What do you do when you can’t be original? Be dangerously generous at what you’re good at; Radical Entertainment is good at destruction, and destruction is the flavour of the day in Prototype 2. So that’s what you get, destruction. It’s at your finger tips and it doesn’t require the finely tuned finger acrobatics the first game demanded. Killing is fun, killing is easy, and killing has become a bloody art form. What better way to hide the flaws in your game than burying them under a few dozen layers of guts and viscera? It works. Well, it almost worked.
So do you feel like killing something today? In Prototype 2 you can do it all day, any day, and then when you’re not having fun with the bodily functions at your disposal any more the local law enforcement will kindly roll up and give you a tank or Apache helicopter for you to play with instead. Then, if you’re up for it, you can grab a victim, take a running leap up the Empire State building – elevators are for pussies – and give them a brief but thrilling bird’s eye tour of Fifth Avenue. It’s just a pity that Fifth Avenue, along with the rest of New York, is in a bit of a state right now.
There is a new virus in town, and it’s messing with the New York vibe. But don’t worry, shape shifting new boy James Heller is on hand to clean it up. His mission; to take down a super powered freak of nature by the name of Alex Mercer – sound familiar?
Granted, it’s not the most common idea for a sequel; turning your former hero to the dark side and — oh wait I have heard this one before! Nice try Radical, you rascals. Anyway, the stumbling first hour of Prototype 2 fills you in on what is going to happen. Heller was a serving war hero and loving family man before he’s tossed a hard one when the eponymous Mercer virus, spoiler, kills his wife and daughter. After an unsuccessful suicide mission — where he lives — and a quick skewering from new crowned villain Alex Mercer, Heller wakes up to find himself infected and at the top of a shadowy organisation’s ‘always f’ with’ list. Giving new boy Heller something of sombre connection with the player. However any chance of skipping down to the local for a drink take a stark dive the moment you set upon munching an innocent New Yorker to top your health up. Not the most human of hero tales, but it will do.
In my mind Heller is a step back in terms of a leading man. He punctuates his every line of dialogue with an f bomb, lacks Mercer’s ambiguous beginnings and, worst of all, he is a good guy. In an open world full of victims possessing a moral compass isn’t going to help you sleep at night; it creates a conflict of interest when Heller stops the bad guys from experimenting on the New York populace just before turns them into health points when things start looking grey, literally.
In fact even missions don’t present themselves with objectives so much as a choice of menu. Skip across the high rise, eat some one so you can enter a base undetected, eat someone else and then maybe have a boss fight — then eat them too when you’re done just for good measure. Rinse and repeat until the credits roll. So as we see, it’s a great job we don’t score games solely on their narratives then.
All of this occurs in three underwhelming quarantine zones show casing the ambidextrous and ambiguous landscapes that New York has to offer. Much of the city looks like it has been copied straight from the 2009 edition, along with many of the animations, but that isn’t its main problem. The problem is that New York has become a gaming location hot spot, with almost everything shown already explored in other games. The key, and vital, difference is that Prototype 2 handles it better than most, with the improved engine allowing for larger scale and draw distance. Although visually it doesn’t have a patch on it’s main rival, inFamous 2, Prototype 2 feels much more comfortable when throwing the player into large arcing missions that lead from street to street and war zone to war zone.
It’s unfortunate that the narrative and setting are as disappointing as they were on the first outing, but when it comes to powers and fun factor Radical feel far more at home. Anyone who has spent time with Mercer will feel familiar at the helm of Heller, who inherits most of his powers from his maker. The difference being that Heller just seems more powerful. Each weapon feels stronger, more deadly, than before and Radical has made sure to throw in some new toys to play with so returning fans don’t feel hard done by. Tendrils create black holes, sucking in anyone foolish enough to stand too close, and bio bombs serve as useful distractions during infiltration or effective weapons against later bosses. Add these, along with others, to the original favourites like the blade and claws and you have a myriad of potential murder methods to play with.
I’m also happy to announce the departure of the complicated finger acrobatics needed in the first game to accomplish any decent damage dealing combo. With Heller, all a player needs to do is map their favoured two powers to the square and triangle button and they can alternate between them on the fly. Now playing with your powers is pain free, with the game throwing new options at you every few missions to keep it fresh such as the pack leader; which summons at least two brawlers to fight by your side; the ability to weaponise the external weapon systems of a tank or helicopter and a powerful new sensory sonar power for hunting down valued Blackwatch personnel and other targets from anywhere in the city.
It’s just unfortunate that the actual missions themselves never pose a threat worthy of Heller’s prowess. Every mission follows one of several patterns: eating someone to gain access to a target; collecting crates from a downed transport or hunting down and consuming key personnel. Once in a while a particularly new gnarly foe will drop in to say hello and you’ll spend a few frantic moments working out how best to deal with them, but once I unlocked the final evolutionary node for Heller’s regeneration all sense of challenge was forever lost.
Yes, in the end the greatest joy Prototype 2 offers is that of just growing. Guiding Heller from his unsteady first steps as a prototype to the apex predator of the food chain is a long and rewarding journey. Powers only improve by consuming key enemies, marked with an icon above their heads; side missions offer mutations as rewards, which boost Heller’s combat effectiveness and accumulating experience allows Heller to level up and unlock nodes which increase his parameters such as his speed and health. I’ll tell you right now, there is no sweeter joy than that of making mince meat of what was once a difficult and powerful enemy. To conquer one’s former better is the general theme of Prototype 2, and is it’s most rewarding offer.
Thankfully there are the collectables: lairs, small dungeons infested with god only knows what, to clear; field ops to eliminate and the tragic — smirk — final messages of deceased Blackwatch operatives scattered throughout all three zones of the city. All the side missions come in sets, aka operations, accessed through connecting to a remote Blacknet terminal or by consuming randomly encountered personnel affiliated with the operation. In later operations Mercer will play a more prominent role; offering further insight to his plans and the goings on behind the closed doors of Gentek. Yet even if that isn’t enough Radical has come out with Radnet — albeit not the best name they could have thought of — which places different events, much like in the original Prototype, throughout New York and offers different prizes for completing them; such as skins, additional mutations and the chance to compete for the top spot on the leaderboard.
Inconsistent? Yes. Excessively violent? Certainly. Remarkable? Not at all. While Prototype 2 is certainly very enjoyable its underwhelming visuals, narrative and leading man let it down. My first play through clocked in at just under sixteen hours, and in my procrastination I’ve nothing left but a mountain of severed limbs and a few dozen trophies to remember my time with it. I don’t feel the urge to try it again on insane, and I’m not interested enough in the simple trophies for it to merit an extended play. Most likely this will go into the trade in pile, along with several others, in preparation for Max Payne 3. Should Radical opt to make the more than likely Prototype 3 it will take a rich injection of character and originality for me to return to the franchise. There is plenty in here for everyone to enjoy for now, however.
[…] following my one night stand with a real game (Prototype 2) I’m back to what I do best, tightening the purse strings and inflicting my opinion on the […]
The game is very similar to the original and the story is a bit bland. I really enjoy the fact that I can simply run around the city, change form and cause all sorts of chaos and transform into a disquise to evade the military.
Free roam is always fun. Especially when you have shivs for fingers!