A Prototypical Slugfest

I think I’ve just about had it with Prototype now. I’ve progressed to the first really major boss fight and it’s reminding me of just how uninteresting I find boss fights in video games. I almost feel embarrassed for the game that it has to resort to that kind of presentation in order to “keep things interesting”.

As I’ve said before, the best thing about Prototype is its attention to your motion through the city. The worst thing about it is the endless stream of bad guys and bad things you have to kill because… well, that’s an important thing you do. To stop the bad stuff from happening.

No, to be fair, there’s actually not a terrible rationale for the fighting in the game. Mutant supervirus spreading. Evil military trying to eliminate the civilian population. Your avatar feeling pissed off at having been the subject of an experiment. That gets me through a reasonable spread of destruction and maiming.

But it wears then. How much killing must I do? It puts me in mind of Rambo movies during those endless kill fests. Much as I try to return my brain to that state I was in when, as a teenager (or pre-teen?), I was enthralled by watching John Rambo shoot endless waves of hapless dudes. But I can’t. It’s frighteningly boring to watch, and I suspect it might be more boring to enact. At least if you’re only watching it you can kind of lie back and let what little aesthetic pleasure there is wash over you. In Prototype you have to actually perform the genocidal actions necessary to yield the ultimately boring story of “and then you killed everyone real good.”

But fine, I was grinding my way through it because it’s not so hard to do – about as effortless as Rambo makes it look, say.

But there’s the other kind of movie that these games channel, nicely capture in another Stallone vehicle – the Rocky series. Rocky is perhaps best known for his slugfests. He gets the shit beaten out of him, takes the punches, rallies, gets beat up a bit more, rallies again, and ultimately wins. Because that’s how it goes down.

Boss fights are like the spirit of Rocky entering the world. In Prototype I’m up to this bit where you fight giant tentacle thing that comes crashing out of the pavement in Times Square. Why? Because it just does, okay? The game had to escalate matters somehow, and that’s the way it chose. Tentacle thing. Live with it.

These boss fights are often a matter of slugging it out with some massively bigger opponent (like that Russian guy in Rocky IV). And generally you keep getting the shit kicked out of you until you figure out the trick or simply are relentless enough about matters to, in the end, overcome all obstacles to your success. And the problem there is, just like the Rocky movies, your success is essentially inevitable. I know that on the other side of the boss fight is a cut-scene stored away for when I win. I know that the real story of the game is not me being ground into paste by a hammering tentacle, but me standing victorious over its remains. And so, like Rocky, I’m expected to punch my way out of it.

But you know what? I kind of don’t want to. This Rocky’s just going to lie here a little while longer… maybe until the count hits ten and I can go back to a better life outside the ring.

11 March 2011
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