Twelve million, five hundred fifty thousand, eight hundred twenty-one blocks away, if you want to get technical about it. The name comes from the distance a player must travel in Minecraft to reach ‘The Farlands.’ This is a place where the mathematical rules that control the rendering of the land break down, resulting in spontaneous, foreign, alien features. On top of that, movement becomes aligned to a grid, meaning that the algorithms that smooth out player movement also collapse. Everything feels laggy, although it isn’t. At roughly thirty-two million blocks from the starting point, the variables storing the player’s position overflow. If the game didn’t freeze and crash long before then, the player would likely cease to exist. Such is the ominous nature of the Farlands.

I adopted this name for two reasons. Firstly, the Farlands represent a point at which a game is no longer a game. Defining characteristics are erased, strange and spontaneous problems arise, and things fall apart. In the case of the Farlands, this is caused by events outside of the player’s perception, i.e. the programming and fine-tuning of aesthetics. I adopt this name because, in this blog, I will not simply be reviewing games. I will be picking them apart, defining what about each game makes it a game, and what parts of it fail to meet its own criteria (When it is no longer a game, so to speak.). I will pull apart the inner workings of, not only the aesthetics of the game, but also the psychological effects it has on the player (These would be the ‘events outside of the player’s perception.’). In my reviews, I seek to find the ‘Farlands’ of every game, as well as the reasons behind them.

This is not a video game review blog. This is an insight into the psychological connection and philosophical implication between gaming and the human mind.

For those who are curious, the second reason I chose this name is because Minecraft is pretty fantastic. And I like obscure references to things.

Friday, August 26, 2011


Everyone needs a good sandbox game every once in a while, and what makes it all the better is when it’s an amazingly violent one. Violent games have always been great in modern society. With all the bills and mortgages and payments and dead-end jobs and bothersome managers, stress in this day and age is higher than ever before. It transitions to anger, either directed at individuals, or at the world. Violence is the natural transgression of anger, and at the point where we just want to scream, we can just cut dozens of people in half instead.

There is a plotline in Prototype, and it’s a gorgeous one if I say so myself, but the game is set up so that the main storyline is optional. You can advance to the next portion of story immediately after it’s unlocked, or you can complete a section, run around a city killing everyone and everything for hours, and then proceed to the next. You play through the game at your own rate, playing how you want to, using it as an emotional outlet of stress, or just enjoying the sheer power the character has.

Which bring up the point of character balance, or complete lack thereof. Most games are toned so that the player is always one step behind where their opponents are. They are always on the lower end of the spectrum, fighting difficult fights. Or, if they are higher on the chain, it is because of hard, diligent work, and they won’t stay there for long unless they keep working for it.

Prototype is not like most games. The player starts out ridiculously overpowered, able to destroy a tank in three blows, pull helicopters out of the sky, and cross Central Park in two to three bounds. Buildings aren’t even an obstacle, since the character can run straight up them, launch himself off the top, and glide for miles. However, the controls and the movement can get a little frustrating, due to the sporadic camera angles at times and the delicacy of combos. This can result in accidentally jumping off a building, performing the wrong attack at the wrong time, or activating the wrong ability. All of these can result in death, if not handled properly, but it is something that the player learns to cope with, just so they can enjoy the sheer power they are endeared with.

And it gets even better. From the start of the game until the end, every kill goes towards making the character even more overpowered, giving him “devastator attacks,” which affect entire areas and can take down an entire army. This insane amount of power makes the game easy, yes, but it does so in an incredibly satisfying way.

Whenever an opponent is killed, time slows down to allow the player to savor the moment. Blood splashes up in slow-motion as units fall into separate pieces, and after an adequate amount of time, gameplay resumes. This slight delay isn’t enough to hinder gameplay, but it also isn’t so brief that it isn’t noticed. This, coupled with the insane amount of power, creates a feeling of superiority, a “check out what I can do, and you can’t do anything to stop me” kind of complex.

After a long day of always being put down by others, nothing feels better than to end up on top. Not just on top, but towering over everyone and everything else. It is commonly said that games are used to escape reality, and Prototype is the greatest escape a game can offer.

Even though the player is given this enormous power, the game is still just as difficult or as easy as desired. This goes past the standard difficulty setting of “easy, medium, hard.” There are areas of the city that are incredibly difficult to destroy, yet the reward is usually pretty substantial. The player can avoid these areas if they choose to. In addition, there are dozens of minigames scattered throughout the map, each one with bronze, silver, gold, and (after completing the storyline), platinum milestones. Platinum is, of course very challenging to achieve, but again, it isn’t necessary. By mixing and matching the difficulties that this game presents, any player can be satisfied by the challenge that they are presented with.

The completionist will find Prototype to be a moderately easy game at first, maybe with a few rough patches, but it will quickly get challenging, as the difficulty curve rises exponentially. For hard-core gamers (Which most completionists are), this presents a very enticing challenge. The casual gamer will find this to be an entertaining “do whatever you want” kind of game. A sandbox game, if you will. The style of the game lives up to the character within the game: A shapeshifter. And, like the character, it changes to match whatever the player is interested in at the time.

The most impressive aspect of Prototype is that, although completely overpowered, the game can still be challenging. Players will die. Many times. The challenge comes from, not the difficulty of the opponents, but the sheer number of them. It is, at many times, one versus one hundred. This allows for the satisfaction of tearing apart wave after wave of zombies and military grunts, yet also provides the threat of being overwhelmed. The game is set up so that, the more you fight, the more will fight you. The longer a battle goes on, the more tanks and helicopters the army will bring in. If you want a challenge, stay and destroy them all. If you don’t, it’s pretty easy to get away by running in one direction until the heat dies down.

Prototype is a nice gem of a game. It is challenging, it is relaxing. It has an immersive storyline, or a casual sandbox mode. It is tailored to casual and hard-core gamers alike. It is a wonderful outlet of stress. Prototype is the shapeshifter that can meet anyone’s needs and desires.

No comments:

Post a Comment