Crispy Gamer

Prototype

Alex Mercer is caught in the middle. He's a hunted man, tracked like a dog by an army that's occupying New York City. And then there's the plague. A mysterious infection is ravaging Manhattan, transforming citizens into rage-filled monsters and claiming entire buildings as bloody hives. Mercer isn't helpless to defend himself, though. A change is happening to him. Powers are emerging. How all this happened is beyond his reckoning, but he's resolved to find out -- and to do so Alex Mercer is going to spill more than a little blood.

Prototype is currently in development by Radical Entertainment, the folks behind The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, and based on the developer-led preview at this year's Sierra Spring Event it looks like Radical isn't done exploring the kind of havoc that only a super-powered protagonist can wreak. Our look at the game focused on the kinds of things that Mercer can do and the pitiful creatures to whom he'd being doing it.

Mercer really does look like a character from a comic book -- one of those dark, brooding Top Cow or Image comics to be exact. He's clad in a jacket and hoodie, like a normal, slightly hip schmo. It's when he's getting all supernatural on some jerk's ass things get scary. Black tendrils and spikes form on his arms. Dial back the looks of "Spawn," "The Darkness" and "Witchblade" and you've got the aesthetic down. Grotesque tentacles extend from his body and pull a recently beaten corpse towards him. The flesh and blood are consumed by his body -- the genetic code integrated into his being. Now Mercer can assume his victim's identity. If the poor sap was a soldier, Alex can infiltrate military installations and commandeer their vehicles without attracting the attention of every armed guard for six blocks.

Even when Alex is found out for the impostor that he is there are options. When he's outed and still disguised as one of the soldiers, he can grab another hapless military man and wrestle with the guy until his buddies can't tell the real McCoy from the phony. One false accusation later and the other guy is dead by firing squad, leaving Alex to continue his plotting. The developers called the scenario "the patsy move" and it's one of many ways that Alex Mercer can pester the army occupying New York City.

Taking cues from Crackdown, Mercer moves like a superhero. He runs with Flash-like speed, able to zip up the sides of buildings and bound acrobatically like Spider-Man or Daredevil. When he swings his fist the destruction he causes rivals that of The Hulk. An arsenal of weaponry is also on the table. Guns, rocket-launchers, helicopters and tanks can all be grabbed and aimed at the nearest enemy. Coolest, though, are his killer "devastator" powers. When unleashed they impale all nearby enemies with sharp tendrils. Another super-powered attack causes giant spikes to erupt from the earth, sending anything within a 10-foot radius flying into the air amid a rain of corpses and crumbled asphalt.

Can this kind of combat carry a game for dozens of hours? In the case of the aforementioned Crackdown, all signs point to "yes." Realtime Worlds' game did have a couple of things going for it, though. Crackdown's characters didn't enter the world as gods. Their powers steadily grew and the game's sprawling city was designed to take clever advantage of this progression. Radical Entertainment showed us very little as far as the game's geographic scope. What we saw was a fairly bland recreation of New York City. In our only cursory look at the town we didn't see much in the way of landmarks that screamed "Big Apple." Ever see "Rumble in the Bronx"? The Jackie Chan actioner was supposed to be set in NYC, but at every turn you could just tell that they lensed the flick in Canada. That's the vibe we got from Prototype's fairly generic scenery.

We didn't see much to put to rest concerns about the game's story. Radical Entertainment is playing its plot points close to the vest. In a recent announcement Sierra revealed that they'd be teaming with DC comics to flesh out the Prototype story in print, but that doesn't tell us much about how the game's story is going to unfold. For a man on a mission, Alex Mercer's exploits didn't seem particularly thrilling. One quest tasked Mercer with destroying a number of mechanical devices planted on a handful of city rooftops. At first blush, the job felt much like the chores in World of Warcraft. Blizzard makes these kinds of tasks work by throwing a dozen of them at the player, allowing them to multitask their jobs. Taken one at a time, even in Grand Theft Auto, such busywork can quickly become dull. And speaking of the sandbox originator, it's going to be tough to live up to the newly heightened expectations gamers will surely have after spending all summer playing Grand Theft Auto IV. Liberty City, the game's imaginative piss-take on New York, will be hard for Prototype to patch. Then again, Niko Bellic can't shoot killer spikes out of his fists or run straight up the side of a skyscraper. Come this October, Mercer may have a chance, yet.

Preview based on an unfinished build of the game as seen at Sierra's Spring Event.