- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 9, 2009

Superhero and cartoon characters are integral parts of the electronic entertainment industry. With this in mind, I salute the meld of pop-culture character and video game with a look at Prototype (from Activision, reviewed for Xbox 360, rated M for mature, $59.99).

The ultimate biological weapon of mass destruction roams New York City in this action-packed, third-person adventure game. A player controls Alex Mercer, a man short on memories and time as he works through an 18-day brutality bender to uncover his past and save a city.

What’s the story? A conspiracy set in motion in the 1960s has festered in New York City and now spirals out of control. As a deadly infection spreads, the government calls in an elite force of army specialists called the Blackwatch and quarantines the city. Only a mutant born from the bioweapon experiments at Gentek can contain the firestorm of carnage and combat.

Play the role: A player controls Alex, a shape-shifting hooded human, as he freely traverses a blood-soaked, sandbox-style game designed to take a bone-crunching bite out of the Big Apple.

The anti-hero’s most endearing feature allows him to envelop and consume other non-playable characters in the game, take their powers and turn into them to sneak into installations, access resources and disappear among the crowds.

He’ll spend most of his time uncovering his past life, going on side missions to unlock new powers along with balancing attacks against bee hives to suppress the infection and attacking military bases to unlock upgrades and stop the Blackwatch.

Get to the action: This is the ultimate tribute to the superhero genre of gaming with an inspired character who uses his mutated biomass material to unleash powers similar to some of the greatest comic book legends.

For example, act like the Hulk with skin as tough as steel and use block-shaped fists that pound with the force of sledgehammers. Become Wolverine with razor-sharp talons. Turn into Venom with tendrils oozing around his body that can act as whips or anchor points that shoot out allowing him to climb. Move with the combined might of Spider-Man and the Flash using super speed, the ability to climb up sides of buildings and glide over the city.

And, feel like the Punisher by using weapons from fallen soldiers, jumping into a tank or other vehicle to cause massive devastation.

Also, as a player amasses experience points he can purchase dozen of upgrades to power, survivability, movement, combat disguise, vehicle and weaponry. Many are added and easily accessed via navigation wheels of powers and defenses such as a tendril barrage that shoots a collection of black spikes from underground and around a perimeter to destroy everything in its path.

Memorable moments (in no particular order): The first time I consumed a Hunter (a dangerous Resident Evil-type creature); grabbing a rocket launcher and shooting down a helicopter; running up the highest skyscrapers and then gliding off its roof; skyjacking my first copter with help from a tendril whip; using a tank to destroy a hive; pounding on hydras.

Violent encounters: Alex Mercer is a one-man slaughterhouse and he can destroy, devour, disembowel and dismember everything in his path. It’s almost an uncomfortable level of violence.

Most telling is the Xbox 360 achievement rewarding the player for killing 53,596 of the infected. That’s a long night’s work.

Read all about it: DC Comics imprint WildStorm is publishing a mature-rated six-part miniseries based on the game called, surprise, Prototype ($3.99 each). It features New York homicide detectives on the trail of serial killer - Alex Mercer, I believe.

Pixel popping scale: 7.0 out of 10. With all of the transformations Alex can pull off, his use of powers, weapons and access to vehicles, it’s a pretty intense collection of visuals. Also, the cut scenes and memory snippets look great and suck a player into the plot. And, watching the city degrade into zombie-infected chaos will guarantee to raise the blood pressure.

Extras and unlockables: Most urgent for the player to appreciate the story line is opening the Web of Intrigue. As Alex consumes key characters in the game, their relevant memories are placed in a tendril network of nodes, 131 pieces to be exact, that present multimedia snippets of information.

Star power: Actor Barry Pepper (Roger Maris in “61*”) voices Alex and presents a surprisingly emotional, angst-ridden performance to support the interactive cinema.

What’s it worth: Not as refined as InFamous nor as expansive as a Grand Theft Auto, Prototype is an occasionally eye-popping and always stress-relieving experience that offers a typical day in the life of a New Yorker. Adults in the mood for a fight and some bloody entertainment will not be disappointed.

* Visit Zadzooks at the blog section of The Washington Times’ Community pages (www.washingtontimes.com/communities/zadzooks) or on Twitter .

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