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Prototype (2009) has one of the strangest open worlds I’ve ever played, despite being “standard Manhattan.” What do you remember about the “open world mania” era?

Did anyone out there play when it came out back in the day? What were your impressions of it at the time?

I found a swell thread from 11 years ago, (back when r/gaming was actual games discussion and not just an endless expanse of image macros) and the top comment from u/godver3 is pretty spot-on, though is a bit more generous than I would have been about the art direction… but then again, I guess late aughts was a time of grimdark gritty anti-heroes with nothing to lose, so I guess it was kinda par for the course at the time.

Looking at it through a historical lens is hard because the game has so much potential, only to be dragged down by the gameplay/narrative dissonance. (Yes, I know there's a more obtuse single word for that concept, but you and I both know that it's a silly term.)

I've seen a lot of reviews for a lot of games bring up the story being a problem, but Prototype was the only one that's ever got to me. Nathan Drake or whomever else in whatever game can gun down a million badguys and then go home and hug his dog or whatever and I'm fine with that.

In Prototype the gameplay pretty much forces an "evil" playthough. Killing civilians is pretty much unavoidable, and you get a big health bonus for "eating" them. There's functionally no difference between civilians and "infected zombies," as they both just kind of run in circles and are no threat to you/each other.

But the story flops between "revenge!" and "answers!" and "save Manhattan!" when clearly the player character does not care about the latter, unless perhaps in a "justifies the means" -type way. The writers genuinely see the protagonist as someone standing up for the people (sometimes) when really at the end of the day he's just a selfish psychopath (along with all the story NPCs who unceremoniously appear and vanish and have no issues with mayhem).

Ultimately, the game's downfall is taking itself too gritty grimdark seriously. The gameplay is pretty darn fun, in a Sunset Overdrive or Just Cause or The Saboteur kind of way. I feel like if they scrapped all the single-grim-facial-expression cutscenes where women do Internet searches or a super experienced army man misuses the term "glass" when talking about nuclear weapons, and replaced them with a campy villain voice-over, the game would have been more fun, even if the gameplay was exactly the same, which could have covered up the game's weirdest issue…

…the state of the open world. This channel of has a swell video about Why Grand Theft Auto 3's Boring Open World Was Exciting, and the long and short of it is that it's a pretty "normal" world that reacts appropriately to the player.

The Manhattan in Prototype does not react appropriately at all. There are zones around the city you're supposed to de-infect or liberate or whatever, which are full of zombies and what-have-you. Panic in the streets, screaming, chaos, military intervention, super-monsters, the whole nine yards. But maybe a block or two away in a "clean" zone people are just… walking about. Driving to Target or whatever. No biggie.

The game takes such pains to let you know that like two weeks have passed since the "outbreak," and even though Manhattan is under martial law military quarantine, people are just strolling about a few hundred metres from a full-on army vs. monster firefight.

I don't know why the devs didn't just make the civilians "calm mode" for the first half of the game when you just fight a few army mans, and then "full panic mode" for the second half (something like Spider-Man: Web of Shadows' Manhattan residents all being replaced with symbiote spawn enemies). As it is it's just… silly. Manhattan is like a 30 minute drive from north to south, it's not like people don't know about the monsterfest going on a block over. I don't even need them to be "real" and massing at the bridges protesting the military, just, panicking or not there.

Sunset Overdrive definitely benefited from this game and games like it… sometimes it's okay to make your game silly! But no one was willing to do that in 2009. Even before Assassin's Creed II came out! So Prototype was definitely an ambitious project at the time, and a curious piece of history for the era.

tl;dr a decade-old game comes across as fun-but-weird for the gamer in 2020 because the NPC citizens are too realistic in that they ignore a deadly viral outbreak and just go about their business en masse like nothing is happening.


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