Grand Theft Auto or Saint’s Row?
Call of Duty or Battlefield?
Jak and Daxter or Ratchet and Clank?
Ten years ago, these arguments paled in comparison to the ones emerging from gamers and critics alike as two shiny new properties broke out and wreaked havoc across their massive open worlds. It’s been a decade since Hulk developer Radical Entertainment’s superhero sandbox [PROTOTYPE] went head to head with Infamous, the PlayStation 3 exclusive title from Sly Raccoon maker Sucker Punch Productions.
Now the dust has long settled, the blood has dried and casualties on both sides have been counted, maybe it’s time to take a look back and see just how the wildly diﬀerent, but somehow still similar these power fantasy games fared in the long run. In true head-to-head style.
Round 1 – Story
Let’s start with the first of the two massive similarities the games share. Both of these big hitters play out their narratives in similar ways. [PROTOTYPE] sees Alex Mercer – voiced by Barry Pepper
– wake up on an autopsy table with no memory and the sudden ability to shapeshift. With the ability to transform his body into a variety of weapons and magically become anyone he consumes on his travels. Mercer’s quest is to find his way to the people that did this to him and perhaps prevent an all-consuming outbreak of a deadly virus in Manhattan.
Meanwhile, Cole McGrath, an aggressively ordinary bike messenger, is thrown into his own superhero origin story when a mysterious explosion sends the fictional Empire City into chaos and awakens powers within this once non-descript delivery man. As Cole fights with his newfound electrical powers, his city is in complete turmoil and suddenly, he’s the only person that can save it.
Round Winner: A Draw. At this point, these games are all but the same.
Round 2 – Gameplay
The biggest fight of the evening. While on the surface these games look similar, the split in the road for them is how Alex and Cole play.
Cole’s electric powers grow in a player chosen direction. Good or Bad, Light or Dark, you decide. Good Cole saves the city, fighting oﬀ the hordes of bad guys that come at him with precision and surgical accuracy. As his powers grow and the enemies get bigger, brute-forcing your way through battles isn’t necessarily the best way forward.
Now, choose the darker path, care little for collateral damage, and you can lay waste to the city and blast through bad guys and good with attacks so fearsome they can all too simply become the easy win button for massive sections of the game. Both styles have their positives and negatives – you’ll need to play through both for those much coveted trophies – and aﬀect the story, the city, and Cole, in their own ways as the story progresses.
Mercer, on the other hand, has no good and bad side. His arms turn into various shapes with razor sharp edges on them. While his mission might be to discover his past and save the city from viral annihilation, he and you are going to batter massive sections of it to get things done.
Monsters the size of buildings, a whole army worth or tanks and soldiers, you’ll have to go through them all to reach your goal. And you’re going to beat the crap out of everyone and everything to do it.
Round winner: Tough choice. I give it to [PROTOTYPE]. Just for the gleeful and wilful destruction of New York.
Round 3 – The City and Getting Around.
What good are games like these without massive sandboxes to play around in? And if last year’s Spider-Man taught us anything, it’s that traversing these playgrounds is key. Ten years ago, these were two of the best.
[PROTOTYPE]’s New York is instantly recognisable to anyone that has ever just seen a picture of the Big Apple. Climb up one building and look around and you’re treated to a beautiful city skyline. Climb the same building after 12-15 hours of destruction, and that same gorgeous view is a little smokier with a few monstrous nests camped out in those famous New York water towers. It’s a fun place to hang around. Sadly, compromises in quality were made to keep this massive game running as smooth as possible. Unless you’re looking at the Empire State or Chrysler buildings, everything looks kind of the same.
But none of that really matters when you are a genetically modified monster who has the ability to jump 20 times higher than the average person and glide around like a psychopathic Superman or simply leg it up the side of a building to get to an army helicopter that’s chasing you. Seamless and amazing fun, Alex Mercer’s travels are a thing of beauty.
Empire City does step it up a notch though. Infamous’ fictionalised New York is lovingly detailed brilliantly put together. Those skylines aren’t quite as impressive – fogging areas too far away to keep the textures closer to you looking better – but still look superb. The city changes with Cole’s actions as do the reactions of civilians you encounter; Mass Eﬀect style.
