The old expression is, "You can't judge a book by its cover." I'd like to amend that cliché today to, "You really, really, really can't judge a video game by its cover. Seriously. I am not kidding."
Look at the box covers of two games: G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (good box; bad game); and Prototype (forgettable box; awesome game).
The G.I. Joe box is tempting. It features soldiers holding slick guns and a samurai sword, while jets fly patriotically in the background. But then you play G.I. Joe, and it's a terrible, subpar shooting game that looks and feels like some 1990s version of Bionic Commando, where the set pieces are cartoon jungles that look like maps that kids drew.
Your G.I. Joe character is the size of a thumb on your TV (that's small), and you always move forward with your finger pressed on the shooting button (that's lame), while your crappy bullets seek bad guys the sizes of thumbs (idiots). This becomes tedious in about 45 seconds.
By contrast, the box cover for Prototype merely features the profile of a dull-looking guy wearing a hoodie and holding up his lobster claw-type hand. Sounds stupid and smelly, right?
But then you play Prototype, and you can't believe how sumptuous it is in its storylines, actions, game play and settings.
You portray Alex Mercer, a guy who wakes up with amnesia in Manhattan, where a conspiratorial apocalypse is happening: a virus is unleashing mutants on the streets, where they cause chaos; New Yorkers scream and run in terror, while military soldiers, tanks and helicopters rain gun shells upon everyone in an attempt to stop the madness.
Anyway, when you wake from a coma you realize you have somehow attained a stunning array of superpowers. You can jump 40 feet into the air, land on a helicopter and punch it to death. You can run up the exterior walls of buildings super-fast then glide over the city, using your arms as wings.
You kill soldiers to absorb their memories, which you see in glorious little film cuts. You can shape-shift into rivals' images in order to gain entry into buildings, tanks and military helicopters.
By way of character development, Alex is very, very angry that he's got amnesia, has to find people who can tell him about his life (sometimes by sucking out their memories), and has to battle weird mutants and soldiers with his lobster claws and super-punches.
"They call me a killer, a monster, a terrorist -- I'm all of these things," Alex grumps.
At least he knows who he is.
As with any great game, the real power of Prototype isn't the story or the idea of all those action methods, which seem like a case of Spider-Man meets the Incredible Hulk. No, the real power is in the execution of the game-making.
This crazy game looks and plays fantastic, moves fluidly, and offers compelling storyline twists and video flashbacks. I hope it spawns sequels, and more ominous box covers.