I was unable to resist the lure of GameStop’s big sale two weeks ago, and picked up a number of games that I hadn’t been interested in buying at full price. One of these was Prototype, which never really looked to be worth $60 or even $30, but became a bit more sexy at $20. I played the game for a while during the voting period for MMPVG2, and a gap week review may be forthcoming at some point, but there’s an aspect of the game I’d like to take a moment to discuss right now.
Alex Mercer, the protagonist of Prototype, sucks. So, a problem for the game.
Before I get too deep into this, let’s be clear that I don’t want to bag on Prototype as a whole. It’s a fun game, a fine budget title. As a playable character Alex controls well, and while I reckon I’m only about halfway through it, the story is engaging if a bit familiar. It’s just too bad that every time Alex says or does anything in his role as the main character of the story, I check the extensive movelist for a command to make him smack himself in the face.
– He comes up with awful plans that the player has no choice but to carry out: “I need to capture the evil scientist? I’ll lure him in by disabling the viral scanners and radioing that the area is clear! Surely he’ll never look out of his helicopter’s window and notice that the area is still visibly swarming with viral monsters. He did? Oh dang. Well, now I need to smuggle a doctor through a military cordon; I think I’ll steal a 60-ton tank to sneak around in.”
Mercer has the tactical planning skills of a shrimp salad. In a perfect world, the developer would have written him to be smarter (spoily: it would have been perfect plausible to make Mercer both strong and smart given that he’s supposed to be a fucking scientist). But, hey, I realize that not everyone wants to play one of those pussy “I should try using two brain cells to work up this plan” types. If having a thinky hero is just too wimpy, how about writing in one of those smarter characters who tell lunkheaded action heroes what they ought to do next? Assuming Alex would even listen to such a person, which brings me to my next gripe:
– He’s a jerk to the very few people on this earth who don’t want him dead. He yells at them, he menaces them, he growls demands on his way out the door, and he rarely listens when someone else is making a good point. Now, I’m not saying he needs to be a goody-two-shoes who says “please” and “thank you” at every opportunity, but the least he could do is not be a douche around his own sister and girlfriend, especially given that their lives are on the line, too.
– He’s angry for no real reason. This is the one that just clinches Mercer as a shitty character for me. He’s a superhuman amnesiac who literally wakes up on the mortuary table with a scalpel over his chest. He escapes, discovers his powers and lack of memory, and immediately reaches incredible-Hulk-on-meth levels of fury at… whoever. I don’t know why. He never really tries to connect with his friends and family, so I can’t imagine he misses the old life that he can’t remember. And he embraces his new existence as a viral-powered killing machine with a really impressive amount of gusto, so you never get the sense that he mourns the loss of his humanity.
We Americans specialize in this sort of single-minded, gravel-voiced vengeance machine character, and I absolutely hate them. how do all of these video game characters wind up with a personality arc lifted from the last third of a Mel Gibson movie? They have all the personality of a threshing machine almost to a man, and Mercer is the worst I’ve run into yet because the writers didn’t even offer up a figleaf of a reason for him to act this way. See, it’s not enough to just say “well, our character needs to be violent, so let’s make him angry. What about? Well, he wants revenge.” and leave it at that. People want revenge because they’ve lost something they cared about. Kratos wants revenge for his family. Wolverine wants revenge because he was dehumanized by scientists. Hell, even Leonard Shelby from Memento knows that he’s after the killer of his wife, even though he can’t remember much else. Alex Mercer is mad just because. He’s fucking boring.
That’s a cardinal sin in a guy I have to hang out with for the length of an entire video game.