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Review: Prototype

[Blaugust Day 23]

Game: Prototype
Recommended price: bundle
Metacritic Score: 79
Completion Time: ~13 hours
Buy If You Like: GTA Supervillain, Collateral damage simulators

Definitely scores points for having cool abilities at the start.

Definitely scores points for having cool abilities at the start.

Prototype is a 3rd-person open(ish) world game that is GTA meets… the opposite of Batman. You play as Alex Mercer, a recently infected man who, once killed, finds himself resurrected as some kind of viral superweapon. The game revolves around Alex trying to figure out what’s happening to him, and the conspiracy that surrounds both his infection and the events leading up to it.

In one of the articles I read about the controversial game Hatred, someone pointed out that the coverage surrounding Hatred was especially hypocritical given we already had games like Prototype. Having completed Prototype, I am inclined to agree. Prototype doesn’t intentionally reward you for killing random civilians, but between the bystander density in New York City and the collateral damage you cause simply by walking around, there may as well be a body count score in the corner of the screen. And when you aren’t just walking around? Holy slaughter, Batman!

See, Alex Mercer’s powers come from consuming organic matter, or perhaps just specifically human beings. If you are running low on health, you can snatch the nearest person and kill them in a context-sensitive but always-gruesome manner, then consume them whole to heal. This ability is actually an important plot mechanic, as you hunt down members in the “Web of Intrigue.” See, as you kill and consume these individuals, you can not only copy their form, but you gain their memories. This leads you to infiltrate military camps by consuming scouts, then the base commander, then entering the base itself to consume the juicy (and skilled) members inside, upgrading your abilities to use machine guns, fly helicopters, order artillery strikes, and so on.

I was actually trying really hard to not kill a million people there.

I was actually trying really hard to not kill a million people there.

After a while, everyone just looks like walking power-ups.

The gameplay of Prototype is both visceral and involves viscera. Attacks are controlled with just the left and right mouse buttons, with E occasionally thrown in there. While the moves are limited, the various powers and upgrades that become available are not. As you complete story missions and the various side events, you unlock additional upgrades by spending Evolution Points. These upgrades give you new attacks – claws for hands, tentacle arms, etc – and all sorts of other goodies, like more mobility. Even from the very beginning, Alex Mercer automatically parkours his way across vehicles and smaller obstacles while being able to run up the sides of skyscrapers. Later unlocks will have you leaping 60 ft into the air with a single press of the Spacebar, changing direction in mid-air twice, and Gliding into the alleyway.

While I enjoyed my time in Prototype overall, there were a number of areas and missions that were absurdly frustrating. Some of those involved waves of enemies, in which death or mission failure (due to escort dying or similar) cause you to restart the entire wave sequence over again. Other times, you will be facing bosses in which the limited control scheme starts making you suicidal. For example, one of the supermoves you can do is “In the air, hold Left-Click, Press E.” If you press Left-Click + E simultaneously, that completes a different move. But if you hold down Left-Click too long before pressing E, you suddenly perform a jump-kick straight into the gaping maw of the hideous beast. Other times, the weird targeting system causes you to grab or fail to the grab the wrong thing at the wrong time. Would this have played better on a controller? Maybe. Still, I wish there was a “Bind Devastator move to Q” option or something like that.

Okay, this kind of thing was really cool.

Okay, this kind of thing was really cool.

Prototype is not exactly a game that I would recommend people to spend money on specifically; there are a lot of other, better games out there. But if you look at your Steam library tonight and notice that Prototype happens to already be on there for some reason, go ahead and boot it up. If you aren’t having some amount of fun within the first 10 minutes, you can go ahead and uninstall because the game is basically going to be that for the next ten hours.

Review: Dead Rising 2

[Blaugust Day 9]

Game: Dead Rising 2
Recommended price: bundle
Metacritic Score: 78
Completion Time: ~17 hours
Buy If You Like: GTA Zombies, Frustrating mechanics, Improvised weapons

A very serious game for very serious people.

