Not Caring About Alex Mercer

I’m a big advocate for awesome tutorials, because you’d better spend some time on the part of the game that every single player will see. I picked up Prototype on sale some while ago, booted it up recently, and found myself distressingly uninterested in an opening that went with too much awesome per unit of grounding. It either needs less grounding, so that awesome/grounding approaches infinity, or I need a reason to care about what is going on.

If you haven’t played, Prototype starts in medias res. This is apparently a month after the start of the game, to which you will flash back in a moment. This is a nice version of a common approach: show the player the things this character will be able to do by the late game, then take them away so that you can have an early game. Some games have you de-powered, robbed, etc.; Prototype instead has its opening at the end of the story, like the Odyssey or Twilight. This creates a gameplay problem and a story problem.

The gameplay problem is that you can already do everything and have massive powers that the game helpfully switches for you and explains. As the player, you are basically in a visual novel where you click to slaughter people and crush tanks. You do not know enough to have strategy or tactics, so you follow the indicators, watch things explode as you click them, and maybe eat some people. As a player, I am not invested in “click to advance.” Alex Mercer apparently just needs me to provide some motive power for his killing spree.

The story problem is that there is enough to imply that the game wants you to care but not enough to actually make you care. Hey, tutorial, very first introduction, I get that. But you are sent to murder dozens of people before being given much reason to except that they are cartoonishly evil (and shooting at you). There is a conflict here, but the role I have been handed is that of a mass-murderer who is attacking the military and may get bonuses for picking off civilians as collateral damage. Some games address this by using monsters and robots so that you are not murdering innocent people as a form of character introduction; Prototype goes with giving the humans faceless masks and having a cut scene where they murder the innocent, too. Must be a local custom. Other games take the opposite tack: do not even pretend to have a plot, just go straight to the bloodshed. No context, no moral standing, just mindless violence. Completely amoral works much better than poorly sketched black and very dark gray morality. Part of black and grey morality is that you must make the villains worse than the protagonist; if the player quickly pulls ahead of the villains in terms of pointless bloodshed, you really have created a murder simulator.

Of course, that seems to be the point of Prototype.

: Zubon

2 thoughts on “Not Caring About Alex Mercer”

  1. I find this sort of thing disturbing on so many levels.
    As a “gamer” I especially do not appreaciate the fact that THIS type of game gives more fuel to the censorship idiots that want to infringe on my freedom to enjoy games because they contain “too much violence.”

    The problem being; while this game is obviously crossing a line towards “murder simulator” (complete with an absolute lack of anything resembling empathy on the part of the protagonist) the censorship idiots won’t stop at games like this, and will quite happily ban many other games undeserving of such suppression.

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