Come on...Get down with the sickness!
When Prototype came out it seemed to go through two phases. The first was a constant comparison/confusion with Sony exclusive Infamous. Then came the phase when everyone regarded it as a shit game, as if blatant, mindless fun was somehow a bad thing. It could have been a better game, sure, but it was still one of the most empowering games around at the time. Well, after selling over 2 million copies Activision did what they do best - they announced a sequel. Though they might have taken their sweet time to do it, Radical Entertainment have produced a follow-up that doesn't try to reinvent itself, settling on delivering more of the same in a less risky package.
Kill Your Maker, And Pretty Much Everyone Else
In Prototype 2 you play as Sgt. James Heller, an Iraqi war vet who comes home to discover his wife and daughter have been killed. Heller immediately rejoins the military to fight a new outbreak of the "Mercer Virus" which is taking over New York City, now known as New York Zero or NYZ. But while attempting to track the virus's originator, Alex Mercer - also the original games main protagonist - Heller becomes infected. But unlike the usual infection, which turns people into monsters and kills them, Heller's body is resilient enough that the virus doesn't kill him, it gives him superpowers. And so, Heller sets out to avenge the tragic loss of his family, growing more and more powerful along the way.
You don't have to worry too much if you didn't play the first Prototype, it may actually be better if you didn't. Other than the tie to Alex Mercer nothing translates from the narrative, at least anything important. Even Mercer, who was originally a frustrated anti-hero, has totally transformed from someone who wanted to stop the spread of the virus into a guy bent on checking off every box on the evildoers checklist. And Heller, for all of his first minute agony, is quickly transformed into a caricature of an angry video game character. Radical's greatest fault is glossing over their strongest emotional connection right after the opening. Because of this, the player is left with nothing but the gameplay experience, which feels astonishingly similar to the first game.
But that's not necessarily a bad thing. If you loved the first Prototype, and some people swear by it, then you'll love this game. The original was a marathon of slow empowerment; Prototype 2 is a sprint that never stops. After my first hour with the game I was soaring around the New York skyline, able to hop from one building to the next with ease. By the end of the game I hardly ever needed to touch the ground. Radical Entertainment has created the best locomotion system in gaming since Just Cause 2. It's sort of like Crackdown on crack...just without all the orbs (which I'd gladly buy as DLC).
No One Is Innocent
Just like the first game, you're not meant to decide between innocent civilians and enemies. Instead, you kill pretty much anyone near you. Sometimes it's to harm them; sometimes it's just to gain health. It's not important. Everything about Prototype's combat system is geared toward total annihilation. Early on Heller gets hand blades, which cut a path through regular enemies with just a glancing blow. My favorite, the Tendrils, reach out to enemies and tie them up in a fleshy web with just a press of a button. Hold it down and you'll pull any object close by right into your target, usually clearing out a huge area instantly.
You'll also get things like Rock Fists, a giant arm blade, and a whip that lets you reach out and grab helicopters from a distance. Regardless of what mutation you're using the controls are intuitive, and easy. The face buttons control everything, and the triggers, though hardly necessary, can be used to target enemies. The only issue you'll ever have is when you run along buildings with ledges or lips - Heller usually flips backwards and falls back down - a small annoyance in the scheme of things.
Missions are sometimes broken up with small stealth sections, which ultimately require next to no stealth. Heller will break into enemy bases by consuming a soldier and changing himself into them. You can eliminate entire rooms by stealth consuming soldiers one by one. It breaks the immersion, but since the story is so laughable it was hardly a concern for me. The game also makes it incredibly easy to escape alerts, all you have to do is break the line of sight and change forms. I'm not sure if this made things way too easy or less annoying, but in a game that stretches over 12-14 hours I was just fine with not having to waste time or retry missions because I couldn't escape enemies.
But that brings about another concern. Prototype 2 is insanely easy. The only time I died was during boss fights, and that was very seldom even though I started the game on hard. By the end of the game I didn't have to look at my health once, it never mattered. But if I was guessing I'd have to say that the developers aimed to make the player feel like a god, an unstoppable force that wasn't meant to be taken down. If that's true, they succeeded masterfully. Only awhile ago I was praising The Darkness II for its ability to empower the player. Compared to Prototype 2 the Darkness was a trial of excessive patience.
If a game is really easy, and the combat, though thrilling, is also simple, how long before repetition sets in? The answer, is pretty quick. Essentially every mission boils down to finding a target, taking their identity, breaking into a base and killing pretty much everything. It's still fun, but it isn't stimulating. My strategies changed only slightly from hour one to hour fourteen, really only requiring me to get better with my shield timing. Larger enemies demand a bit more attention, but nothing too difficult. No, Prototype 2 doesn't appear to want to keep your attention with challenge. It wants to do it with toys.
By the end of the game Heller has five powerful 'weapons', special abilities that let him call in a pack of brutes or destroy everything in his surrounding area, and a wealth of useful mutations that remove any worry of harm. Of course, it's up to you to max out these powers. While the melee variations come naturally through progression, other stuff comes from finding collectibles and completing extra side missions. There are even extracurricular challenges that come with new purchases of the game, an add-on called Radnet. These challenges are being rolled out over the first couple months and are made up of quick mini-games. But it's the collectibles that give you the really good stuff. Destroy all the lairs in a zone and you might increase your top speed, find all the blackboxes and you might get an increase to health or mass consumption (used for specials). Even consuming specially marked enemies will upgrade base abilities.
Though I try to limit how much I comment on graphics or sound (individually of the scores) I can't let Prototype off. The voice acting from top to bottom is atrocious, laughably misdirected and unintentionally funny. Lines meant as jokes are groan worthy and grunts of joy are grating. Making things worse, the game looks poor. The city looks alright but the world is populated with bland characters. Heller's animations are also surprisingly ambiguous and sloppy. There's always a lot going on everywhere on the screen but it's hardly an excuse in 2012, especially for the bad animations up close that have a tendency to feature lots of clipping.
If you loved the original or you just want an action game that lets you mindlessly rip through hoards of enemies in a flash, then Prototype 2 is definitely worth checking out. It's a blast, right from the get go. But what you see is what you get, unless you've seen the misleading commercials that pretend this game tells an emotionally harrowing tale. It doesn't. Prototype 2 can only be enjoyed for what it is; a mindless action romp. It isn't challenging, it isn't complex and it isn't really all that memorable. But it is a lot of fun. I liked the game, but if there was one thing I wished Activision and Radical Entertainment would do, it would be to realize what this franchise could be if they just learned how to make it matter to the gamers. As is, it's forgettable fun.
Final Score: 70%
Strong The upper echelon of average, this game has sufficient technical prowess and/or fun, but lacks the depth or polish for it to excel. Some will swear it’s the best, others will say the opposite. Most of us will be perfectly content with it.