Little iteration on this Prototype
The first Prototype, released in 2009, had the misfortune of being released alongside the more critically acclaimed Infamous. While the similarities amounted to nothing more than two super humans running through an open world, Prototype was still swept aside as the unloved twin.
Radical Entertainment still had faith in the series. It wasn't all unwarranted, either. There were some unique ideas in the first game. The ability to shape shift into anyone you kill opened up all sorts of interesting cloak n' dagger plot lines. The game never realized it's potential thanks to lazy writing and a combat system that was full of frustrating cheap shots.
Now that Prototype 2 is out of the lab, I had hoped to see Radical seize the chance to make a more enjoyable and memorable experience, but I'm afraid all they did was release the same game with a few minor tweaks.
The story opens up with a surprisingly intense and emotional punch. The dead and dying are laid bare in the streets as the US military tries desperately to keep the healthy healthy and make sure the sick are really and truly dead. The virus has a nasty habit of turning those it infects into 'totally not played out' zombies. Manhattan is abandoned, leaving the outlying boroughs in martial law until the Government can swoop in and save the day.
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, Sargent James Heller sends calls home to his family caught in the middle of the disaster. Being a good little soldier Heller tells his family to put their trust in the military until he made it back home. One bad judgement call and two dead family members later, Heller rolls into the heart of Manhattan to try and find the man responsible for the virus in the first place. In the wreckage of the city we encounter Mercer, the hero of the first Prototype turned heel. Mercer not only started this virus madness in the first place, he IS the very virus itself. When Heller tries to take down Mercer with nothing but a knife, you can imagine who emerged the victor.
Two bad judgement calls in, Heller finds himself infected with the Blacklight Virus and let loose on New York filled with bitterness, loss, and curse words. After the opening 20 minutes any attempt at a story is abandoned and the game gives way to misogynistic assholes and generic military jargon. The phrase 'oscar mike' is used 675 times in the game, I counted.
It's too bad, it really is. Once again Radical Entertainment creates the potential for a blockbuster and drops the ball. I can't even tell you reasons why the story is bad specifically, as there literally IS no story for the rest of the game. Sure, there's a cutscene here and there, but it never amounts to anything more than Heller calling a woman a 'bitch' for no reason.
Before we talk about the tweaks that make Prototype 2 a better game than it's predecessor, let me get out of the way that 98% of the move set, animation, and abilities Heller has are identical to the first. Heller can still use the virus to morph his hands into some pretty devastating weaponry, but its the exact same weapons as the first game. You'll be re acquainted with claws that let you pounce on your enemies, stone fists that let you cause earthquakes and devastate tanks, and a whip that lets you bring down helicopters from afar. Throwing a car at a guy is still just as viable an option as picking up a gun and mowing them down. You'll still be running up the sides of buildings and gliding through the air with the greatest of ease. Yes, you still consume people to take their identity and sneak into a cookie cutter military base and eat somebody else to learn about somebody else you need to eat. Guys, guys, it's the same game, the main character is just black and angry and has tentacles now.
Unlike the first game, however, Prototype 2 is actually fun to play. The first had a bad habit of giving you so many toys to play with and then punching you in the stomach for trying to actually play with them. Enemies were cheap and could knock you into animation loops you couldn't get out of, forcing you to rely on equally cheap tactics yourself. With a few smart tweaks P2 has managed to streamline the experience. Those annoying rockets that would hit your from off screen are now telegraphed and can be ricocheted back at your enemies with a well timed button press. The hulking dog-like beasts the virus has produced can now be nimbly dodged and chopped limb from limb. Tanks can be hijacked and helicopters can be uppercutted into oblivion, and that's where the magic in Prototype 2 lies.
As you roam around the city of New York Zero (as it's now known) doing side-missions and finding mercifully marked collectibles around the world, Heller begins to evolve and grow even more powerful. It's this sense of becoming an unstoppable killing machine that Prototype 2 nails. You hunt your targets from the rooftops with your 'viral sonar', swooping down 50 stories out of the air impaling your victim on the giant blade you've grown out of your arm. Then, you absorb him into yourself, gaining his memories and some new abilities in the process. Once your target is dead his friends sound the alarm. 6 helicopters and a battalion of men pour into the streets calling in armor for backup and pumping a constant stream of lead into you. Earlier in the game you were smart enough to invest your skillpoints in the 'bulletproof' mutation, and now their assault rifles are no more of a worry to you than a bully shooting spit wads. Your arms turn into a writing mass of tendrills, shooting out from your body towards a low flying helicopter. The helicopter, now covered in the virus, shoots the same tendrils out of itself, latching onto nearby cars, signs, and soldiers retracting violently like a black hole towards the helicopter sending a rain of death and metal from the sky. This - is - Prototype.
For everything else it does wrong, Prototype gets so much right by making you a god and setting you free to set the city on fire. Who cares about story when you are a beast straight out of a 90's comic book?
Art and Everything Else
It's not easy to judge the visuals of an open world game. So much of the processing power of the system is going to make sure explosions are pretty and buildings are tall. Both those quotas are met so I guess there's not much to say other than job well done. The amount of destruction on the screen at once is genuinely impressive. I've read of other people experiencing some slow down during their time, but I never encountered it myself. The textures are muddy, all the interiors are repeated copies of each other, and the CG cutscenes are on par with work in the early 2000's, but you're usually moving too fast or skipping the awful story bits to even notice these things. What's important is that New York is nice and banged up and your blade arm sends a geyser of blood out of that guys face. The voice acting on your Spanish priest companion is so bad it seems racist, and Heller is a stream of stereotypical angry black man tropes.
In The End
I enjoyed my second playthrough of Prototype 2 more, when I just skipped the story and stopped expecting it to be more than a stress reliever. Is it worth your 60 bucks? No. It's an easy 1,000 achievement points and a great rental, that's for sure.
If you're like me you might see the magic beneath it all. I play games to vent. Whether I'm getting lost in a great story or experiencing a power fantasy that makes my 9-5 seems more tolerable. Deep in the tentacled, diseased covered heart of Prototype 2 sits the greatest power fantasy to come our way in years, and maybe that makes it all worth it to you.