Prototype 2 Video Game Review
Developer: Radical Entertainment
Multiplatform (PS3 Version Reviewed)
That’s the word that popped into my head near the end of Prototype 2 when, after thousands of inventive slaughters and oceans of blood and gore, the protagonist helpfully offered to “skull-(expletive)” one of the villains to death.
Prototype 2 is a game that gives you an ever-increasing number of creative tools of murder and turns you loose, your id free to rampage at will. The more effort you put into the game, the more you are rewarded with an even keener and more wicked killing machine, a steadily more invincible juggernaut of blood and death. But we’ve seen that before. After God of War and Assassin’s Creed and, to be fair, the first Prototype, I’ve brutally killed so many virtually people that this game’s slaughters barely registered as background noise, maybe occasionally getting a chuckle out of me if there was an especially neat dismemberment or a funny quip from the protagonist to go along with it.
So the cathartic release of the killing spree is fun, but Prototype 2 has to offer more. For the most part, it comes through.
- Kill a lot of dudes.
- Seriously, kill a LOT of dudes.
- Tons of side quests and challenges.
- Choose stealth or ultra-violence on
some missions. Take the identities of your enemies.
- Challenge friends online for high
scores on side quests
- RPG-leveling system.
- Huge open-world city to explore.
- Tanks and helicopters to hijack.
Prototype 2 picks up some time after the original Prototype, in which angry, violent anti-hero Alex Mercer stopped baddies Gentek and Blackwater, I mean, Blackwatch, from destroying Manhattan after using it as a testing ground for a super-virus that mutates people into gore-seeking monsters. In Prototype there’s another outbreak and the bad guys are again using Manhattan as a giant laboratory, but there are enough twists to keep it from feeling like a complete retread.
The biggest is that there is a new angry, violent anti-hero, James Heller, a military man whose family was killed during the most recent outbreak. Heller volunteers to go
into the infection zone because he wants a chance to kill Alex Mercer, but instead Mercer infects him with a carbon copy of Mercer’s powers for his own mysterious purposes. The plot twists and turns from there, with Heller discovering that some of the things he thought he knew were wrong, finding allies, betrayals and double crosses. The early part of the story drags a bit because Heller is taking orders from Mercer for a while and feels more like an errand boy than a true protagonist, but a plot twist soon switches the status quo and Heller starts taking matters into his angry, violent hands.
Heller is just as angry as Mercer was in the original game, but he’s slightly more pleasant because his anger is more blustery and brutal (think Samuel L. Jackson) as opposed to Mercer’s brooding, nasty rage. The game is well-aware of this contrast and Heller even calls Mercer “emo” at one point. Heller is also softened slightly by having a soft-spot for children and fathers because of what happened to his family.
Part of the story is told in cutscenes that are black and white with just a few areas of red for color. It emphasizes the grittiness of it all, but it gets old, and I would have preferred full color. Other parts of the story are revealed when Heller eats a person and absorbs their memories. These are frantic, jump-cut views of the experiences of the person Heller ate, mostly with live-action actors. They’re a bit more interesting to look at, but they are mostly used to give Heller information about his next objective and background about what the bad guys are doing to the city.
The developers also do a great job of telling the story through the world and through gameplay. Blackwatch and Gentek have divided the city into three zones, a green zone that is supposed to be clean, a yellow zone that they are using as a laboratory complete with cages, and a red zone where the infection is completely out of control. Each of these is well-realized with incidental dialogue, damage and destruction giving you a good sense of the escalating despair caused by the infection.
Although the overall story is different enough to avoid a complete retread and interesting enough to keep the
action moving forward, it’s a pretty standard affair and the final plot twists aren’t that surprising or interesting. The pacing also
feels a big jumpy, and the end seems to come abruptly.
Prototype 2 is, like the first Prototype, an open-world game with a superhuman protagonist. Your character starts with only some basic abilities, but soon he will be leaping through a devastated New York City like the Hulk, hunting and cutting people to ribbons like Wolverine, copying identities to bypass security measures like Mystique, and eating people to recover his health and steal their memories like, well, I’m sure there’s some comic book character that does that.