Smooth traversal takes a whole lot of practice and patience with Infamous. In an attempt to make almost every surface climbable, Cole tends to stick to the nearest pipe, corner, window ledge, whatever if you happen to jump near it. It can make getting to objectives frustrating and combat downright annoying at times. It improves with practice, but it’ll still catch you. The real fun though, comes in two helpings. Cole’s powers give him a float and glide ability which is endlessly awesome to use to chase baddies and cars and the like and feels tremendously satisfying. As does the grinding around each district of Empire City on the train tracks that surround them. A constant source of power for your abilities, it is forever entertaining to zip around the track wiping out bad guys without having to worry about draining all your powers.
Round Winner: Infamous. That beautifully realised City pips it at the post.
Round 4: Combat
What good is all that power if using it is boring? Thankfully, our reluctant superheroes come fully prepared for a good time.
Cole’s electrical powers are all about combos and long distance beating the crap out of bad guys. Choose good Cole or bad, it doesn’t matter, those sparkly fingers of his can be used to snipe individual trash men from behind buildings or to blast groups of them oﬀ a rooftop and in front of a train. The possibilities are endless. Play as the hero, Infamous has you feeling like Shazam pretty early on. And like Shazam, your path to mastering these powers will be tough and filled with ridiculous mistakes.
Choose to be the villain, your powers take on a “minute to learn, lifetime to master” style. You can annihilate anybody you like with relative ease, no eﬀort required. Spend a little time learning though, and you’re completely unstoppable. Health and power come by sucking power from the city around you, so you’re never too far from a top up if needed.
McGrath’s failings come mainly from hand-to-hand combat. Melee is a last resort in a game that tries to swarm you and you don’t feel too strong using the same three slap combo on every enemy.
The opposite is true of Alex Mercer. It’s all about getting up close and personal and my-oh-my are you going to make a mess when you do. The amnesiac who has the uncanny ability to transform his limbs into tools for ultimate destruction appears all but unstoppable to begin with. Man-sized blades, claws, giant clubs, it’s all about doing as much damage as possible. Soldiers, tanks, building-sized monsters, nothing is too much for our anti-hero to take on.
Once you’re upgraded though, you become the monster in your story and nothing stands in your way. You need a little health during or after a fight? Grab someone oﬀ the street, consume them. That’s all she wrote – although trophy hunters had a frustrating and fun metagame trying to play the game without consuming any civilians.
Round winner: A tough call. Both games have insanely fun combat in their own ways. The god-like, button mashing brutality of [PROTOTYPE] just takes it though.
Round 5: Replayability and Continuation
Spend £50 on a game, get invested with the characters and the world, you want to know if it’s worth it. Right?
[PROTOTYPE] gave you New York to mess around in once you were done. Collectables and lore a plenty to discover.
Three years later, players got to take on the Prototype mantle again, this time as James Heller. Chasing Mercer in a desperate quest for revenge in [PROTOTYPE2] was a significantly improved in gameplay and visual quality. Sadly, as fun as it was, sales weren’t even close to publisher Activision’s expectations and it leads to the end of Radical Entertainment.
Infamous had a better time of it in the long run. Empire City felt empty and lifeless in the end game, with little to do after the final boss was felled.
However, a short two years later saw Cole head to New Marais – a fictionalised New Orleans – with a bigger world, a bigger bad guy in The Beast, and a bigger overall feel for the series.
Everything was turned up to eleven for Infamous 2. Halloween that year saw the vampire-themed Festival of Blood DLC released, a six-hour, non-canon adventure that had McGrath bitten by a vampire and chasing a queen to make himself whole again.
Then, in 2014, Sucker Punch released Infamous: Second Son for the PlayStation 4. Set seven years after Infamous 2’s “good” ending, and with a new protagonist – Native American Delsin Rowe – Second Son switched things up by giving the player multiple powers to unlock and upgrade. Balancing the need to switch up powers to defeat certain enemies with the god-like fun of being able to kick ass in several diﬀerent flavours this time. Second Son also introduces Fetch, another person with powers who gets her own excellent stand-alone expansion, First Light, in the same year.
Round Winner: Infamous. An easy win for the PlayStation exclusive. While the studio may be busy creating the upcoming Ghosts of Tsushima, there is the chance that Infamous returns one day.
Whereas, sadly, [PROTOTYPE] and its studio are long dead.
A draw for the games in question. A decisive win for players.
Counting the wins, these two titans duked it out to a blood-splattered tie. But players came out able to jump into these insane worlds and play god for hours upon hours. What more could we ask for?
Ok, we could ask for [PROTOTYPE3] and Infamous 4. And we can always hope. Until then, maybe it’s time to revisit these games on their ten year anniversary.