After three years Radical Entertainment has finally pushed out a sequel to the incredibly fun, if somewhat flawed, Prototype. For those of you new to all of this, here’s a little recap. Prototype came out in 2009 for all major platforms, and dealt with the adventures of anti-hero Alex Mercer, who awakens in New York to discover that he had recently died. It turns out that he was resurrected after being infected with a weird “zombie virus” and has become an unstoppable death machine (well, not really at the beginning, but hey), capable of running up buildings without breaking a sweat, lifting cars, regenerate after sustaining horrific wounds, and devour and assimilate other people a la John Carpenter’s “The Thing”.
If you’re into comic books, Mercer basically becomes a mix between Hulk, Venom and the aforementioned Thing (not to be confused with the rocky member of The Fantastic Four!).
In the game you basically had to discover what had happened to Alex, who had done it and take revenge for it. As the game progresses you devoured more and more people and infected monsters, growing your power to such insane levels as to take on a whole army and win. It was a fast paced, brutal game, which also came as challenging in some of the missions, but in general almost worked as a power fantasy.
Prototype 2 does not deviate much from the formula of the original, which is good, as some of the places where it deviates do come out as jarring, but as is my usual way of doing things, I’m getting ahead of myself.
In Prototype 2 a new outbreak of the Blacklight virus has spread through New York, and our new protagonist, James Heller, loses his family to it. With nothing to lose, the veteran marine asks to be sent to the Red Zone, were the infected have carved a massive hive, and there he’s infected by Mercer himself and turned into a creature like him.
Story wise, Prototype 2 follows the same pattern as the original, the story is nice, but nothing great. Blackwatch, the government organization that secretly created the virus to take control of the world, is comically evil, to the point were you wonder were they actually can hire this many psychopaths. Mercer himself has turned from a revenge focused anti-hero to a full blown super villain of, again, comical proportions… making all his character development in the first game kinda moot, a sore point for us that liked the first game.
Furthermore, the story flat-out ignores the setup the first game did for the sequel, for those reading, this is a minor spoiler for the first game, but during it you could pursue a side story about the origins of the virus, and in which you found out that “Mother” (the infected that controlled the infected side in Prototype 1) had a “son” that was a perfect stable carrier for the virus, and all seemed to point to him as the potential villain or plot center of a sequel. All this aforementioned story is never mentioned and thus never used, instead focusing of Mercer as the new bad guy, a truly missed opportunity, as it made the pursuing of said massive sidequest in the original game basically pointless. All in all though, the story serves it’s porpoise, which is basically moving the game from one location to the next as Heller gets more and more powerful.
As for the game itself, it works as a somewhat free-form sandbox. You control Heller in third person, for movement, he can run extremely fast and even run up buildings and glide between them, making moving around a cinch and actually really fun, as it’s also very fluid and makes the city still seem big. Combat it’s also quite fluid; you map two of Heller’s powers to two of the face buttons, while the others are quickly summonable thanks to a circle menu. The powers range from a very fast set of claws, a whip-like appendage and a huge blade that can cut through tanks, among others. The powers are diverse enough that you do use them all from time to time, though some always get used more than other, but the balance is definitely better than in the original Prototype. Fights often involve dozens of soldiers, tanks, helicopters, and infected monstrosities, and can get confusing quickly. Thankfully your powers (and the fact that you can “eat” enemy soldiers for health) makes most fights pretty manageable, but sometimes it can get very frustrating when you need to devour someone specific in a crowd and the lock on feature insists on training itself on the wrong objective.
As for other changes, the game is now divided in three “zones” that are roughly as big as the original Prototype’s game world. Unfortunately, the way they are implemented makes them not really work. In the original game the different districts would be controlled by either military or infected, those controlled by the army more or less functioning normally and the infected ones as zombie infested hell-holes. You could destroy bases of both sides to dislodge a group from a district. These “liberation” battles got old quick, but still made the city feel more alive in the conflict. Here however, each “zone” is always in the same state, the Green zone is similar to the districts controlled by the army in the first game, the Red zone resmbles the infected ones and the yellow zone is a bit of a middle ground. You can only change zones by taking an airlift to each one, which loads quite quickly, but breaks the feeling of it being one big city, and its stale state makes them less interesting to explore than the original Prototype’s map.
On the positive side, instead of just accumulating evolution points like Mercer, Heller can start quest chains (which always usually involve eating someone to improve yourself or stop a plot) that, after completing all objectives, give you the choice of improving him with a variety of powers from different groups (basically, attack, defense and movement). This works much better than just buying stuff from a menu like in the first game, and is less prone to break the progression by grabbing something really good too early in the game. On the down side, most of the interesting events and side missions from the original game are strangely gone, like the missions where you needed to join a side in the ongoing battle between army and infected to tip the balance in either favor.
Ultimately the combat is the best part of the game. As mentioned Heller moves fast, running over enemies and jumping over tanks, delivering impressive power attacks and generally causing tons of mayhem. While the game is a bit repetitive after a while, it does take a long time to get bored of seeing Heller rip off a tank’s turret and using it as a hammer against said tank. The game is fast and fun as it’s predecessor.
Sound and music wise the game delivers without overachieving, the music accompanies the action nicely but is a bit samey and all tracks blend together. Sound effects are nice, with visceral sounds for the cleaving of fleshy monsters (and humans) and powerful explosions and other destructive SFX. All in all, nice, but nothing really memorable.
Gameplay: 4/5 - While the gameplay has not changed much since the original Prototype, it’s still fast, visceral and fun. The brutality of the fighting is the epitome of a power fantasy, but you won’t find me complaning! Having said that, I do miss the armor power.
Sound: 3/5 - Well crafted music and sounds, but nothing to drop in your mp3 player.
Graphics: 4/5- The city is extremely well detailed, with no recycled areas whatsoever. While it doesn’t look as good as other current gen games, we can’t really argue with the quality of the graphics.
Longevity: 4/5 – The three areas have many hidden goodies and the main storyline is surprisingly long. If the game’s repetition does not wear you down, you will have many hours of fun just basically running amok around town.
Overall: 4 juicy brains out of 5
While I was seriously tempted to give Prototype 2 a lower score for just being barely a sequel and actually annoying me in some regards, I cannot in good will deny that’s still a really good game. If you are new to the series I’d recommend you grab the first game over this one, but if you don’t care about the narrative, or if you’ve already played the first one and liked it, you’ll definately have fun with this one.
- José Luis Pérez Zapata