The original Prototype took a lot of flak back in 2009 due to its (almost simultaneous) release alongside Sony’s inFAMOUS for PS3. Both games feature an everyman recently endowed with super-powers in a wide-scale environment with free-flowing exploration and control schemes. I played and enjoyed both, but Prototype snuck into the lead due to its parkour-style controls – there was no need to slowly clamber your way up buildings or over obstacles, just hold down the right trigger and run directly at your target. It was a new direction for this type of game, and I found it to be very welcome as it took some of the hassle out of learning to make your way through the world.
Fast-forward four years and we’ve now seen the release of Prototype 2, a robust sequel to Radical Entertainment’s parkour-bloodsplosion simulator. In essence, the Prototype series is about killing/eating a vast number of people while raging your way around New York City (renamed this time around to New York Zero, possibly because it sounds more sci-fi). Taking over the role of protagonist from the original game’s Alex Mercer is James Heller, an extremely angry, African-American ex-soldier who has lost his wife and daughter to the Blacklight virus, once again wreaking havoc on the populace of NYZ.
Having returned from a tour in the Middle East, Heller comes home to find his wife dead and daughter missing. In retaliation, he takes on suicide missions against the mutated hordes of Blacklight virus victims in hopes they’ll send him to be with his family once more. Instead, Alex Mercer turns up and pumps him full of enough virus to turn him into another lean, mean, murderous-limb-weapon wielding rage machine! So begins Heller’s quest to take down the unambiguously evil militia of Blackwatch and scientists of Gentek, who are equally responsible for the infected state the boroughs of New York find themselves in – and hopefully figure out what Mercer’s deal is along the way.
Gameplay-wise, Prototype 2 is structured very similar to its predecessor. You’ll find yourself hunting down targeted Gentek and Blackwatch employees for their memories or appearance, allowing you to proceed to new story missions or successfully sneak into military compounds and protected areas as you progress. Once again your enemies seem to be painfully short-sighted, though. Whilst wandering through a protected base as your normal Heller appearance will trigger alarms all over the place, flying past a military vehicle or crash-landing from hundreds of feet up without a scratch will barely cause them to bat an eyelid – so long as you’re in the guise of a random soldier or a civilian granny. That’s just plain NORMAL, apparently. Obviously this kind of arrangement makes sense for gameplay reasons, but it is still funny to hit the ground so hard it leaves a crater and have the guards standing a few feet away just continue their conversation as if nothing had happened.
The parkour-style controls of the original Prototype also return, as do many of the impressive weapons from Mercer’s original arsenal. A few new tricks are thrown in the bag too – the addition of the “Tendrils” weapon in particular is a lot of fun, allowing you to target your foe and send out tentacles, dragging random debris in to crush them. Each of the returning weapons such as the blade arm and claws appear to have been tweaked somewhat to make them control more effectively and with a bit more variety, evidenced as you slowly level the weapons up by consuming enemies for their skills.
Likewise, the accumulation of new skills and bonuses is handled in a more simplistic way – where the original game had a complex system for attributing collected experience to add new skills, finishers or combos, this time around you have a simple set of skill chains, with one new talent point awarded as you gain a new level. It’s less time-consuming to understand and manage, and makes it a lot easier to plan towards a specific ability you want to gain.
One of the most interesting new developments this time around is the cutscenes – important pre-mission story scenes are pre-rendered to allow for greater animation on the character’s parts, something that was underdeveloped last game. Each of these scenes is rendered in black-and-white, with red elements such as Heller’s hoodie the only splash of colour used. As you return to the playable game the screen fades from greyscale back into full-colour, to show some commitment to Radical’s artistic choice. It’s an interesting direction to take, lending a bit more style to a game that could otherwise just be about smashing dudes to pulp so you can eat them for a health boost.
Unfortunately, our review code didn’t have the game’s “RADNET” day-one DLC content available for review, so I’m unable to form an opinion on it as yet. Descriptions set out in Activision’s media releases on the topic paint it as a set of new activities and side-missions to be unlocked over the next few months, adding extra variety for early purchasers of the game. Completion of all the RADNET content will unlock additional in-game skins and bonuses, leading up to an Alex Mercer skin as your final reward. Assumably it will later be released as a purchaseable DLC, so I look forward to returning to the game then to experience it.
All in all, Prototype 2 is a fun title to invest a dozen hours into, and markedly improves on the small flaws its predecessor suffered from.First-time players can happily start with this game as the story is not amazingly complicated, and they’re offered a ‘Previously On…’-style video to bring them up to speed anyway. If you ever get the urge to soar through the skies on a wave of blood-slash-virus-goo only to dive down and cut giant mutant monsters to ribbons with your awesome saw-hands, this is the game for you.