GAME NAME: Prototype 2
DEVELOPER(S): Radical Entertainment
PLATFORM(S): Xbox 360
RELEASE DATE(S): 24 April 2012
The sequel to 2009′s Prototype stars one Sgt James Heller as a man who returns to his family in Blacklight virus-devastated New York only to find they they have been killed by a resurgence of chaos caused by the so-called ‘Mercer virus.’ He luck out and stumbles Alex Mercer, who infects the fellow with the ability to be a lot like the protagonist of the first game. You know, that old chestnut. So off he sets on a mission of revenge, with most of his ire directed at the Blackwatch forces that are occupying the three zones that make up New York Zero. Pity there is no reason to revisit a zone once it has been left behind.
The first two things that players will notice about Prototype 2 is that it is not as dark as its predecessor was and that it is a hell of a lot more scripted. The lead characters in the two games have something to do with the first item, in Prototype Alex Mercer was an amnesiac driven almost wholly by the urge to find out what the hell happened to him. Mercer was almost a force of nature, redirecting the course of the infections in New York on a whim by destroying Hives or military installations. By contrast James Heller is Call of Duty‘s Ramirez with a grudge and superpowers.
The Call of Duty comparison extends to the scripted moments in the game. Almost every major fight involves a scripted beginning and end, with an onscreen prompt dictating when the battle will end rather than just allowing players to kick their opponent’s face out the back of their skull. This fits in with the way that Prototype 2 has been simplified in terms of controls, attacks and interactions, and while the improved smoothness in character movement is appreciated, the dumbing down of combat is not.
Combat can reduced to slugging it out with whatever happens to be nearby, toe-to-toe, breaking off only to consume some hapless bystander when your health drops and hitting the prompt when the game tells you to. Players have the option to throw a little more variety into the mix with some of the new abilities that Prototype 2 has on offer, like the new Devastators and the Tendrils. By the time players get hold of the Brawler-controlling Pack Leader ability, which would have allowed some strategic takedowns of targets in the early stages of play, they’re already edging on unstoppable. Once the Finishers are unlocked players can take out an entire (large) Blackwatch base in around two minutes with nary a scratch to show for it.
The new hunting mechanic, which employs a sonar-like system to allow players to find their targets, is awesome at first but a batch of upgrades later targets will be identified, tracked and consumed in around 30 seconds from start to finish. This is a testament to how fantastic the movement has been made but a lot of the challenge has been leeched out of the game as a result.
Most of the reasons players had to explore the world have been nerfed. Non-story challenges are locked behind the Radnet wall until players enter their online code (our review game did not come with Radnet access so we had to review what was available) and that is likely where the open world challenges from the first game wound up. There are collectibles that lead to player upgrades but these are completed far too quickly to measure up to the open way that the first game played out.
Make no mistake though, Prototype 2 is not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination. It is bogged down by a cliched plot and some hollow characters but in terms of action, chaos and total bad-assery there is little out there to match it. It can be played either in a mostly stealth infiltration manner or as a balls-to-the-wall ride of blood and guts where players yank rocket launchers off helicopters and use them to destroy everything in sight. The visuals have been improved, as have the animations, but slipping into the skin of James Heller just doesn’t feel the same way Alex Mercer’s role managed to. Unfortunately Prototype 2 is all skin and no substance, visually exciting but empty on the inside.