As I said in my review, Prototype is basically a prettier, more powerful Spider-Man 2 – not that that’s a bad thing. Running around Manhattan, beating the crap out of everything in sight and throwing trucks at anyone who looks at you sideways is stupid good fun. But that’s not why I like it. I’m fond of Prototype because it does something no other game has accomplished – it lets me be the bad guy.
Now, before you go wagging your finger under my nose and listing all the other games that let you play as a less-than-morally sound protagonist, let me clarify. Though loads of games let you engage in all sorts of evil shenanigans, few of them provide a satisfactory reason to do so. You’re typically just evil for evil’s sake, because it’s cool, or edgy, or because it’s the easiest way to give you a reason to blow things up.
It doesn’t help that bad characters are so frequently over-the-top psychopaths who’d just as soon put babies on spikes as order lunch, which makes them cartoonish to the point of being caricatures. Even those that are somewhat believable are usually motivated by greed, hatred, power, revenge, or some combination thereof, which is why I don’t get any enjoyment out of them. I know videogames are all about escapism, but I need to find some kind of common ground with my avatar in order to enjoy the game. Easy enough to do when you’re the hero saving the world, somewhat more difficult when you’re a sleazebag criminal setting passersby on fire for fun and profit.
Which brings me to Prototype. You play as Alex Mercer, who woke up one day to discover that he’d been infected with a virus that made him superhuman and that he was now being hunted by a bunch of guys with really big guns. He has no idea who he is or how any of this happened. He’s confused, he’s in danger, but more importantly, he is pissed. This is something I can understand, this is an emotion to which I can relate. He’s not some megalomaniac, hardline evil guy looking to take over the world as he twirls his mustache, he just wants to regain control of his life. If some people – even decent people – have to suffer in order for that to happen, so be it.
This is why I, someone who apologizes out loud when she accidentally kicks a chicken in Fable, can play as Alex without batting an eyelash. If given the choice of power, money, or information, you best believe I’ll pick the last one every time. And more than anything else, Alex wants information, he wants to know what’s happened to him and why. It doesn’t matter that he’s kind of a dick. It doesn’t matter that his story is actually far more complicated than “someone done him wrong.” He needs information and I’m going to help him get it – because I want it, too.
That’s not to say that my goody two-shoes ways entirely evaporate when I don Alex’s hoodie and leather jacket. I could consume civilians for health, but I don’t. I try to let crowds get out of the way before I plow down the street in my stolen tank. What does go by the wayside is my guilt. I won’t try to hurt you, but if you see me coming and don’t get out of the way, that’s just too damn bad. I’m on a mission, and if it comes down to me or you, well, I’ll try to leave enough for your family to bury.
It’s at once both a relief and unsettling to know that I’m not particularly motivated by money or by power, but I have no qualms about turning vicious when it comes to self-preservation. About now, you’re probably thinking that I’m putting way too much thought into a game that’s only slightly more complicated than sitting on the carpet, smashing action figures into each other and making “booosh!” noises. And you’re probably right. In fact, you’re undoubtedly right. But if I wake up with amnesia and superpowers someday, now you’ll know to help or get out of the way. If you’re really smart, you’ll do both.
Susan Arendt lost control of her life years ago to her dog and cat. They treat her pretty well, so she doesn’t mind too much.