Genre: Action/Adventure Open World
Release Date: April 24, 2012
Developer: Radical Entertainment
Rating: M for Mature (Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language)
Retail: $59.99 Standard Edition, $79.99 Blackwatch Collector’s Edition
Platform: Playstation 3, XBox 360 (Reviewed)
I wouldn’t go so far as to say the original Prototype released in 2009 is one of my favorite games ever, but it is a damn fun game. Working all the way up to a creature with unrivaled strength with the abilities to literally tear your enemies to shreds, consume then, disguise yourself as them, sneak into a base as them, and do the same thing all over again was the gory, brutal, cathartic fun that I think everyone needs on occasion. The story wasn’t always clear but the gameplay, despite some minor flaws, was pretty great. For how well the original worked, what does Prototype 2 have that warrants a sequel?
For those who didn’t play the original (or completely forgot the plot, as I did), Prototype 2 has a handy recap of the plot from the previous installment detailing the outbreak of the Blacklight, or ‘Mercer’ Virus (named after the anti-hero of the first game, Alex Mercer). Prototype 2 begins with the homecoming of Sgt. James Heller to his family in the recently sanctioned New York Zero, Ground Zero of the second outbreak. Heller comes home to his wife dead and daughter missing all thanks to the Infected, the zombie-like residents of NYZ. Heller is told that Alex Mercer is the source of the virus, and makes it his mission to hunt him down. Long story short, Mercer likes what he sees in Heller and grants him the same powers he has in hopes of using Heller to take control of NYZ and clear out the corporations currently holding it: Blackwatch and Gentek. Heller, however, just wants revenge.
The story is a lot more straightforward that the previous title, full of espionage, backstabbing, and attempting to unravel the plot behind the true goals of Blackwatch, Gentek, and Mercer himself. There isn’t any real character development, and the ending is less of a cliffhanger and more of a “So what?”, so anyone looking for some kind of deep plot will be disappointed. Like the first game, most of the story is obtained via the memories of people you consume – these story sequences are short and to the point, allowing you to get back to where the game really shines: its gameplay.
Veterans of the original Prototype will notice that nearly everything has been streamlined, and many redundant or useless features were cut. Stealth Consumes are not activated through a side menu and are now the default consume, two abilities can be equipped at once with each set to one button, and the upgrade system is much more linear and organized. While this sounds like a reduction in features, it really makes the combat so much better and fast paced.
Being one of the Evolved, Heller has with him a selection of abilities and mutations that give him many ways to not only explore the world of NYZ, but also destroy anything and everything in it. Throughout the game, Heller acquires the ability to turn his limbs into giant claws, a huge blade, a razor-edged whip, massive fists, and new to the series are Tendrils: sticky, elastic tentacles that wrap everything in biomass cords that either rip enemies apart or pull surrounding materials and even other enemies in towards the target in a Black Hole Attack. Every mutation has a special charged attack similar to that, and all are equally satisfying. My personal favorite is jumping off a skyscraper, locking onto a tank in the streets below, and slamming into it at full speed with the Hammer Fists causing huge spikes to appear in a shockwave around my newly flattened target. Alternatively, dropkicking helicopters has returned from the first game, and they are still just as satisfying.
All of these abilities, along with the standard health, defense and travel skills can be upgraded by acquiring EP (Evolution Points) or consuming certain enemies. EP is awarded by doing pretty much anything from killing enemies, destroying bases, consuming key targets, completing side missions, winning challenges, and of course finishing story missions. Unlike the first game where EP is saved up and can be used to unlock skills at any time, Heller levels up throughout the game after acquiring so much EP, which can then be spent on a selection of abilities. I beat every single side mission and found every single collectable on my first run-through, and still did not have every skill unlocked, so choose wisely. I also recommend against trying to grind EP on the aforementioned things; I was 30000 EP away from my next level after I beat the game and the most EP anything would give me is 45 per kill. Thankfully, there is a New Game + where you can start on any difficulty mode with all your previous upgrades and levels.
Compared to its predecessor, Prototype 2 is much faster-paced, it has much better combat, slightly better story-telling, and a lot more detail and graphical interest. Despite all these improvements, the combat is still not very deep, and enemy bullet spam is still a huge bother. Fortunately, there are defense and health upgrades that alleviate some of the problem, but by that point Heller’s health is obscene and his attacks will wipe half of the opposition in a few hits. That is another core problem: the pacing of the upgrades keeps Heller very weak for a long time, putting a lot of emphasis on dodging and defense, but by the end of the game he is so overpowered that nothing is a challenge anymore.
The game also lacks replay value: If it wasn’t for the New Game +, there would be nothing to do beyond finding the small number of collectables or vying for Platinum in the minigames once the final boss is completed.
The biggest disappointment, however, is the final battle, which culminates in a series of anticlimactic QTEs.
On a side note, the ’55 Pieces of DLC’ you’ve been hearing about do not cost extra–they’re free, and they come with the standard version of the game. A series of challenges and minigames is released each week that award extra EP and skins or video downloads upon completion.
So does Prototype 2 differ and improve upon its predecessor enough to make it worth buying? While it has all the required improvements over the original to make it a much better game, there is still no real depth to bring it beyond the levels of some ‘gory, cathartic fun’. For someone looking for a few hours of free-roaming chaos and destruction, Prototype 2 fits the bill perfectly – just don’t go in expecting anything more.