This feeling of power and possibility is the best thing about the game, there’s a real joy to leaping to the top of a skyscraper, jumping off and gliding a mile before touching down. Heller gains more abilities and levels as the game goes on and he completes missions, side quests, challenges, and simply eats people who have useful skills. This RPG-leveling system allows you to build your character the way you want, you can put more points into making him move faster, make him more durable for combat, or make it easier to evade combat altogether with better stealth abilities.
What you use these abilities for is a raging, brutal vendetta against evil scientists, soldiers and military contractors, and the biological horrors they have let loose upon the city. You’re free to be creative and use your abilities any way you want in most of the fights, you can sneak into a room in a scientist disguise, attach a biological bomb to a hapless soldier to cause a distraction, and quietly eat your target in the chaos and leave. Or go for the blood and thunder using your impressive arsenal of bio-weapons, including claws, an arm that turns into a blade, giant rocky fists, whips and spears, and the super-strength to throw cars or throw a soldier who is begging for his life out to sea.
Heller can also use military weapons, tanks and helicopters. Tanks were a bigger element in the originalPrototype. In this game they are mostly useful only for taking on other tanks. I did try one against a giant monster but it instantly smashed it, with Heller actually making a comment that that was a bad idea. Helicopters, on the other hand, are durable death machines. The Blackwatch pilots must be terrible, because if they were even half as good as Heller is with helicopters controlling the infection would be the work of an afternoon.
A big part of the game is managing alerts. You can’t just walk around with Heller’s face showing, because a Blackwatch goon will see you and you’ll find yourself on top of a skyscraper fighting three helicopters to get away every five minutes. So you spend most of the game in disguise as military, Blackwatch or a scientist. You can steal the face of a civilian, but it’s useless because civilians aren’t able to access the military bases or terminals you need for missions. You can’t use your powers in a disguise, though, so you have to carefully pick your moment to switch to Heller and let the claws out.
The game has three kinds of missions. There are story missions, which move the plot forward and are most elaborate. There are more challenging Blacknet missions, which are are focused attacking bases and other resources of the bad guys and earn you mutations that make Heller more powerful, and there are Radnet missions, which are special challenge missions that unlock every week that are often timed and more gamelike, for example a mission to fly a helicopter through a series of rings. How much time the game takes you depends on how much you invest in side quests It could be relatively short if you tackled only the story missions, but the challenging side missions are too much fun to miss.
The challenge level is for the game as a whole is not particularly high. Heller is just a bit too badass to really get into trouble unless you make a serious mistake, and even then you can just eat a few people and get your health back. It definitely seems a bit easier than I remember the original Prototype being, and it doesn’t have anything like Prototype‘s frustrating final boss.
The city, gore, civilians, monsters, and buckets of blood are beautifully rendered, in more detail than you usually get with open-world games. There are some impressive touches, like reflections in mirrored skyscrapers. Unfortunately there seems to be a slight tradeoff for this detail, with the city being obscured by a lot of pop-up hiding fog. It’s a bit jarring for anyone who has gotten used to being able to see long distances in their open-world games, but its something you can quickly get used to and it never gets in the way of the gameplay.
There aren’t a lot of memorable tunes, but the music does a good job of matching the tension of the battles and events.
A bigger highlight is the sounds of the deteriorating city as you move about. You might hear an alarm, an argument, a siren or an explosion, a plane, or a Gentek announcement, it really helps build immersion. Sound effects are also really well-done, the only one I have a problem with is the sound Mercer makes when he’s gliding. Just like in the original Prototype, it sounds like a flock of pigeons to me and that makes his flights seem a bit ridiculous.
The dialogue and voice acting is mostly very well-done. Heller says lots of angry things and even the incidental things you hear from people in the city or quips Heller makes in reference to situations are interesting. There’s not a lot of humor to lighten the grim mood, except for a few dark murder-related quips. And the cursing is constant, this is one of the few games I’ve heard the dreaded “C-word” in, but that shouldn’t bother anyone who can stand the extreme violence.
With its violence and grimness, Prototype 2 isn’t for everyone. And even for those that seek those kinds of things out, the shock factor wears off very quickly because there’s just so much of it. But if you want a place to creatively act out your rage, Prototype 2 is your playground.