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Alex Mercer has issues. He can’t remember his past. He’s hounded by the military. He’s surrounded by powerful monsters. And he’s mutating like crazy.

Of course, having the ability to change your hand into a giant blade can be useful in situations like this.

In Activision’s M-rated "Prototype," you play as Alex, who has become a shape-shifting agent of destruction and death. Your job is to figure out what happened to Alex while battling both the elite Blackwatch military force and a viral infestation that’s raging throughout Manhattan.

After offering a brief taste of Alex’s full-blown powers, the action backpedals about two weeks. You must then explore, fight and consume in order to build up Alex’s abilities. He starts with little more than a powerful punch and the ability to sprint up the sides of buildings and fall without taking damage.

Alex can learn new abilities by subduing a foe and then "consuming" him, taking on his appearance, memories and abilities. For example, he can consume a helicopter pilot and learn to fly or consume a mutant monster and gain the ability to grow razor-sharp claws or sythelike hands. He can then shift in and out of these forms as needed. You can purchase additional powers — such as the ability to glide or form gigantic rock-hard fists — with the experience you gain during play.

The missions usually require a mix of stealth and strength. For example, you’ll need to morph into the guise of a soldier to cross territory without hindrance and then shift to a more brutal form to accomplish your mission.

Although the basic story line is pretty linear, a number of side quests help open the world quite a bit. These missions typically involve defeating a certain number of foes or bounding and gliding along a rooftop path within a given amount of time.

The graphics are good, but not great. The character renderings and animations are solid, but the backgrounds don’t really contain the texture and details that gamers have come to expect in top-of-the-line titles.

Initially, the game’s controls are quite easy to manage. As Alex’s abilities get more varied and complex, so do the controls.

The artificial intelligence is a mixed bag. Many foes can be quite tenacious, but it seems odd that civilians don’t call the authorities when they see a guy in a hoodie running up the side of a building or bounding from cartop to cartop while crossing a street.

The game can be decidedly gruesome. Foes are often left cleaved in half. Side quests ask you to disembowel a certain number of enemies. And blood sprays everywhere.

In addition, the game screams out for some sort of morality meter — such as that used in "inFamous" and many other games. It would make the game much deeper if Alex’s actions — consuming innocent bystanders, for example — were met with some consequence or reward. "inFamous" handles morality exceptionally well, granting different sets of powers for good and for evil characters. Without a morality system, Alex sometimes seems to be on a shallow, bloodthirsty vendetta.

"Prototype" offers an interesting story and solid game play, but it’s definitely for mature sensibilities.

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 (tested), PCOne the Web: prototypegame.com


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