Flip to the back page of our current issue, and you could be forgiven for thinking you'd dropped into a parallel reality where magazines are published upside down. Tremble not, page-flipper - you've stumbled on our Prototype 2 special, a built-in supplement which explores Activision's viral 'em up in particular and open world gaming in general.
We inverted it because Prototype 2 is crazy like that. Head spinning? You might want to take a seat before reading on. Design director Matt Armstrong's influences extend far beyond prior uber-Yank sandboxers like Radical Entertainment's own Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction - out into the furthest reasons of the Dungeon Dimensions, wherein lurks the terror that is From Software's Dark Souls.
"It's a horrendously brutal experience, and far more so than we'd want for the Prototype world," Armstrong reflected to OXM during our hands-on. "But there's something interesting there in terms of how little direction you have to give the player in certain circumstances, and how, if your game is constructed well enough, players will find their way through the content for themselves."
Having painted a partial picture with its notorious "tutorial" (hint: RUN), Dark Souls offers few clues as to players' overall objectives once you leave the Undead Asylum. It's hard to get lost, however, thanks to a cunning combination of distant landmarks and discreet signposting.
According to Armstrong, nailing that balance between freedom and guidance is every open world developer's challenge. "It's difficult to control the player, and on some level we've tried not to, because the more walls you put around players, the more you find players exploiting those walls, or finding the gaps in your defences, and the whole thing starts to crumble."
"You're much better giving the player a high level of objectives, saying, 'here's the goal, here's what we want you to achieve', and then putting a bunch of obstacles broadly in their way, allowing them to use different tools and abilities at their disposal to figure out how they want to go about approaching that particular problem."
Prototype 2 lets you approach story missions in any order, though there are "gating" varieties that offer new powers and abilities. Obviously, which gating missions you tackle first affects how you tackle their successors. "You get to the end and you start to think back, 'if only I'd had that mission, then, I could have done it this way."