[Prototype] kind of just came out of nowhere. In a world full of serious sandbox games, the ability to play as infected anti-hero Alex Mercer allowed us to dip, dive, glide, and destroy more objects than any game since Hulk: Ultimate Destruction.
Now, the tables have turned, as Alex is on the other side of the curtain, taking on a more villainous role. Sergeant James Heller is the protagonist now, freshly infected by Mercer and set to do his bidding.. While the story plays itself out, the real question is, from a gameplay perspective, can Heller really fill Mercer’s shoes?
Prototype 2 starts off with a pre-infected human James Heller, whose wife and daughter was just recently allegedly murdered by Alex Mercer. As you work your way through the intro that teaches you the basics of the controls, Mercer eventually infects you with his own virus, granting you powers, and pretty much setting up the rest of the game.
From there, the narrative takes a predictable turn. Is Mercer really to blame? Or does the fault lie with Blackwatch, the militaristic presence that’s essentially holding New York City hostage? Without spoiling anything, you won’t really care about any of this by the time the game is over — like the first title, the fun factor in this series lies with hardcore visceral action — not an award-winning touchy-feely epic.
P2 has a God of War feel to it, in terms of character motivations. What I mean by that is the character is not exactly a sympathetic figure. Heller is motivated by revenge, nothing more, and will leave a trail of unadulterated death in his wake.
James Heller may not be the king of cursing, but he’s up there in the Pantheon of Video Game Crudeness. Of course, I don’t really have an issue with this; it just exemplifies the dichotomy between Heller and Mercer, from a narrative standpoint. Whereas Mercer was kind of a silent badass, Heller will announce himself openly to enemies all the time, often times taunting them into a conflict.
Simply put, after a short hour, you won’t feel the slightest bit of sympathy for Heller, or be able to relate with him in any way. That said, the game is still an incredibly fun action romp, so I didn’t mind this setback personally: you just have to go in with the mindset that there will be blood, and lots of it.
Weapon-wise, Heller will have access to everything Mercer had, with one major addition: tendrils. Tendrils are basically infected tentacles that are a ton of fun to use. By holding down the attack button, Heller can use black-hole ability, which shoots your tendrils in every direction at a target, pulling in everything around it like a magnet (or…black hole!).
Besides your standard weapons, where Prototype 2‘s action really shines is the inclusion of a heap of new abilities, most notably the bi0-bomb. The cool thing about the bio-bomb is that it’s use is multifaceted. You can not only engage this ability at will, creating a bomb out of pretty much anything, but you can also execute it from stealth-mode to distract other enemies.
Heller also has the ability to instantly kill vehicles (after unlocking an ability), and summon infected Brawlers (basically big mutated apes) at will. The level-up system is also expanded upon quite a bit, adding a perk system to the typical statistical increases found previously in the series.
Like most open world games, you have the ability to tackle story missions, side missions, or just go willy nilly about the town, gliding around to your heart’s content. Like Prototype, there are a number of side quests to find, like collectible blackboxes to locate (similar to Grand Theft Auto’s suitcases), research teams to kill, infected lairs to breach, Blackwatch soldiers to stalk, and so on.
This time, New York is divided into three districts: yellow, green, and red. Yellow is more of a shanty-esque district, Green is mostly free of infection but has a high militarized presence, and Red, Mercer’s home district, is basically completely infected. You can access each district via a helicopter “sky bridge” at set points on the map, just like a”flight path” in an MMO.
Even though it sounds like a fragmentation of the open world, I actually enjoyed the ability to run around in three distinctly different districts at will. In the original Prototype the city would change over time, which was cool fro m narrative standpoint, but ultimately if a particular area you liked romping around in was wrecked, you had to just deal with it. Here you can just high-tail it to a new area if you want to engage in a mass murder spree, or explore areas without much interruption.
If you buy the game new, you’ll have access to “RadNet”, which is basically a “Call of Duty Elite“-esque network for Prototype 2. Essentially, this is a collection of various challenges similar to the ones in Prototype 1, but a bit more varied in nature. One perfect example is the ability to “bowl for soldiers” after jumping down from the top of a skyscraper.
Like the first Prototype I didn’t really focus in on these, as they’re mostly forgettable. If you’re bonkers about completion however, RadNet adds quite a bit of content for you to work through in addition to everything else in the game. It also allows you to unlock an Alex Mercer skin if you beat all of them, which is really cool (and draws comparisons to Ubisoft’s uPlay).
Similar to Prototype 1, if you aren’t the biggest action fan, you’re most likely going to find the sequel to be repetitive unless you heavily invest in the RadNet challenges. Likewise, the story is fairly by-the-book, which isn’t doing it any favors.
Thankfully, Prototype 2 does what it sets out to do: let the player live as an utter badass. At the end of the day, there are very few franchises that evoke a sense of power just like the Prototype series, and the sequel doesn’t disappoint: just don’t expect anything groundbreakingly new.
This review was based on a retail copy of Prototype 2 for the Xbox 360.