A very serious game for very serious people.

For the record, Dead Rising 2 is the only entry in this series that I played. Coming into this entry, my expectations were fairly minimal, and I knew only that the game featured wacky weapons and… that was it. What I discovered was a title that both exceeded my expectations wildly, and one that almost immediately squandered all the goodwill it generated.

The premise of the game is that you play as Chuck Greene, a father desperately trying to make ends meet and pay for his daughter’s Zombrex, the toxic daily prescription drug that is the only thing standing between her and undeath. Unlike many other titles in this genre, the setting takes the zombie apocalypse as a given – Chuck participates in a televised gameshow with prize money being awarded to whomever is able to kill the most zombies with their chainsaw-motorcycles. After the latest Live event, someone dressed as Chuck manages to frame him for terrorism when they release said zombies into the greater Fortune City casino area.

What follows is perhaps one of the most, if not “authentic,” certainly the most interesting takes on the zombie apocalypse. There are zombies everywhere, hundreds of them. Frankly, there are so many zombies on screen at a time that I’m honestly surprised that the devs were able to pull it off.

Submitted without comment.

Submitted without comment.

Despite said zombies being of the shuffling variety, they always feel like a threat by sheer numbers alone. At the same time… it’s difficult to describe, but the zombies felt like understandable obstacles. By the midpoint of the game, I found myself not just capable of weaving through dense crowds of them without stopping or even taking damage, but it feeling correct for this to happen. In other words, it wasn’t that the zombie AI was dumb or that I “exploited” their behavior, but rather that the zombies followed natural rules in terms of range of motion and the like. If you approach a zombie from behind, for example, it had to turn to its left before it could attempt to lunge, and thus you could escape by passing on the right. And even more than that, said swiveling zombie would act as an obstacle to the zombies that were following behind you.

Another great aspect of the game was the refreshing take on narrative. The game is structured around the inexorable passing of time – your daughter needs Zombrex every 24 hours at a minimum, and your window of opportunity in clearing your name similarly closes with each passing hour. Inbetween the big events, you will get notifications about trapped survivors and such, most of whom will be dead soon without assistance. You might be having fun crafting weapons and collecting cash on one end of the Strip, for example, but unless you book it to the other side in a hurry, those survivors will be zombies themselves right quick. The clock creates a subtle tension throughout the game, without (usually) being too overwhelming.

The problem with Dead Rising 2 are the Psychopaths, e.g. boss fights. Along with survivor quests, you will occasionally get vague quests to head over to a specific location. Once there, some random survivor will have snapped from the stress and be out for human blood. Generally speaking, these fights are total gimmicks and stupidly, inexplicably deadly. Whereas you might be able to sustain 20+ zombie bites across a period of time, Psychopaths will kill you in a few hits or less, especially if you don’t immediately understand the gimmick.

Some weapons are more effective than others.

Some weapons are more effective than others.

Compounding the problem, the Save Game structure of Dead Rising 2 is that progress is ONLY saved when you go to the bathroom. Psychopath on the other side of the Strip across four screens of zombies and nary a Porta Potty in sight? Guess what you’ll be replaying over and over? This isn’t even taking into consideration that Psychopath fights are scripted to occur at specific locations at specific times, which means you can suddenly find yourself in the middle of one while you were trying to escort some abysmally dumb survivors across a sea of zombies.

Indeed, I remember one Psychopath battle in particular as it was the most god-awful situation I have experienced in videogames. Basically, this encounter was with four redneck snipers who decide to take residence in the central open area of the game. You know, the place with the most zombies per capita? That you had to routinely cross through all the goddamn time? And they never left, even after the end of the proper game. What the literal shit, Capcom? Those snipers hounded me the rest of the game, on into the epilogue, and by that point I did not have the time or ammo to take them out.

