Release Date: Out Now!
Developer: Free Radical
PG Rating: 18+
This game was provided free of charge by Activision for review.
Released back in 2009 the original Prototype was a game with huge potential that ultimately never managed to deliver on its own ideas, but for all its flaws there was still a fun game buried within it, allowing you to take on the role of Alex Mercer, a man mutated by a strange virus and given insane powers like running up the sides of buildings, leaping insane heights and being able to transform his arms into blades. Amidst the rough graphics, jumbled plot and the completely unlikable Alex Mercer there was a game that simply let you go nuts with super powers, which was, y’know, pretty awesome. Now three years later we’ve got Prototype 2. It’s sad to see that the developers, Free Radical, have made a few of the same errors that plagued the first game, but make no mistake, Prototype 2 is a far better effort that’s a lot of fun to play.
Still, before we get to the good stuff we need to get Prototype 2’s biggest failure out of the way: the story. Taking place a few years after the events of Prototype, the virus from the first game, now named the Mercer virus, has returned and re-infected a large chunk of New York, leaving much of its population as mutated zombie-like freaks. At the centre of this mayhem and death stand Blackwatch, a mysterious agency who have once again return to help control the virus, but clearly have motives that extend far beyond that. If that wasn’t enough Alex Mercer is also back on the scene, albeit this time he doesn’t act as the lead protagonist, rather he takes on the role of a “he is a friend or foe” character. Mercer may have been a completely horrendous lead character last time around, but this time he suits his role far better, especially as his beloved hoodie gives him a properly dramatic silhouette so that he can act like the true mysterious, brutal badass that he is. His motives and goals through the game, coupled with the true objectives of Blackwatch, make for, on paper, a rather interesting tale, especially thanks to a rather striking artistic style used to convey the games cutscenes, but ultimately the story fails to deliver on almost everything thanks to predictable twists and boring characters. Ultimately, though, story is ruined by the games new lead character, Sergeant James Heller.
And that’s a shame, because his backstory from the opening minutes of the game sounds like a fantastic setup for the action to follow: his wife and daughter were killed by the Mercer virus, leaving Heller with post-traumatic stress disorder and an obsession with Alex Mercer. As the game opens, Heller’s truck is attacked by Mercer who kills all the other soldiers, but, for reasons that become apparent later, Mercer spares Heller, instead choosing to infect him with the virus which in turn grants Heller the same sort of freakish super-powers that Mercer wielded in the first game. But sadly, like Mercer, Heller is a complete douchebag. Worse, he’s a douchebag that’s damn hard to like, or connect with on any level. It’s clear that the developers have once again gone with trying to create a badass anti-hero, but such characters are arguably the hardest to create and they’ve obviously not managed to get the correct formula with Heller. He’s a seriously angry character that swears so much that even Ozzy Osbourne would take a step back and tell him to chill out. Hell, paint him green and you’d have the hulk, except that even the Hulk never threatend to rip someones spleen out through their mouth. For much of the game his motivations weren’t even clear: at points it seems that he’s supposed to be trying to save lives, but the game ruins this illusion by actively encouraging you to kill innocents to regain health and the fact that Heller is seemingly indifferent to the death he dishes out. By the end of the game he’s go so much blood on his hands that it’s almost ludicrous, yet he never shows an ounce of regret and nobody else seems to give a damn about it, either. Presumably it’s his post-traumatic stress disorder and obsession with Mercer that are the cause for the fact that he’s willing to rack up such a high bodycount and spill so much blood, but the game never seems to raise this idea so I’m simply assuming. Perhaps this is my own little attempt to inject some sort of reasoning into Heller’s bloodbath of a story, because it’s hard to feel any sort of sympathy or connection to Heller, because he is, quite frankly, a monster with little to no redeeming qualities. At other times his family seems to be his driving force, but the “emotional” family moments come too late in the game – by which point I’d given up caring about Heller or his story, and that ultimately meant that I could care less about the rest of the story as well. But if nothing else it can certainly be said that Heller is intense. Really intense. And, quite amazingly, despite all of his flaws and the fact that he’s a complete arse, he is actually an improvement over Mercer. Wow.
However, one aspect of the story that’s certainly worth mentioning is the means by which a significant chunk of it is told. Like Mercer before him Heller often learns of his next objective by consuming, and thereby earning their memories, key characters during the story. Yes, I did some ‘consume’. admittedly this is a bit of a problem as the storyline has to keep coming up with more sacrificial victims for you to munch in order ot progress much of the story, so it’s often hard to keep track of who the hell is who or why you even ate them, but that doesn’t matter becomes in terms of sheer awesome ideas on how to progress a narrative, eating people is definitely up there. Oh, and if you need a health recharge you can simply grab any innocent civilian or enemy soldier, pull of a truly brutal execution move and then consume them for a health boost. See, I told you Heller was a douchebag.
