Competent Enemy Required
Just a note here: I have not played the first Prototype game. I’ve only glanced at its generally favorable reviews and left the game there. Therefore coming into Prototype 2, the sequel, I’ve had some mild expectations, assuming that 2’s foundation is already solid and that there will be some improvements, therefore a better product. But by the time the clock reads 5 hours, I have had a bit of a sinking feeling that my standards won’t be met. Don’t misinterpret me; Prototype 2 still has some awesome moments. Heller is one hell of a killing machine and it’s poetry in motion the way he either moves around OR wreaks havoc to his foes. It’s just that for the overwhelming majority of the time, the game has treaded through certain sandbox elements that were executed better by older games from the same genre.
It doesn’t help that James Heller himself is not a very likable character, preventing any sort of emotional connection between player and protagonist. There is potential, given Heller’s backstory, that his wife and daughter were killed by Alex Mercer. There might even be allusions to the damaging psychological effects from fighting in the Iraq War. However, there was no moments like that. No moment of shedding a tear, expressing vulnerability, or a period of deep, character-developing contemplation. At the worst moments, Heller is a one-note, vengeance-driven, heavy-swearing thug who has no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and who you can easily mistake for a full-on, legit villain.
Unfortunately, Heller has company. The supporting cast are just unlikable, guys who are just either quietly deceptive or outrightly so. Even worse, the story is not interesting either. It’s just about Heller, fresh off of getting infected with the Mercer Virus himself, taking out more and more important military figures and scientists until he reaches the big cheese known as Alex Mercer, the protagonist of the first Prototype game and the dude who allegedly killed Heller’s wife and daughter.
Thankfully, the game’s presentation helps to add eye candy and make the unbearable characters look cool on the screen. The designs of virus-infected characters like Heller himself look awesome, while the monsters who are based off of the same blueprint look viscerally appealing. However, I don’t think that’s the main strength of the graphics. I was particularly fond of the clips once Heller consumes someone of the importance. The choppiness of the pictures and the white-red contrast really promotes a sense of disorientation one gets when interpreting someone else’s memories; it’s a neat graphical trick. I also love the cutscenes where it is all black with slight tints of red. I don’t really know why I like those scenes more, but maybe it has to do with the evoking a gritty and dark tone that is prevalent in the decadent setting known as New York Zero. I don’t particular remember many of the soundtracks, as they are in fact easy to forget, but I think the voice acting is a plus. The actors do their very best to inject emotion without sounding hammy or out of character, and even though the script is filled to the brim with stereotypically sly villains there is nothing overtly annoying or the like.
So we’ve established that you are playing the infected Heller situated in New York Zero. What is there to do? Theoretically there are many options. Prototype 2 is a majority-linear progression system but has a ton of goodies lying around for the interested. If you want to take a break from the main campaign, you can pass the time by looking for unlockables to upgrade Heller as a character and make him more powerful or durable in battle. Side missions usually include Heller assuming the identity of a Blackwatch trooper or Gentek scientist and stealing info from data banks. There are also places where you can start a battle sequence to open a cage for a monster and upgrading a weapon upon defeating them. There are also some black boxes you can try to find that will provide some more backstory. Once Heller is leveled up from the missions you can increase basic attributes such as HP and movement speed. The only issue is that there is very little incentive to pursue these goodies as you can still get by most challenges and fights with no issue. Expect to hear this problem at least one more time this review.
Combat is very fun but also has frequent moments of shallowness. Heller’s main ability is shapeshifting, so he can walk up to an unsuspecting victim and consume him/her, providing a health boost and the victim’s identity. The latter is incredibly important as you’ll need to consume soldiers to move around heavily-guarded military facilities. At around the halfway point Heller can shapeshift his arms into various weapons like claws and tentacles. Each weapon has its standard quick combo attacks but they also have their own unique abilities. For example, arming Heller with the claws allows him to pounce on opponents, while using the tentacles allows Heller to use the attack called “Black Hole”, where Heller’s tentacles reach out on one target, grabs other stuff around the target (like a civilian or a trash can) and then hurl all those stuffs at the target. The animation of Black Hole really creates one of those “Holy cow” moments and is very, very cool to watch. For further measures, Heller can also grab a firearm and use it, be it a normal machine gun or a just-ripped-off-from-a-tank missile launcher. Defensively, Heller can dodge and jump out of the way, and his virus-created shields can defend James from harm and even ensue a counterattack. And to throw the extra measure, Heller can also ride certain military vehicles like tanks and raise Cain like that.
Heller’s arsenal is hell-bent on causing havoc and looking really good while doing it. But there’s a certain emptiness to the whole spectacle because, well, the game’s too easy. Most of the easiness has to do with the pretty-rock-stupid enemy AI. Why is that so?
There is a better example at the Gamespot review, but I’ll let the AI stupidity sink in. Troopers make very little effort of chasing you around once you alert them for misdemeanor. Beyond the poor AI the enemy is so easy to deal with. Even with the standard level claws you can carve up half the Blackwatch forces and then some. Even when you are outnumbered 1000 to 1 they do very very little damage and you can just walk up to everybody and consume them faster than you can ask “you a real soldier?” About the only time when there is some challenge is when there are bigger enemies that you need to counteract to open up an attack window; those parts aren’t that much harder. It’s just about good timing of the shield bash that opens up a throw move that can damage the big guys. Boss battles follow largely the same formula, so there’s nothing new there.
However, I will note that the parkour is excellent. Unlike games like , moving around New York Zero is actually a joy to do. It does not feel tedious and really has that sense of freedom and forward momentum that is very exhilarating to pull off. James can glide over certain distances and upon reaching a wall he can run on it indefinitely. Moreover, when he runs, he clears all jumpable obstacles, so the forward momentum isn’t diminished or halted. Having upgraded Heller’s movement to the max, it is just plain fun to run around, fly around and wall run time and again.
Mission variety succumbs very easily to monotomy. Most quests, main or side, revolve around taking someone’s identity, move around an area, fight certain enemies, and then escape. There are some missions that revolve around driving a vehicle, or that only allows you to use firearms (so to remain undercover), and even a grand collect-a-thon by leaping on top of skyscrapers, but sadly those missions are too few and far between to notice.
Prototype 2 is the first game that I’ve pre-ordered and is the game I was looking forward to review so to remain hip and up-to-date with the rest of the Giant Bomb community. I’ve certainly didn’t make a great choice in my first go-around, and it’s a bit of a shame. This game gives the player an incredible toolbox worth of super-duper moves that will keep players glued to the screen and make Heller out to be one of the best killing machines around. The real issue lies with the application of these badass moves, because the enemies are so laughably stupid and easy to rip into a hundred pieces. Factor in a very paper-thin story and low mission variety and the package looks less impressive. At best, Prototype 2 is a game that does very little wrong that will flat-out anger or infuriate the gamer (like what you see with game’s that are too hard for its own good). At worst, it’s a sequel that maintains the status quo, does things that other, older sandbox games did better, and should only be bought once its price drops in a couple of years.
3 and a half stars. I’m struggling between 3 and 3.5, but I’ll give the game the benefit of the doubt and award that extra half mark. Yes, it’s shallow, and the enemies don’t exactly reward experimentation, but pulling off moves like Black Hole or Devestation (or Devastator? I forgot) is fun to watch. When using an explosive bazooka is actually one of the less appealing ways to deal with enemies, I would believe that the cool-looking combat would at least invoke some sort of staying power.