Our verdict on Radical's long-awaited sandbox-style action game.
360 (PS3, PC)
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Radical Entertainment has unleashed hell in New York, and a virus is rapidly turning the city into infected Zombies, whilst ever-increasing levels of military hardware try their best to keep the peace. Luckily for none of those involved, you get to play psychotic anti-hero Alex Mercer, a secret agent-turned-virus-mutated-monster who will happily rip the heads off any cops shooting him, monsters, or blind citizens asking for his help to cross the road.
Told in a Tarantinoesque flashback scene, Prototype's opening scene shows you downtown Manhattan 18 days into the viral outbreak. By this point the city looks like it has been left under a sunbed for six hours too long; Manhattan is a swollen red-raw blister, throbbing at bursting point. Alex Mercer is an unstoppable killing machine. A shape shifting cross between Spiderman's nemesis Venom and John Carpenter's The Thing, Mercer is a cancer who feasts on the living to further empower his twisted self.
After a grand show of the powers you'll later acquire, you are transported back to day 1 of the outbreak. From here, you'll have free roam of the entire city, with various missions dotted around. Prototype's similarities to Crackdown are immediate, but as Radical were responsible for predecessor Hulk's Ultimate Destruction it's unfair to criticise them too much. Not only have Radical improved on their own effort, they have taken some of Crackdown's flaws (like the weak hand-to-hand combat) and lifted them to a whole new level. Mercer can sprint rapidly through the streets and just as rapidly up vertical walls thanks to the tentacles powering out his legs into the masonry. Experience points are earned for everything from devouring passers by (which also increases your health), destroying enemies and evading any SWAT teams that the military will call if they spot you.
Experience points can than be spent on various powers, ranging from movement abilities (faster sprinting, higher jumps, air boosting and gliding), offensive abilities (bladed arms, club arms, spiky tentacle arms) defensive abilities (shield and armour), stealth abilities (disguise) and sensory ability (heat vision). Mercer's abilities are many and varied, but all lead to one thing; they help you tear up New York in ever more efficient manner. Prototype gives you more tools than nearly any other game to take on its challenges; the fun lies in how you decide to use them. Stealth is an option, devouring the nearest soldier and shape shifting to his appearance will allow to stroll into a military stronghold. Mutating into a steel shelled leviathan and throwing the nearest armoured truck at your target may be less subtle, but just as effective.
The speed at which you gain new powers keeps Prototype an exciting venture and you will be a long way into the game before any tedium sets in. Unfortunately the side missions become rather repetitive but as training exercises in using new powers or vehicles to destroy as many opponents as possible they can prove invaluable. Spending time getting a gold medal in each will ensure you've mastered the powers for some of the story missions, which can have huge difficulty spikes. Prototype will often throw so many enemies at you at once you'll require every power in arsenal to survive. While some of these missions can seem impossibly tough at first, there is always plenty of action elsewhere in the city to get involved in.