After a recent demo of Sierra's Prototype, I came away feeling a little less excited for the title than when I started. I'm still anticipating its Fall, 2008 360/PC/PS3 release, assuming it ships on time. I think it could be an exciting third-person action/mystery. But I'm uncertain about if it will become a cohesive experience by then; I saw well-executed elements but I'm not sure if they will combine.
And admittedly, Prototype's open-world scope is much too big to take in from a single demonstration. The fast, physical action and control look better than other games, with the player able to change fighting techniques and attacks at any moment. Developer Radical Entertainment didn't spill too much about the story, only repeating that you play an amnesiac with the ability to morph into other peoples' identities.
I hope that plot can connect to the action. I think it could, especially because the character gains the memories and abilities of the identities he steals. And while the anti-hero is becoming a cliche, Radical stressed that you're not trying to save Manhattan from its plague of monsters. You're out for yourself, and the story is supposed to explain why.
Prototype is a fairly open game, letting players wander through all of Manhattan, although it's not a literal building-for-building remake. The demo I saw centered on the ability to fight through situations, although gamers will be able to choose a sneakier path, walking in shadows and impersonating others.
The city has been infested with a plague, turning some people into zombies and introducing other monsters. Even the buildings evoke this wasteland setting, decaying with the exposure. The military has moved in -- in addition to a shadow group of mercenaries -- and you're at the center of the mess.
While you've lost your memory, you've gained unnatural powers. One attack swings your arm out like a tentacle, striking everyone in the vicinity. Your hands can turn into claws, quickly cutting down others. A punch into the ground can raise a circle of spikes around you.
But the shape-shifting and movement are the most important powers. By touching any other person, you can take their form, and meander through the city mostly unnoticed. Or you can run -- literally -- up buildings and scamper along ledges, moving over any surface.
The story will require players to steal certain identities. For example, if you can take the form of a military commander without being seen, you can run that local outpost. One part of the story will even have you pretend to be a pilot, flying missions and following orders until you get enough clearance to learn more about your history.
I saw a couple of these 25 military bases, and like the rest of the game, the graphics seemed adequate but not a highlight of the game. Sure, details are being optimized, and some areas were clearly being further developed. But there still seems to be a lot of work to finish by the fall.
The animation, however, looked fluid and fantastic. Everything moved at a strained pace, from the character hopping between buildings, to the black-ops attackers trying to bring him down. These aspects should make Prototype a physical thrill, regardless of how much the other visuals improve.
Maybe I was hoping for too much, wanting to see Prototype neatly come together in front of me after a brief demonstration. The massive open-world setting and twisted characters are messy. Whether the story can give a through-line or not, that chaos could be a good thing.