1 September 2011

Video game fight: inFAMOUS vs [Prototype]

Every now and again, two video games come out at about the same time that tackle pretty much the same subject matter. (Actually, this happens all the time in first person shooters, but by and large I don’t play those.) Such was the case with [Prototype] and inFAMOUS.

Both are M-rated games about becoming a superhero (or supervillain). Both have a protagonist whose origin is initially obscure and whose morality is questionable. Both have a conspiracy theory storyline. Both are third person action-adventure games. And yet, having played inFAMOUS and being more than half way through completing [Prototype], I’m impressed with how different the two games are.

The most noticeable difference is in the first five minutes. InFAMOUS takes a traditional approach, starting things off with a cutscene of a mysterious explosion and some voice-over, then having the protagonist wake up and begin a series of tutorial tasks to introduce the controls.

[Prototype] has no such reserve. Its opening cutscene has the ruined world already in place, relying on the narration to provide a little backstory. Some combat is shown in cutscene, before the player is thrown into the middle of an epic firefight with no real preparation. Panic, mash bGuttons, see what happens. Strange powers make a bloody mess of people and vehicles, as the game leads you through the major combat modes as quickly as possible. Just as you’re starting to think “Hang on, am I not going to find out how this stuff works?” you get another cutscene, and you’re jumped back 18 days of game time to before you had all the powers you were just using. The game then proceeds to tell its story by having you play a series of flashbacks, interspersed by cutscenes set in its present.

I think I can see what the developers of [Prototype] were trying to do. They wanted to see if they could grab players with an action sequence right at the start, give them a preview of what’s to come and a reason to play through the early stages of getting those awesome powers. It’s the same idea Gerry Anderson used at the start of TV shows like Thunderbirds and Space:1999. The problem is that when you’re expected to control the action in preview scenes, you’re less likely to sit back and enjoy them, and more likely to flail around in confusion and near-panic.

The differences continue once the main gameplay has started. In inFAMOUS, movement is based around grinding on electrical cables and metal rails, and jumping from roof to roof. (Developers Sucker Punch were responsible for the PS2 Sly Cooper games, and obviously decided to stick with what they knew.) Motion is largely realistic, if you accept the notion that your character is fueled by electricity rather than killed by it.

[Prototype], on the other hand, goes for ludicrous over-the-top cartoon motion, where the laws of physics aren’t even treated as suggestions. Everything seems unnaturally fast, including the movement of pedestrian bystanders. Eventually you get to scoot to the top of skyscrapers in a few seconds by simply repeatedly jumping upwards, with the vertical walls as purchase.

The differences in combat are also quite extreme. In inFAMOUS you slowly develop your super-powers; they are relatively small in number, and gradually power up. In [Prototype] you quickly get a bewildering array of different attacks, each with its own combination or sequence of buttons. I generally found myself sticking to one of three or so attacks that actually worked reliably and weren’t too fiddly to trigger. It just wasn’t worth remembering all the others.

I found inFAMOUS annoying on rare occasions, mostly when I had to dashacross the map in a short space of time. [Prototype] induced rage far more consistently. Enemy nests and larger enemies require that you pick up large objects like cars, target the enemy with L2, hold down circle to charge your throw, then release circle to actually complete the throw. There are a number of issues with the game that make this frustrating, however:

  • You have to be right on top of something and motionless in order to pick it up. There’s an attack power you eventually get which has the side effect of letting you lasso things while moving, or at some distance–but then you’re stuck with that relatively weak power for combat.
  • If an enemy attacks you while you’re charging your throw, you drop the object and have to start over.
  • The L2 trigger focuses on the closest visible enemy of any kind. In battles where there are huge mutants attacking you, but also random human troops, this is a major annoyance.
  • Monsters generally run straight for you, ignoring minor distractions like tanks.

So in practice, you run across the map to grab the nearest object, and end up facing away from whatever massive mutant you’re trying to kill. You spin around 180 degrees, and half the time discover that the mutant is right there and will leap over and smack you before you can ready a throw, causing you to drop whatever you picked up so you have to start your attack sequence again. On occasions when the mutant is far enough away that it can’t ruin your attack, you hit F2 and the cursor focuses on something entirely harmless that happens to be closer. It’s incredibly frustrating, particularly in the final “boss” battle–which has the added irritation of an arbitrary time limit.

Helicopter combat is frustrating too, because the right stick not only turns your helicopter, it also refocuses the L2 targeting on other objects. So if an enemy copter isn’t quite close enough to your sights for a missile to hit, you start turning, only to find that your missiles are suddenly targeting a different copter that they’re even less likely to hit.

So while inFAMOUS lacks vehicle combat and the range of weapons of [Prototype], it’s a far better game as a result of the added focus and polish. While I finished both games, I completed the last 25% or so of [Prototype] out of sheer bloodymindedness, rather than because I was actually enjoying it.

Both games got sequels. inFAMOUS 2 is already out; [Prototype 2] is due soon, but barring stellar reviews I think I’ll give it a miss.

© mathew 2017