When it’s the moment for designers to pick a city to maul, New York often has the bad fortune to get its ticket punched. Worse still, the first Prototype had already smashed it up and now the sequel continues to pound on what’s left in what often feels like a do-over.
Players are cast in the role of James Heller, a soldier that blames Alex Mercer for the death of his wife and daughter in the latest Blacklight virus outbreak. Fans of the first game will recognize Alex as the anti-hero now apparently back from the dead and wreaking angry havoc. A short introductory sequence brings players up to speed on the basic, third-person controls while pursuing Alex on the streets of NYC and before long, the fun begins when Alex infects him with a sample of the Blacklight virus that mutates his body into a super weapon. As for why, and what that ultimately means, is something that players will discover through Heller’s eyes.
The story is pretty thin on details but not so much on presentation with plenty of video clips filled with a cacophony of flashing images juxtaposed on top of each other with a voiced narration peeling through each layer. As is typical of most action adventure games like this, everything moves forward in one direction. There are no choices to be made here other than what powers to use that will cause the most damage.
This time, the story seems to be making an effort at trying to create a hero that’s more identifiable with players or at least comes off as less of a cipher. Heller at least seems to have some of his humanity left and the whole “father factor” makes him a bit more approachable. In the last battle, especially, Heller isn’t above throwing a few insults Mercer’s way that probably reflect some of the criticism that some players may have even voiced about Prototype’s first hero.
In the end, though, it’s largely forgettable stuff that colors the reasons why the player is pitted against the evil baddies of Blackwatch all over again making the game feel a lot like a do-over. For newcomers, however, it’s not a bad bit of fiction that does the job in explaining why you’re blasting through legions of enemies. That familiarity also extends on down into the gameplay which offers a few neat tweaks over the previous formula. Veterans will probably feel right at home.
Just as in the first Prototype, the player will grow an arsenal of brutal powers. One of the first, and most useful, is Heller’s chameleon ability allowing him to morph into the last person he had “consumed” to avoid detection or do neat things such as enter restricted areas unnoticed. Absorbing other people and infected creatures can also restore his health turning much of NYC and each battle into something of a baddie buffet.
Unlike the first game, however, Heller won’t need to earn evolution points as credits towards purchasing upgrades. Instead, those are taken care of through a variety of options such as earning experience towards levels which can grant him powerful mutations that affect his core abilities like giving him additional health or biomass bar for special Devastator attacks. He can also find and absorb special individuals to upgrade skills like his rifle ability.
Small side jobs also open up additional opportunities for power upgrades and additional experience in the way of introducing more of these special people whose DNA can be absorbed for a points boost. And there are a lot of these jobs most of which tie into the backdrop of the game and reveal more of the story and Blackwatch’s secrets. For lore hounds that can’t get enough of Prototype’s world and bio-inspired superpowers, the side missions are worth taking on for that reason alone.
The largest point chunks, however, come from the story-related missions that can often branch into two individual paths. Doing one won’t shut out the other, however, so it’s up to the player on what they want to do first as well as what upgrades they want to pick when they level up or which mutation they want from a category on completing a side mission. It’s relatively open from that perspective, though it’s also fixated on missions as the best means of upgrading Heller. You get small rewards for chewing through tanks and for simply causing mayhem, or snacking on bad guys with stealth, but they’re so trivial that it’s often best just in sticking with the activities.
And that’s where things can get repetitive. The action can get boring along with the missions themselves, no small part due to the largely brain dead AI especially once you learn how to consistently dodge attacks.
Morphing into someone else, landing from the sky in front of a tank, or running up a wall in view of others is apparently not as off putting as it otherwise might be making it kind of strange to do all of these wonderful things without anyone batting too much of an eyelid. Then again, it could also be because it’s New York. The overall difficulty level, at least on Normal, seemed to have been toned down for the sequel so it’s not so much of a bother to try and get away or at least survive an ambush by the military as it had been before.
In a way, it’s a welcome change that makes it feel like less of a frustrating chore. On the other hand, combat can get pretty tiresome after slaying so many mutants and dim-witted soldiers that it becomes incredibly routine. Even with all of those powers, settling on only two – which can be equipped at the same time from the radial menu – often was the only choice I needed to make. The overall selection of powers have also been whittled down slightly from the first game which has cleaned up the radial menu and simplified things, though veteran players may miss some of that variety.
Prototype 2 breaks up NYC into three separate zones and players can freely travel in between each via helicopters that they sneak into. You can’t actually fly yourself from one isolated zone to the next, unfortunately.
Story and side missions, “hidden” items like hard drives that can be roughly pinpointed thanks to echo waves on a map, and even lairs are nestled in these zones and their own subdivisions. The story largely follows a linear path from one zone to the next, though players can always opt to travel back to previous areas to finish up anything they might have missed. It’s a good thing, too, as these extracurricular trips are worth going through for upgrading Heller.
The game also uses an incentive called “Radnet” which requires the online activation code that comes with pre-orders or an apparently “limited” number of new copies on release day. Radnet opens up a large number of special activities that can go towards earning Heller points as well as post those scores up online. These are much like the same activities that were available in the last game, optional tests such as races and other contests that had been freely available in the first game, making it an interesting if not obvious approach at hacking out a part of the game that had once been free and then making it an incentive to buy new.
There are also a few additional DLC gifts for buying the game early and getting the “Radnet” edition in using this code, but these side activities were something of a big deal in the last game. So if you’re renting the game or borrowing it from a friend, you could be missing out on what used to be included with the first game without any strings attached – content that provided many more hours on top of what is already there.
Finishing the campaign can take a little over twelve or so hours which felt much shorter than the first game, though some players may find that the extra activities especially those via Radnet may pad that count up considerably more if that’s what they like doing. The first game had also taken longer for me because of the “Web” that you could build up from absorbing specific people in NYC to get the “whole story” behind Mercer’s world. There’s no real alternative for that in the second game.
The ending is also terrible. For anyone that had read the brouhaha over ME3’s ending and how bad that sounds, the ending to Prototype 2’s story is much worse. I’m not even sure why they wasted anyone’s time on making what passed for a cliffhanger literally telling you to wait for the sequel. Not only was the ending bad, but so was the boss fight to get to it. One pass was all that I needed and that was on the Normal setting. I should have raised the difficulty level to at least provide some kind of challenge. A New Game + mode on Insanity is offered up allowing you to carry over your powers for another turn, but at that point, I didn’t know why I should bother.
Prototype 2 isn’t bad, but I can’t shake the feeling of deja vu. It certainly has its fun moments, but if you didn’t like the first game there’s little here that might convince you that it’s any better. For newcomers, however, curious about what Prototype is, this is the game to jump into if only because the story can literally stand apart from the first game without worrying about what happened there. It’s as if Radical decided to hit the reset switch. Unfortunately, some of the repetitive baggage is also carried over no thanks to the dense AI. Whether that’s enough to feed your superhero fix depends on just how much of that your mortal patience can manage to adapt against.
Activision / Radical Entertainment
Xbox 360 / PS3 / Windows (reviewed for Xbox 360)
Rated: M for Mature