SOMETIMES MAKING a hit is a matter of timing. If "Daikatana" were released a little earlier, it would have been spectacular for its time. If "Too Human" arrived in 2006 instead of 2008, it may have gotten more traction.
I don't trust delays for this reason. Unless it's by Nintendo or Blizzard, a delay means that things aren't going well for a game. (For more about this, please see "Duke Nukem Forever.") And that's why I was hesitant about "Prototype," Radical Entertainment's superhero-inspired title.
When first announced, the project was slated for summer 2007. Unfortunately, the release was postponed a year. From what I saw in a preview, the game was impressive. It had a dark and gritty feel with a fractured story line that was intriguing in concept.
But almost a year later, the gaming landscape has changed. "Prototype" arrives on the heels of another superhero game, "inFamous." After playing games like "Grand Theft Auto IV," all of its ballyhooed elements don't seem as extraordinary.
Don't get me wrong. "Prototype" is a good game, but time has dulled my enthusiasm.
As Alex Mercer, players find themselves with the power to shape different parts of their body. Mercer can turn his arms into claws or a blade. He can encase his body in armor. The shape-shifting powers even allow him to regenerate health, glide through the air and sprint up New York skyscrapers as if they were stadium steps.
Mostly told as a flashback, the game recalls Mercer's origin as he wakes up in a morgue with these abilities, and it details his struggle to find the person responsible for his monstrous powers. To do this, he gathers knowledge and abilities by absorbing creatures and people.
Compared to Cole McGrath in "inFamous," "Prototype's" hero feels faster and more powerful. The speed is a welcome addition because Mercer will cover miles of ground in New York.
Radical Entertainment's previous work on "The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction" gave them some insight on creating a powerful character. Mercer can annihilate hordes of hunters or Blackwatch soldiers easily. He can also hijack tanks and helicopters, giving players license to destroy city blocks.
The team pairs this destructive gameplay with a rewarding mission and leveling system. What's great is that even though players fail at side quests such as infiltrating a military base, they won't feel as if they wasted their time because the game doles out experience points for nearly everything. As for the upgrade system, it's balanced enough to accommodate this generosity and still make players work for a new move or combo.
Where "Prototype" has problems is with its characters and the immersiveness of the world. First, the characters in "Prototype" are flat. As cool as it is to be Mercer, he has no personality nor does anyone from the cast stand out. The star of "Prototype" is its elaborate plot that's broken down into a Web of Intrigue. To get the full story, players will have to absorb characters scattered throughout the game and gain their memories.
Second, "Prototype" can be ridiculously inconsistent with its world. There doesn't seem to be any consequences for slaughtering innocent civilians, and it's hard to explain why people would still be in the streets when trigger-happy soldiers and monsters are roaming about.
It's moments like these that take players out of the power fantasy, but even with its flaws, "Prototype" is a good title that was almost worth the wait.
As much as I liked "Prototype," I can't say the same for "Red Faction: Guerrilla."
This sequel doesn't quite work as a reset of a series that was ahead of its time. As Alec Mason, players end up leading an insurgency on Mars against the ruling Earth Defense Force.
The game is set up a lot like "inFamous." Players have to perform sidequests that boost rebel morale and weaken EDF control. Those quests unlock mandatory story missions. The game tracks players' progress by how much territory the Red Faction insurgency controls, culminating in an epic confrontation atop a Martian mountain.
"Guerrilla" is brilliant when it comes to implementing the new Geo Mod 2.0 technology. It allows players to destroy almost anything in the environment, and for the initial section, it's amazing. But soon the novelty wears off and other than the puzzle-based demolition missions, the title grows stale with the same errands being done over and over again.
Unfortunately, Volition Inc. doesn't build quests that go beyond the seek-and-destroy missions that are grafted onto a scrap of story. It's a disappointment seeing the potential in the game go unfulfilled.
Reach Gieson Cacho at 510-735-7076 or gcacho@bayareanews group.com.