Down with the sickness
Following in the footsteps of countless other franchises that have resurfaced in overhauled, HD form this generation, publisher Activision has given new life to Radical Entertainment’s Prototype series on Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Dumped like a body onto the Xbox Live marketplace and PlayStation Store in stealth fashion last week, The Prototype Biohazard bundle packs both the 2009 original, along with its sequel and all of their previously-released DLC content in one hefty $50 package. As expected, the games included in this infectious collection have received a bit of visual polish during their transition to the current-gen platforms, including the requisite bump in resolution and a more consistent frame rate than the last time we saw them spread their disease the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. While the polished visual fidelity is certainly welcome, it takes more than polish to stand out in today’s extremely over-saturated open-world genre.
When Prototype was first released in 2009, it was easily overshadowed by SuckerPunch Productions’ newly-released Infamous. While both titles featured similarly supercharged protagonists, Prototype’s mutated anti-hero Alex Mercer proved to be a much darker, more merciless leading man than Infamous‘ electrifying courier-turned-hero Cole Macgrath. Rather than taking on handfuls of roving gang-bangers and mutants, Prototype ups the ante by dropping players into a massive recreation of Manhattan as it’s being devoured by a mysterious outbreak that’s turning the populace into raging mutants. Players take control of the hoodie-clad Mercer who awakes on a gurney in a morgue to find himself thrust in the middle of a city on the verge of collapse. Gifted with superhuman abilities that come in the form of super speed, strength, and weaponized tendrils that shoot from his body, Mercer uses his strange new found powers to battle Blackwatch, an elusive government army bent on keeping the outbreak under wraps, and the horrifying monsters that have been unleashed in its wake. What unfolds is sheer pandemonium as you’re caught in the crossfire between man and monster, using your diverse array of powers to crush entire armored columns, tackle massive monstrosities and traverse the game’s sprawling concrete jungle with superhuman agility.
Without a doubt, the most exciting aspect of Prototype and its sequel is the unbelievable sense of power you’re afforded when stalking the streets of Manhattan. Diving off of a skyscraper and impacting the ground with enough force to turn a battalion of tanks into twisted metal never gets old. The same goes for the feeling you get when you pounce out of the shadows to slice and dice a platoon of Blackwatch soldiers with a pair of massive claws you can summon from your mutant mitts. Hell, you can even punch your fist into the earth and watch as it explodes out of the ground a city block away, leaving man, mutant and machine little more than twitching chunks of gristle on the pavement. Each new ability you unlock is exciting, and the wealth of quests to undertake provides you with a steady influx of currency to unlock each game’s myriad mutant abilities.
Of course, with so much chaos going on around you at all times, sometimes it’s best to lay low or take the stealth approach to get the drop on your foes. Thankfully, one side effect of the virus’s ability to allow Alex (along with Prototype 2’s protagonist James Heller) to assimilate the DNA of any person walking the streets of Manhattan. This works not only to help you lose your tail when being pursued by military forces or the ever-present airborne strike teams that scour the city, but it also gives you the ability to clandestinely sneak into military installations to dig up dirt on the conspiracy going on behind the scenes, as well as upgrade your abilities by assimilating the knowledge of key personnel. Need a heavily-armed APC for a mission? Snatch up and consume an armored infantry specialist and all of his years of training will be at your fingertips. This mechanic also works as a tool for advancing the game’s story through the Web of Intrigue, a collection of memories absorbed from key personnel you hunt and consume. There are 131 memories to collect, and each one offers a further glimpse into the inner-workings of each game’s story, which truthfully feels a bit like a hokey conspiracy-laden serialized TV series, but remains entertaining nonetheless.
While rampaging through Manhattan is fun, a number of technical hiccups do arise that can make the experience maddening at times. As I said before, the world is jam packed with monsters, humans, and other objects in the environment. Unfortunately, this makes for some extremely aggravating issues on occasions when you repeatedly find yourself interacting with the wrong object in the midst of a battle. Repeatedly grabbing an NPC or a crate while clambering for a rocket launcher to bring down a boss can be infuriating, and lead to lots of unfair deaths. Additionally, the game’s controls (particularly in the original Prototype) can be a bit all over the place, causing your character to pinball around the environment when you simply intend to run up the side of a building. Thankfully, much of this stress is alleviated in Prototype 2, in which the controls have been much refined, and executing your plethora of super-charged abilities feels much more responsive. However, one can’t help but wonder why developer Fun Labs didn’t take the time to bring these improvements over to the original game.
In terms of visuals, the updated high definition graphics are a bit of a mixed bag. Prototype wasn’t quite a looker when it released early in the Xbox 360’s lifespan, and the enhanced resolution only really serves to shine a blinding floodlight on the game’s flat geometry and bland textures. With genre heavyweights like Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto V and Rocksteady’s Arkham Knight, it’s impossible not to notice just how much the looks of sandbox games have evolved in recent years, and Prototype’s slight visual boost only serves to underscore this point. Prototype 2 fares much better, though. The game makes use of volumetric lighting, improved shaders and some nice shadow effects that still hold up fairly well. It’s just a shame that the game’s repetitive mission structure impacts Heller’s quest for revenge, making his crusade against Prototype’s protagonist-turned-heel Alex Mercer for the death of his family fall mostly flat.
Despite some technical gaffes and the pervasive feeling that the Prototype Biohazard Bundle is a largely no-frills upgrade to the original releases, it’s still a lot of fun to run amok through the game’s massive urban playground. Offering two large games, each stocked with a significant amount of DLC to explore, this collection certainly offers a wealth of content for those willing to embrace the series’ plague-ridden playground. It’s a bit of a hard sell at $50, especially for those who have already experienced the games on last-gen hardware, but series newcomers will find a lot to like in this package, so long as they reign in their expectations. While it certainly won’t dethrone the current kings of the sandbox, Radical Entertainment’s apocalyptic vision of New York is still a wild and bloody ride from start to finish.
Final Verdict: 3.5 / 5
Available on: PlayStation 4, Xbox One (Reviewed); Publisher: Activision; Developer: Fun Labs; Players: 1; Released: July 14, 2015 ; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP: $49.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Prototype: Biohazard Bundle provided by the game’s publisher, Activision.