Prototype 2 is a fun game, but what's built around it isn't great
Sometimes I wonder how people come up with ideas. There have been spells in the past where games come out around the same period and are centred on matching themes or gameplay. We’ve had World War II, zombies and psychic power, and in 2009, Radical Entertainment released Prototype, a game featuring a lead named Alex Mercer who has superpowers that allow him to change his body into weapons or shapeshift into exact copies of other characters. It’s also an open world game where you could explore New York City freely using Alex’s powers.
Coincidentally, Sony’s first party studio, Sucker Punch, released Infamous a couple of weeks before Prototype. That game’s hero, Cole, had lightning as his superpower and could freely explore around the city using his abilities to help him traverse the environment. Unfortunately for Radical Entertainment, it was generally agreed that Infamous was the better game. Now it’s 2012 and Prototype 2 has arrived. This time around, the second game fixes problems that plagued the first title and creates a better gameplay experience, but it still has some hitches that stop it from being great.
The story returns to New York about 14 months after the ending of the first game. The virus is wrecking havoc around the city again, released this time by the main character of the first game, Alex Mercer. Alex becomes the game’s antagonist as players take on the role of James Miller, a soldier who has returned home to find that his family has been killed by the virus. He sees Alex as the person who killed his family and sets out to get revenge. After meeting Alex at the start, he gets infected and gains the powers that allow him to wreck his revenge on the Blackwatch organization and anyone else involved with the virus. The plot is a bit stupid, thoughtless and quite forgettable, with only a couple of interesting turns that might make you think about what’s happening. At least the information is done in an interesting way. Like the first game, the plot is filled in when you absorb people into your body and see the memories of the villains you consume. Tasty.
James isn’t the most likable character as he’s written as an angry guy who seems to suffer from Tourettes. I don’t have a problem with swearing, but cuss words come out of James’ mouth so often that I could see some gamers getting a little tired of it. It’s not done in a clever way and feels like it’s in there just to give the game an adult attitude. The conclusion is that Prototype 2isn’t a game to play for the story or main character, but for the fun to be had lashing around its playground.
You see, Prototype 2 does well at giving the player some abilities and letting you go wild with the powers in an open world environment. You will have to spend a good hour or so first before you’re set free from your leash because the game gives players a linear tutorial at the start. It’s informative to the point that you’ll be able to use James’ newly acquired abilities without any problems. However, first impressions are lackluster because the game initially spoon-feeds you, yet the game opens up once you’re past that initial hour and you’re off to exact your revenge.
Playing through story missions is much more pleasant than before because it doesn’t suffer from the sporadic difficulty that was part of the first Prototype. What the second game has problems with is the structure of the missions. They often follow the same principle- hunt down a soldier to absorb him using James’ hunting ability (a pulsating ring that comes from the target you’re after), copy him so you become a friendly unit to the Blackwatch squad, then sneak into a base and go on a mass killing spree. There are times where the game varies your tasks (like when you have to steal a tank’s rocket launcher and shoot targets), but they are few and far between the standard structure of the story. It’s a huge shame because James has such a variety of moves that could make for some awe-inspiring gameplay moments.
All the moves from the first game are featured here – claws, blade, whip, wall running, and gliding. James can also use the new tendrils skill that allows him to shoot out tentacle style limbs to smash objects into each other. Admittedly, there are some weapons you’ll find more useful than others. I hardly used the whip because it was easier to jump and dive down using the hammerfist, which causes spikes to come out of the ground and stab anyone around James who happens to be in the area of pointy death. Towards the end of the game, James is able command monsters to do his bidding, although you only really use them when the plot demands it. To be honest, James is so strong that it’s faster to just do the required task yourself.
Completing story and side missions earns James experience points to level up. Once you have enough, you’ll get a point to spend in one of six groups of skills such as movement, health and finishers. The levelling up system allows for you to pick what you’ll find most useful to your play style. Additional upgrades can be found by acquiring mutations from secret targets in the city. Maxing out James makes him feel like a monster as he no longer takes as much damage and recovers health quickly. I recommend playing on the hard difficulty as I found normal to be too easy, with only the last couple of missions posing any challenge.
It’s the mixture of running up buildings, gliding around the city and brutally murdering people that’s the best part of Prototype 2. Just to give you a picture in your head, imagine running on the side of a skyscraper, jumping off, gliding down and as you land you pick up someone, super-jump in the air and then body-slam him back to the ground, killing him and anyone else around you. Yeah, you can do that and it feels awesome.
That’s all well and good, but a game isn’t great just because of one of its features. Something that got in my way was the way the lock-on system works. It freaks out when you try to aim for someone specific. I often found myself hitting the wrong item as the lock-on mechanic would lock on to something else. You can override it with the right stick, but when you’re quickly moving around or jumping all over the place it normally doesn’t move to the correct target. The camera has some problems when inside buildings. It gets obstructed by interior design, leaving you unable to see your character or find your way around a room. It’s fine when outside, and you luckily spend most of the time playing the game there.
The sense of scale that Prototype 2 represents when you’re jumping from building to building is well produced, and I can’t help but feel that the draw distance lets it down. There’s fog in the distance that covers up the city, which I am assuming is to keep the frame rate up. The city itself is varied enough, but the game isn’t that much of a looker when you’re not spraying blood and dismembering people.
Prototype 2 is fun when you’re freely able to rummage the city to cause trouble, brutally murder people and act like a punk-arse superhero. It’s just what’s built around that isn’t that great. Missions are repetitive, the storyline is so-so and the game’s effort to be mature comes across as an angry teenager who has just learnt his first few swear words. If you liked the first game, you’ll probably like this more as it is better than the original. For newcomers, if you like to cause mayhem and bloody violence, by all means give Prototype 2 a shot. Just don’t expect to remember much apart from devouring people and raining blood, the good stuff about the game.