But really, who gives a toss about the fact Heller is a bit of a dick when he can literally leap small buildings in a single bound, punch helicopters into the side of buildings, shapeshift, eat people and slice off the head of everyone that pisses him off. Clearly despite the virus bringing horrific suffering and death to untold thousands, it does have its perks. Like Prototype before it, Prototype 2 wants to make sure you that you feel truly powerful, something which can be tricky to convey in games. It’s also a game that just wants you to enjoy yourself. But lets start with what is arguably the most fun part of Heller’s moveset: getting around the place like a boss!
By killing, having fun and completing missions Heller will be given the chance to evolve his powers, which includes powering up the speed of his sprint and the heights he can jump to. Provided you spend the first few upgrades on this mobility upgrade, which you’ll likely do, within a few hours you’ll be able to cross open-world of New York in true style like a super-powered freerunner. Hold down the RT and Heller will enter sprint mode, picking up speed and leaping over cars and other obstacles until eventually you’re hammering along the road at breakneck speeds, or if that’s not your style then you can just sprint up and along the sides of buildings, which is quite helpful for avoiding the notorious New York traffic jams. A lovely body-flip animation at the top of buildings also helps to keep the movement feeling nice and smooth. Tap A and Heller will perform a higher than average jump, but hold it down and he’ll leap into the sky like he’s had a rocket shoved up his arse and told that the sky is made of juicy Skittles. Or at least, he will if you put in a few upgrades. Finally Heller even has the ability to glide short distances so that you can extend your leaping distance somewhat. Once you’re properly into the game and have mastered the art of moving across the cityscape, Protoype 2 becomes hard to beat. Flowing seamlessly from move to move, leaping from rooftops, running up buildings and soaring through the sky is utterly fantastic and helps to enforce the concept that you’re a complete badass. No other game, except possibly Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, can touch Prototype 2’s feeling of graceful yet powerful movement.
When it comes to getting into a fight Heller ain’t no slouch either. Of course he can punch, kick and grab, but those are mundane and boring compared to his virus-induced ability to transform his arms into weapons of mass carnage and pain. As you progress through the game you’ll be granted a steady stream of new powers to play with, such as a claws, hammerfists, tendrils and a massive blade. Any two of these offensive abilities can be assigned to the X and Y buttons, so as the game progresses and you unlock more powers you can pick and choose your favorite combinations to go nuts with, although obviously certain attacks will generally be more effective against certain enemy types, but more on that later. Alongside the combos you can create with your chosen weapons are block and dodge, both of which are so self-explanatory that I have no real need to talk about them except to inform you that counter-attacks from successful blocks do play an important role when you’re fighting. The combat in Prototype 2 is definitely a step up from what was offered in the original and is good fun, but due to the nature of the game and sheer amount of NPCs on-screen at any given time the combat can feel a bit clumsy and imprecise at times This is a fact further inforced by the lock-on system which can be a bit of a pain in the ass to utilise properly. Again, this is mostly due to the large amounts of enemies that can be onscreen at once. Pull the LT to target the large infected brute that wants to tear your head off and you can often find yourself targeting some relatively harmless soldier or infected human a good 200ft away from your intended target. This can be frustrating when you’re trying to combat the big threat in a fight, especially since combat can be so chaotic and it’s easy to lose track of what’s going on. Still, problems aside the combat is satisfying enough and brutal.
Speaking of which, with your claws, hammerfirsts and vicious tendrils you can slice through infected humans and gun-toting soldiers with almost terrifying ease. Hit the attack button once when you’ve got your claws out and you’ll simply slice through soldier and civilian alike, an d even in massive numbers they pose little to no threat. So to balance out the game the developers obviously had to have some bigger and badder enemies for you to battle on your own level. This is both a good and bad thing: on the one hand letting you simply slice through regular humans so easily enforces the sense that you’re the ultimate badass, but it hardly makes for much of a challenge, but throwing in enemies that are just as powerful as you can also take away from that sense of power. Happily Prototype 2 doesn’t suffer from that problem, because even the enemies that are as powerful as you don’t provide any sort of challenge. Simply put, Prototype 2, even on Hard, is a breeze to playthrough. Still, at least means that you feel awesome. Of course the military enemies have exactly what you’d expect: plenty of soldiers wielding guns and rocket launchers to slice through, whose weapons can be picked up and used by you, but they’ve also got access to helicopters, tanks and super-soldiers. Later on in the game you’ll even gain the ability to hi-jack helicopters and tanks for yourself, allowing you to happily blow the crap out of the army with their own gear, which can only ever be a good thing. However, you can also unlock an ability that lets you destroy tanks and even helicopters in just a single move, making a mockery of the idea that they should be providing a real threat. Still, the super soldiers do at least take a good amount of punishment to put down, which is why I recommend throwing cars at them. Yup, you can throw cars. At least the Mercer virus freaks put up a bit more of a fight than the army as they’ve got some pretty big beasts to throw against you, such as the massive Hydra’s or the badass Behemoths. They still won’t pose much of a danger, but damn are they ugly! And big!
