Playing Radical Entertainment's new action title Prototype will give you a hint of what immortality must feel like. You control Alex Mercer, a man who is transformed into a creature that is in command of his genetic makeup. He is able to survive almost anything and can physically alter himself to accomplish whatever he chooses. He can leap up buildings in a few bounds, glide above the skyline with ease, run over anything, morph into a disguise, pick up huge objects and chuck them like pebbles, and transform himself into any number of deadly weapons. It's almost impossible to feel like your character is ever in any real jeopardy as you can simply evade faster than your pursuers can chase, and if you choose to allow them to engage you, the enemies don't seem to pose any real threat. At least, that is the case in the beginning levels.
This game doesn't necessarily steer you into a benevolent or a malevolent role, as the ultimate power the game bestows upon you is one of ambivalence. As a player, I found myself struggling to maintain a shred of the character's humanity by sparing innocent lives when I could. The game makes it pretty much impossible to avoid civilian casualties, and it certainly doesn't reward you for it. If anything, it's a lot easier to play with indifference, and there is certainly an ugly fun to be had when sacrificing the population to make for an easier out when a strike team attacks you. A quick way to regenerate health is to “absorb” people, and if there aren't any enemies around, then the citizenry makes for an easy snack.
The game takes place in Manhattan, and it amuses me that one of the lead character's main traits (his loss of humanity) reminds me of the Doctor Manhattan character from the Watchmen. Aside from this, the setting provides a huge sandbox for our anti-hero to play in, including bonus challenges all over the map.
Scattered throughout the city you'll find characters that are part of the “web of intrigue,” which is a clever device to narrate the story. If you absorb these characters, you see short movie clips of their memories and another piece of the puzzle to help you understand Alex's history and situation. This helps a great deal as Alex is suffering from amnesia at the beginning of the game, so the player joins him in his discovery of who he is and why he has his powers.
The title also includes a bit of a role-playing game (RPG) element in that the player can choose how to upgrade Alex's abilities by making purchases with accrued experience points.
Is it fun? At times deliciously so, although with great power comes the potential for great indifference. If you're intrigued enough to give the game a try, you might want to know what hardware you need to get the most out of Prototype. That's our mission here today.