss battle is a different story…
Prototype’s final boss battle takes place on an aircraft carrier filled with planes, bombs and soldiers. The boss in this battles is agile, quick, able to do vast amounts of damage with a single blow and has one attack which kills you outright. Oh, and there’s no animation which warns you when he’s about to deploy said insta-kill attack. Given the damage needed to take the boss down, the most effective way to do it is to consume soldiers and push Alex’s life meter up and over the edge. Then you can land right next to the bugger and deploy the Tendril Barrage (pictured above) for maximum damage. The problem here is that the biggest obstacle standing in your way isn’t the boss. It’s the rubbish target lock-on because Alex is as likely to pick up a missile or a dropped weapon as he is a nice, juicy soldier. As more and more soldiers drop dead on the deck, they leave behind more and more weapons, and thus the list of things Alex will target balloons. It got to the point that I’d leap into the air and target about six or seven things before I grabbed a soldier during the boss battle – and this lead to being repeatedly short-footed and pounded by the boss four times out of five.
This, as you may have gathered, changed my opinion about Prototype just a little. I went from thinking it was a really good Big Dumb Game to just a Big Dumb Game which could be enjoyed in bursts. The boss battle soured my good mood and really would’ve pushed the score down a notch. Yes, a lot of the game was enjoyable, but when it’s revealed that what you’re working towards is the video gaming equivalent of being hit in the face with a spade, it takes the sheen off somewhat. The fact that the game’s ending was pants didn’t help either.
It may be dumb to expect journalists to play games all the way through, but after Prototype I’ll make every endeavor to do just that. No matter how pedantic it makes me.
Incidentally I played Prototype again recently, and I still think there’s fun to be had, as long as you’re not actually labouring under the sense that the plot might be taking you to a worthwhile destination.