I've come late to Prototype, having initially dismissed it -- based on only a few reviews -- as sub-par, ludicrous, unoriginal, over-violent and pandering to that appalling gamer stereotype, the 18-24 male.
Okay, it is ludicrous in some ways, and it is very violent, and there's no doubt its mechanics and sci-fi-lite setting will appeal to those people. But it's not sub-par and it's not unoriginal, and I think the reasons why highlight why games are very different to other media.
In Charlie Brooker's recent Gameswipe show on the BBC, he interviewed the lauded screenwriter Graham Linehan, of Father Ted fame. Linehan, an unlikely gaming enthusiast, showed great knowledge of vintage and current games and more than justified a chance for a quick moan about things that frustrated him. Linehan chose scripting. Vice City, he said, was hailed as this brilliant, era-defining gaming masterpiece, yet seemed to be written by people who had only ever watched Scarface.
Now, you'd be perfectly justified, playing Prototype, in saying that its scriptwriters had only ever watched The Thing and The Matrix. A mysterious virus infects New York, turning people into zombies, with the army called in to restore order. The hero has a different strain, giving him super powers, and guess what? He's a military experiment gone wrong. Getting to the bottom of things involves messily absorbing people's memories, which involves a frankly unfeasible amount of gore and tentacles. But then something brilliant happens -- you see a quick, sharply produced video, part in the game engine, part in real video, that sketches a little more of the backstory for you. It's a lovely, layered reward for exploring the city.
You don't remember great lines or subtly drawn characters in games. You remember wonderful experiences, like your stomach lurching into your throat because you've just launched yourself, Spider-Man style, off a skyscraper. Like accidentally killing someone whose memories could have helped you because you didn't realise you could throw a car that far. Like learning a new superpower and unleashing it at exactly the right time, so the encroaching horde of infected stumblers are impaled on a crown of 5m spikes.
Prototype isn't perfect by any stretch -- the controls are so poorly calibrated you never know what's happening in a major firefight, and your power upgrades are earned too easily. But it's not unoriginal. It borrows from all sorts of things, sure, but that's what you would call good writing in any other medium -- taking archetypes and shining fresh light on them. Or in this case, pouring fresh gore.