While [Prototype] had an insane world with an incredibly selfish and callous anti-hero protagonist, the title was hindered with some gripping gameplay problems. Many times, the player wasn’t given a fair opportunity in the game world. Rockets would come from off-screen opponents or as a player fled from an unwinnable conflict, they’d find themselves being chased by an ever spawning flock of Hunters appearing from water towers littered throughout the city.
It is a game notorious for many people not finishing because of a unfairly difficult final boss fight. But there was something that kept the franchise alive despite the more well received Infamous coming out at the same time. Three years later and Infamous 2 being on shelves for a year already, Radical Entertainment brings Prototype 2 with some pleasant and unexpected results.
The gameplay of Prototype 2 takes the concepts from the original and makes some minor tweaks to make the game more approachable and enjoyable. The open world of NYZ starts off with just initial conflict with Blackwatch military personnel. Slowly, the infected are thrown into the mix which gives players a much easier learning curve for their powers instead of just being launched into the middle of a battle royal in Times Square.
Combat has been changed up some since [Prototype] as players can now assign two different powers at the same time. With one to the X button and one to the Y, players can combine strategies depending on the opponents in front of them.
The best way to describe the world of Prototype 2 would be to look at Crackdown and pretend the main character is the biggest jerk in the world. Collateral damage means nothing to James Heller as he picks up and throws or consumes anyone in sight and even during later stages of the storyline is able to turn them into living bombs. Unlike Crackdown 2 which handled poorly and got boring quickly because of a stale mission structure and [Prototype] which got annoying because of unfair difficulty spikes, Prototype 2 has the right amount of mayhem with the proper control scheme.
New countermeasures have been implemented in the game with timed button presses from an on screen notification that allows players the opportunity to dodge, block or reflect certain attacks back at their opponents. Just this small change makes gameplay all that much more enjoyable and keeps the frustration levels down to a minimum. While these blocks aren’t a sure thing, it is reasonable to assume that not even the best soldier would make it through battle completely unharmed.
The mission structure is pretty standard in Prototype 2. Most revolve around making it in to a specific area and consuming a particular Blackwatch soldier or Gentek scientist, using their identity to gain access to a new area and cause chaos. Interspersed are some timed rooftop recovery missions and a few escort missions. Unlike most games, these escort missions are fun as you are packing the firepower of either a tank or combat helicopter and are paired up with intelligent AI that can defend itself instead of a powerless moron who runs in circles or to their death.
There are also events in the world off story for players to go through which tie in to the game’s weekly content competitions to unlock extra character skins and behind the scenes videos. In addition to having online leaderboard with a player’s friend list, these events introduce further mission types which include a target practice mini game and a horde mode where players try to score as many infected kills as possible in a set time frame. Players early to the game will notice these events last until June, giving Prototype 2 a longer than expected replayability.
Story and Presentation
The story of Prototype 2 flows nicely from the remnants of the first game. For those who either didn’t play [Prototype] or didn’t finish it, the game starts with a recap of the events of the first game. Prototype 2 continues to explore the twisted mind of Alex Mercer and even though you know he is the antagonist in the game, you can’t help but respect his smug nature. Prototype 2 is also very well aware of itself and doesn’t try to hold back for the sake of reality. Battles are bigger. Enemies are more wild. Even the powers that James Heller develops stray further from reality. Prototype 2 also does a solid job of tying up the loose ends. The ending actually gives the player a quick “wait a minute” moment if they realize it.
Probably the biggest weakness of Prototype 2 is James Heller himself. He just isn’t a likable character, which isn’t all that different from Alex Mercer in the last game, but his origins and motivations behind his actions are completely different. This makes his choices all that much more reprehensible. Heller came back from a war overseas and found his family had fallen victim to those infected with the virus. He vows war on Mercer who caused the virus. So what does he do? Starts killing tons of random innocent people and other military personnel.
While you could argue that Heller would not have a problem taking out Blackwatch military groups after the initial chapter of the game, the path of destruction he leaves in his wake doesn’t justify his end goal. Soldiers are aware of collateral damage but Heller quickly becomes a full-fledged mass murderer quicker than most players behind the wheel at Grand Theft Auto. In addition to his actions, Heller is written to fit the hardcore macho stereotype of a Marcus Fenix. There are lots of unnecessary swearing and lame “tough guy” jokes. While [Prototype] had a mysterious and intriguing lead character, Prototype 2 lays it all on the table too fast with Heller and turns the volume up to 11 just to make sure you know just how much of a bad ass he is supposed to be.
Graphics and Sound
While [Prototype] had a landscape that changed across the island of Manhattan, Prototype 2 gives three very distinct zones our of three different boroughs of NYZ for players to progress through. Players start off in the Yellow Zone which acts as a triage area for those in quarantine for exposure to the virus. There are dilapidated shanty towns which are a sharp visual contrast to the virally overrun Red Zone of Manhattan and the Green Zone which has maintained more of a modicum of control. Character models are more detailed but as expected in a world with thousands of characters, models of soldiers do look like clones of each other in uniform while citizen templates begin rotating very quickly.
There are also times when Prototype 2 does have too more going on on-screen which can result in some strange camera angles to add to the chaos and, of course, major clipping. For the most part though, the frame rate of the game stays steady and even when a lot is going on, the action doesn’t feel like it is being forced to slow down.
The cut scenes in Prototype 2 have an awesome and distinct visual style to them with very little color ever-present. Heller’s signature red hoodie under his leather jacket is most of the color that is seen aside from Alex Mercer’s red glowing eyes or the blues that appear when a certain Blackwatch officer appears. The same memory style returns from the first game with a mix of live action video, stills and CGI mashed together to help convey the lunacy of someone having an entire lifetime of memories stuck in their head.
The voice acting of James Heller, much like his personality, leaves something to be desired. At times, the lines are delivered like the voice actor has just injected a fresh dosage of steroids. Any time people talk about the “bro” nature of Marcus Fenix and Dom in Gears of War, they haven’t seen James Heller dropping F bombs with enough energy that you’d expect his eyes to pop out of his skull. Unfortunately, it fits how the character has been written so most likely, this was the intended direction of the character. The rest of the cast is solid with a much more realistic delivery, except in a few cases where overly generic stereotypes are used for certain characters, like a hillbilly talking about his “crazy cousins” back home or the guy who says “bro” more times than the Jersey Shore.
Prototype 2 makes drastic improvements over the original but is slightly held back by its main character. Gameplay is much more enjoyable and has a much easier learning curve. The combat, which is the driving force behind the game, is much more fun and doesn’t have nearly as many frustrating moments. The addition of the game’s Radnet events as competitive friends list leaderboard help extend the game’s life, though it would have probably benefitted the game to let players compare their scores to the rest of XBox Live and not just their friends.
The world is fun but between the character’s dialogue and some of the choices the player makes, it can be very hard to be full emerged in and not be reminded time and again that they are playing a game. Ultimately, Prototype 2 still gives players most of what they want from an amoral super powered open world action game which is violence, gore and a never-ending supply of victims to tear through.
XBox 360 (Also available on PlayStation 3, coming to PC in July)
Developer: Radical Entertainment
Price: $59.99 (Blackwatch Collector’s Edition $79.99)