Originally Posted on cxPulp on May 11th, 2012. Click here to comment.
Reviewer: Craig Reade
Quick Rating: Massive viral destruction, this time with a hero.
Platform: X-Box 360, Playstation 3, Windows PC (in July)
Developer: Radical Entertainment
Publisher: Activision Publishing
Genre: Action-Adventure Sandbox
# of Players: 1
US Release Date: April 24th, 2012
About three years ago, the first Prototype was released – and proved to be a pretty popular game. The announcement of the sequel gave me some mixed feelings thought. On the one hand, I enjoyed the first game, but on the other – I wasn’t sure how a sequel could manage to be anything other than a carbon copy of the first game. I wasn’t wrong on either count – but the result as a whole was extremely positive.
In Prototype 2, you take on the role of Sgt. James Heller – a US Marine. At the start of the game you experience several phone calls between a deployed Heller and his wife, who is telling him about the outbreak of of the Blacklight virus in Manhattan. The authorities there advise her to remain calm and stay home. Heller agrees she should stay put, reassuring her that he will “be home tomorrow.” By the time he gets there the virus has spread throughout the city, and his family is dead.
Heller blames Alex Mercer (the protagonist in the first game) for the death of his family after being told that Mercer was the cause of the first outbreak. When the “Mercer Virus” resurfaces, Heller volunteers to be sent to the Red Zone in the hopes that he will be able to find and kill Mercer. He gets his wish when his transport is attacked and Mercer appears to inspect the wreckage. Heller seizes his opportunity for vengeance, but he is outclassed by Mercer. Mercer – impressed by Heller’s fearlessness and skill – decides to infect him, expose Gentech and Blackwatch’s role in the creation of the virus, and we learn that he wants to use Heller as an “ally” in his war against the organizations.
The basics of Prototype 2‘s gameplay are pretty much identical to the original. As Heller, you are stronger and faster than regular people, can scale the sides of tall buildings and even glide across the city. You are still able to shapeshift into the form of the last person you consumed, and move undetected amongst the military if you have the right form. You can still pick up weapons from military bases or from soldiers, and can still hijack the various military vehicles that are sent after you.
While the elementary system is still the same, many of the details have changed. Some for the better.
The upgrade system is a massive improvement. They have ditched the Evolution Point system, and instead simply divided upgrades into several categories. As you accomplish certain missions or side-quests, you are given the opportunity to select your upgrade from one of the categories. This system is much more elegant and removed an unnecessary bit of complexity from the original game.
You also have a new “hunter” ability, that allows you to ping the city and locate certain key targets via echo-location. This has replaced the Thermal and Infected Vision from the previous game, and it is a change for the better. The Sonar Sense fits seamlessly into the game in those occasions when it is actually useful, whereas I preferred to find a way around using the Thermal Vision whenever I could.
The various offensive mutations are more balanced than they were in the previous game. In the first Prototype, it was far simpler to stick with the Whipfist as the primary weapon. In this game, that weapon isn’t quite as powerful, and the various enemies you encounter often prove to be strong against certain attacks, and weak against others. Combat is less about just dealing massive damage, and more about confronting specific opponents with carefully selected attacks. This is both a plus and minus – it makes individual combat a great deal more fun, but it reduces the joy of wanton destruction.
You have a few new abilities as well – Heller has a Tendril mutation that is used in place of Mercer’s Musclemass – a much more diverse offensive component that takes on some of the properties of the old Whipfist mutation, with a shorter range and some additional properties. He also gains the ability to summon up to four Hunters to do his bidding – something that is occasionally quite useful in large fights or when you need a distraction.
Defensively, Heller doesn’t have access to the Armor power that Mercer had, but his shield is significantly upgraded. Heller’s shield manifests on both arms, and can redirect projectiles back at an attacker. It appears to be unbreakable now and Heller can even use it offensively in certain situations. Heller doesn’t really heal quite like Mercer did – they both could heal quickly by consuming NPCs, but I seem to remember that Mercer could heal on his own much more quickly. Maybe that is time clouding the memory, but you definitely have to consume people to recharge your health in this game.
Character wise, Heller is a massive improvement. In the first game, Mercer seemed like little more than an angsty sociopath that the story was desperately trying to make sympathetic. That contradicted the character you became during gameplay – bent on destruction with a wanton disregard for the innocent. Heller actually is sympathetic. He is angry and vengeful, but he has the sense of honor and moral compass that Mercer lacked. He can still consume civilians to restore his health, but it is extremely easy to avoid doing so if you are really interested in playing a pure hero. There are plenty of military and infected around at all times that you can stealthily consume, and often times it is harder to go out of your way to find a civilian. Heller is also depicted in the story actively working to help the civilian population, and some of his missions reflect that. Not only is Heller a more likable character, but he is also more developed. Mercer is portrayed as the villain in this game, and his development in the first game was so generic that even though he was painted the hero, the switch here doesn’t seem forced or unnatural.
While I liked almost all of the changes for the sequel, there were some things I missed. The Web of Intrigue was one of them. Admittedly it would have been a good idea to scale back its importance, but the Web really gave you a solid reason to explore the city and look for upgrades. There are still targets scattered across the city that will provide a weapons upgrade or some bit of intel, but you have no way of finding them other than just roaming around. And the reward for doing so just isn’t worth the effort.
In fact, you have almost no incentive to roam around at all. Some of the side missions in the first game, though repetitive, gave you a real reason to explore the city and just play. That is completely gone this time around, in favor of a much less complex series of side missions that are more directed. While there was nothing wrong with these side missions, they eliminate any real reason you have to explore. In the first game, finding an infected hive or military base to go out and destroy was one of its real joys. Sure, the missions lacked variety, but there just isn’t the same opportunity in the new game to go out and have a pure destructive brawl.
So there are some negatives to Prototype 2, there aren’t many. Overall I have to conclude that the game is an improvement from the first one. The story is better by leaps and bounds, Heller blows Mercer away in terms of character quality, and the better balance in combat makes for more consistently fun gameplay. This one is worth picking up.