But hey, don’t go thinking that Prototype 2 is all about jumping into the middle of every fight like the nutter you are, because the game does actually give you the option to go down the stealth route in a considerable amount of the missions that make up the ten to twelve-hour story. You see, when Heller consumes somebody he not only steals their memories and their health, but he also gains the ability to shape-shift into their form. Using this ability you can happily wander around the various military base disguised as soldiers. This idea is used in a lot of the main missions as you’ll often have to assume the identity of a high-ranking individual to gain access to an interior area, and that usually requires a little cunning as you’ll first have to take care of anybody that might spot you in the process of consuming your target. Handily Heller comes with a unique sonar ability which sends out pulses that can locate specific targets or simply show you who has a line of sight on your current victim. Quite often you’ll have the choice once inside the bases to either go ballistic or to simply stay in disguise and complete your objective. It helps add a bit of variety to the gameplay and stop the constant action from becoming overwhelming. Plus, consuming someone and then walking around as them is plain cool. Things get even more interesting later in the game where you earn a power that lets you turn people into a freakish bio-bomb that serves as either a great distraction or just a fun little diversion should you be feeling a little merciless.
Speaking of the missions you’ll be undertaking, the developers clearly took note of one of the biggest criticisms leveled at the last game: the missions were almost all exactly the same. So, this time around they’ve added in a bit more variety to help keep things feeling fun as you reach the later hours of the game. You’ll have to pilot a helicopter, defend objectives against mutant hordes, steal tanks, chase down cargo and more. Sadly, though, the missions do still start to blur together after a while as the main gameplay still usually comes to down to either beating the crap out of things or assuming the identity of someone, but it’s a definite improvement over the first game and I only found myself starting to tire as the game drew to a close. There’s also a pile of collectibles thrown in to the game for you hunt down, which is actually worth doing as you can get some nice power upgrades, and a couple of other little distractions like clearing out lairs and defeating little squads, again all in the name of upgrades!
One of the biggest problems that reviewers and fans alike cited in Prototype was the graphics. Even for a 2007 title, Prototype was a fairly poor looking game, and while graphics certainly aren’t everything they’re still an important part of the game as they help to immerse players into the action. So it’s good to see that the developers have spent a lot more time make the game look good this time around. It’s still not going to be competing with the biggest names out there on a technical level, but the open-world New York that they’ve brought to the table is certainly no disappointment. The city is split into three zones, from the relatively virus-free green zone up to the “holy shit, everybody is infected” Red zone. Each zone is well detailed and believable, but it’s the Red Zone where the graphics are at their best as the engine brings to life hundreds and hundreds of infected and ruined buildings, giving the action a real feel of intensity. The animations are also pretty slick, although sadly a few of them are still a bit rough, looking like they were actually taken from the original game rather than being made exclusively for Prototype 2. Paired up the graphics is some pretty good voice acting throughout the game, even if it does include waaaaaaay too much swearing, but on the music side it’s all pretty standard stuff, which is something I seem to be saying a lot lately.
There’s absolutely no denying that this is a huge improvement over the first Prototype, even if it does make a few of the same mistakes. This isn’t a game with a hugely compelling narrative, but it is a game that puts fun ahead of everything else and for that it’s hard to fault. Sometimes modern games get so caught up on morality and trying to provide the next bit dramatic story that they forget games are supposed to be about fun, unlike Prototype 2 which simply wants you to go berserk with a range of awesome powers and feel like a total badass.
+ Kicking ass and taking names.
+ Getting around New York City.
+ Consuming people!
– Storyline is weak.
– Heller is a complete arse.
– Combat still feels a bit imprecise.
New York is an impressive looking place with a good amount of detail to help bring it to life. Some rough animations, though.
The voice acting is actually surprisingly good and the music is solid. Sound effects are also pretty good.
The story is predictable and Heller is just plain unlikable, and the rest of the characters are completely forgettable, except Mercer.
While the mission design needs some work and the combat is a little clumsy, this is just pure manic, chaotic fun, and that overrides the flaws.
Around ten to twelves hours will see main story completed, with another few hours to mop up the side-missions. Collectibles will add a bit more, but for an open-world game this really isn’t that substantial a title.
The VERDICT: 8
Much of the potential shown in Prototype has come through in its sequel, although there’s still work to be done for a third title. Prototype 2 is a blood-soaked whirlwind of an adventure that is just plain fun throughout. There are flaws in the package without a doubt, but don’t be deceived: if you want a game that just lets you go nuts with awesome powers, then Prototype 2 is for you.