Today's action video games are, on the whole, often pretty similar. Gamemakers drop players into hyper-adrenalized situations, give them obliterating weapons, high-powered vehicles or bulging-muscle superpowers (sometimes all three) and let them have at it.
The typical storyline pits a pumped-up hero against an overpowering evil that's just begging to be taken down a peg or two. And it usually plays out in a classic scenario of good vs. evil.
Activision's newest sci-fi brawler, Prototype, mostly follows that time-tested gaming formula. Except that this time around, the title's creators apparently decided that evil vs. evil had a better ring to it.
"A game of riotous, gore-splattering ultraviolence." —eurogamer.net
After waking up on a slab in a morgue with no memory of how he got there, Alex Mercer quickly realizes that he's got the ability to toss taxi cabs like tennis balls and leap small buildings with a single bound. But don't be fooled: There's no red and gold "S" on this guy's chest, nor any thought of protecting the innocent for that matter.
No, the only thing Alex—the game's titular "prototype"— is focused upon is bloody, murderous, gut-eviscerating mayhem and revenge. The opening moments of the game make his mindset crystal clear: "They call me a killer, a monster, a terrorist," he says. "I'm all of these things."
Playing the grim-faced Alex, gamers rampage through a battered Manhattan—home to a spreading viral plague that's slowly turning the island's inhabitants into slavering zombies. The game's overarching narrative involves Alex's intention to piece together the story behind this deadly virus and figure out his role in it—not to mention dishing out some violent "attention" to whomever might be responsible for his condition and fate.
At first, though, that task is pretty tough since he can't remember a thing and because he's constantly dodging the bullets of trigger-happy soldiers running roughshod over the city's truly unfortunate inhabitants.
"Last time we checked, slicing people in half and consuming their insides wasn't part of any DC or Marvel comic books." —planetxbox360.com
Alex's task becomes less daunting once the roving, psychotic amnesiac realizes two important things: 1) He's a ready-made killer. 2) If while he's ripping his victims apart he pauses to "consume" them (a process that turns enemies into a bloody, swirling pulp to be absorbed), he gains access to all their memories.
If that makes it sound as if Prototype is all about running around in an open-world environment killing basically everyone you see ... well, that's pretty close. There is an intricate tale of military corruption and attempted racial genocide at the root of the complex narrative, but bloody carnage—especially eating your own road kill—consumes most of the screen time.
"Streets [are] literally awash with blood as he slices, dices and guts anything that stands in his way." —totalvideogames.com
Speed and agility powers propel this antihero around the city. He can run straight up the side of a skyscraper, bounce from rooftops and pound the ground to pavement-rippling effect. But Alex's most striking features—pun intended—are his shapeshifting arms.
In true Swiss Army knife style, those deadly limbs can morph into razor-sharp claws, hard-hitting rocky hammerfists, chain-like whips or giant hacking blades. With these interchangeable weapons at the ready, it's a breeze to grapple with a helicopter, elbow-drop a tank or puree a passing soldier at a moment's notice.
If all else fails, Alex can pick up any discarded rifle or rocket launcher and deliver some pain that way, too. Or if members of the opposing army are too numerous to manhandle, the sneaky prototype can morph into a replica of one of his most recent human meals (Terminator 2, anyone?), walk right up to his target and gulp him down.
"Relentlessly amoral." —gamesradar.com
Of course, scores of action titles these days showcase amped-up violence. The difference here is that there's an utter disregard for all (digital) human life. If Alex is feeling depleted he simply consumes any hapless passerby in order to recharge.
With no penalty whatsoever.
Add in tanker-loads of profanities (including ubiquitous f- and s-words) and frequent misuses of Jesus' and God's names, and what you end up with is a gaming environment that feels as ugly as the bombed-out, zombie-littered Manhattan streets usually look after Alex has strolled through them.
And you don't have to take just my word for it.