A military test subject named Alex Mercer goes rogue in New York City. After stealing Vanilla Ice’s wardrobe, he must evade the military and other zombie-like “infected” in his existential quest to answer the question: “Why me?” He has two advantages: Thanks to his prototype status, he can shape-shift and turn his body into a weapon of mass destruction. His hands become flesh-piercing claws; he has the strength of 10 Danny Bonaduces; he can dive-bomb enemies from great heights. His other advantage is his ability to quickly navigate New York City. He can literally leap tall buildings in a single bound or two. Later in the game, he can fly, or at least glide.
Why he can’t just fly across the Hudson and leave NYC is a mystery, though. Prototype’s proxy of New York City is generally accurate, with many of the key landmarks in place: the Empire State Building, the hideous Javits Center, etc. But like most videogame versions of New York, the city is mysteriously neutered at 110th Street.
Most of the gameplay centers around waging battles with the military and other infected as you attempt to guide Alex from one location to another. The terrific thing about these battles is that they usually take place on three planes: the streets, the tops of buildings, and in the air. You’ll hijack a tank, wipe out hordes of other tanks and mutants, scale a building, deal with enemies up there, and finally, turn your attention to the persistent attack helicopters. Many games claim to be epic; this one actually is.
Beyond the game: There are countless side missions scattered around the city, challenging you to defeat X amount of enemies in a set amount of time, or get from one location to another as quickly as possible. These bite-sized tasks function as palate-cleansers for the game’s lengthier, more exhausting missions.
Worth playing for: Traversing New York through a series of leaps, bounds, air dashes, and glides is exhilarating.
Frustration sets in when: Some mission objectives are more obscure than they need to be.
Final judgment: Grittier and more gratuitously violent than InFamous, Prototype is a mature, science-fiction superhero fantasy that somehow makes players feel simultaneously powerful and vulnerable.