We've been here before, but there's still plenty of fun to be had
Prototype 2 feels like a complete re-tread of the first game in almost every single way imaginable. While that’s not a definitively bad thing, the original Prototype had some impressive ideas and really showed potential that could have been expanded on for a sequel. Prototype 2 is by no means a terrible game, but as a follow up to what the original offered, it’s hard not to be disappointed by this sequel, which makes absolutely no attempt to drastically improve or even alter anything that was done before.
I really have to start by highlighting just how unlikeable and downright annoying the protagonist is this time around. There really wasn’t much to Alex Mercer in the first game, he felt more like an action figure you were controlling in the best children’s play set ever made. Heller on the other hand is supposedly more of a character, but you never really find out anything about him other than the fact that his wife and child were murdered. Heller just comes across as a thug with super powers, he hates everyone he ever meets, his dialogue is unquestionably bad, filled with “mother fucker” this and “mother fucker” that with the occasional “BITCH!” thrown in. He’s just kind of a shitty character in every way and has no redeeming qualities what so ever, Alex Mercer is played up as the villain of the game, but Heller feels much more appropriate for that role. This also makes the moments when you’re clearly supposed to feel sorry for Heller completely miss their mark, it is impossible to feel anything but disdain for him.
The story is more streamlined this time around though, largely due to the fact that key events are given to you pretty straight which results in a lot less confusion than the first game. If there’s one huge improvement over the original it comes from the CG cutscenes present in the game. They have a very striking visual style akin to the 2005 film Sin City, everything is black and white with the colours on the shape shifting weapons exaggerated and have a glowing effect to them which makes these sequences a please to watch. The game also has a much more serious tone this time around, which rings completely hollow thanks to the consistently terrible and juvenile dialogue you’re submitted to throughout. Apart from the great looking CG scenes, there is really no technical improvement to speak of at all, New York city doesn’t look as bland this time around, but the frame rate doesn’t feel as smooth as the first game and can really take a plunge when there’s plenty of explosions happening, which is nearly all the time.
Say for a handful of minor improvements, the gameplay is virtually unchanged from the first game. There are a few new powers, some of which come in extremely handy, like the bio bomb which will turn a normal human into a time delay explosive device which can be then thrown at other enemies. The inclusion of a dedicated dodge mechanic is also a very welcome one as is the counter ability and makes the melee combat feel a little more refined, the camera can often be infuriating though; it has a tendency to focus on everything but you in huge open conflicts and you can sometimes feel like you’re wrestling with the right stick to get it to where it should be. You still have all the basic abilities from the first game, you can hijack military vehicles, turn your arms into claws, tentacles, giant hammers and “consume” enemies to gain health and their disguise. The ability to map two separate powers to different buttons makes a huge difference to the regular melee combat, having these on the fly is much better than navigating a menu every single time you want to change form. Every enemy in the game seems tailor made to be taken down by a specific weapon and the ability to have two accessible at all times makes the combat feel a little more strategic. The auto targeting can be extremely annoying at times, especially when you’re trying to consume an enemy that will give you an upgrade to one of your abilities and you end up accidentally killing him instead.
If there’s one thing the first game suffered from it was significant un-balance in the favour of the player. You didn’t have to play for very long at all before you could completely lay waste to entire armies of military and monsters without breaking a sweat. The new upgrade system in Prototype 2 does a little to offset this, by limiting your upgrades to one per level. That being said, the most considerable change is that the ridiculously over-powered whip fist is now the final upgrade you get and not one of the first. Much like the first game there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the gameplay, if you enjoyed it before you will enjoy it again. It’s just a real shame that very little effort was put into building on what the first game offered you, instead you just feel like a slightly less awesome version of Alex Mercer.
The structure of the game also feels like a step backwards from the first game, almost every single mission consists of four steps: Go to location X, consume a dude to gain disguise, kill stuff and/or consume more dudes, then evade the alert and its mission over. The first game varied it up every now and then with the occasional helicopter or Tank rampage, the ability of which to do so is left very late in Prototype 2. You just never really get a good sense of progression; you just move from point A to point B and repeat it until the end of the game. You can offset this by doing some side missions or hunting for various collectibles, but most of the side missions follow the same set up anyway. The ability specific challenges are exclusive to the Radnet portion of the game, which is the games one time use code. These offered up quite a lot of replay value in the original and they do more or less the same thing here, which makes for a nice break of the monotony of the campaign.
I had high hopes going into Prototype 2, the original game did what it did really well and had a ton of potential waiting to be tapped into. There are definitely improvements to be found in Prototype 2, but none of them are very impactful, they feel more like tweaks rather than significant upgrades. The only area where they really fell short on the original was the choice of protagonist, Alex Mercer was easy to take or leave, whereas Heller is an abrasive presence from start to finish. If you loved Prototype, then this sequel will no doubt hit the same notes once again albeit ever so slightly toned down and if you’re a fan of crazy, over the top open world action then you should feel quite at home here. However, it’s impossible to shake the feeling that Prototype 2 should have been so much more than a simple re-hashing of what came before it.