The bottom line was that Dead Rising 2 felt and played as an innovative zombie game, with enough cool things going on to make one horribly disappointed with the superfluous bullshit tacked on for no good reason. From what I gather, Dead Rising 2 is actually uncharacteristically serious compared to the other titles in the series – a sort of Saint’s Row to, say, Dead Island’s GTA – and that’s certainly interesting trivia. I didn’t play the other games, and based on my experiences with this game, I probably never will. If you can snag the game on the cheap though, I think it’s worth trying out if only for the first ~5 hours or so, as you steep in the goodness that is a freeform zombie apocalypse.

Strong Female Characters

I was not going to write a follow-up to yesterday’s post, but I came across another Kotaku post today titled “It’s Time for a Lady Hero in Grand Theft Auto.” I agree with the article, in that such a thing would be awesome, assuming they find a way to make it work. And by “work” I mean actually make the main character being a woman matter, as opposed to merely swapping gender models in a story written for a man (or gender neutral, which so often defaults to man anyway).

But then I got to thinking… is that not what typically occurs anyway, even with strong female characters?

In the comment section of that article, the following was posted:

Oh shit a female character? How am I supposed to relate to that?


The comment is obviously sarcastic, referring to the strong female characters of Samus Aran in Metroid and Chell in the Portal series. And yet, at what point does it matter in any meaningful sense that the protagonists are women? Don’t get me wrong, I love that they are. As I mentioned in the comments on Syl’s post:

I love strong women. I love the rich, dramatic narrative possibilities of balancing strength with femininity; “being a man” is almost always one-dimensional (i.e. strength == man) in contrast. It is why I almost always roll female toons in MMOs.

A woman slaughtering a bandit camp or slaying a dragon is automatically more interesting to me than a man doing the same. But if I am honest, it’s that way because I’m imagining more complex inner struggles into those events from the female side. I expect a man to slaughter a bandit camp or slay a dragon, because that is the cliche. To not do so would be a renunciation of “being a man.” Which, incidentally, is something I consider far more pernicious than any Objectification that goes on with scantily-clad women, but I may be biased. But when a woman slaughters a bandit camp, I envision a struggle against conformity, against despair, against a nature inclined to nurture, and so on. The Bene Gesserit of Dune and Aes Sedai of The Wheel of Time are more interesting groups of people because they are women; a mystical cabal of controlling men is almost too cliche to commit to paper.

Going back to the Metroid and Portal examples though, did it really matter in a narrative sense that they were female? I would say no. Samus and Chell could have been dudes and the game would have played out in the same way. If strong female characters can be replaced with males with zero narrative loss, are they really strong female characters? As I mentioned, them being dudes would have certainly diminished something from my play experience, but I’m struggling with the intellectual notion that the gender of the character model really makes that big a difference to me. Or is the fact that they could be replaced by men without a loss of narrative integrity actually a win? Gender equality and all that.

Perhaps silent protagonists are not the best examples. Final Fantasy 7 is my second favorite game of all time, and I consider Tifa one of the deepest characters in any RPG I have ever played, despite (and perhaps in spite of) some of her more obvious fanservice qualities. Tifa is strong, capable, independent and yet distinctly feminine at the same time. That being said, outside of taking care of Cloud during the whole Mako poisoning bit, and the pseudo love triangle thing, I could not really give examples of what I mean by “distinctly feminine” that does not have something to do with the way she looks or otherwise read like a laundry list of cliches. Maybe that’s okay, and those prior distinctions are enough?

So, good luck Rockstar. I cannot wait to see what they would do with a female lead in GTA.

P.S. While “researching” this post, I came across two excellent examples of What To Do when talking sexism in games, both in video format. The first is The Big Picture: Gender Games, and the second is Game Overthinker: Bayonetta. The former is rather brilliant with it’s “pose” argument, which is both intuitive and unassailable. The latter doesn’t focus on sexism explicitly, which makes its implicit argument all the more compelling when you realize what just happened by the end, i.e. you agreed with everything.

If you want to affect real change, you do it that way.