Some games imbue a sense of purpose and accomplishment as you go through the various motions the game requires, while others simply serve as easily consumed joyrides meant to keep the action and rewards flowing briskly through the relatively brief experience. The original Prototype fell in the latter category and is a game I still hold in high regard, despite the fact that it languishes in the shadow of InFamous in the minds of many. Three years later, developer Radical Entertainment and Activision bring us Prototype 2, a sequel that is every bit as explosive, bloody and devilishly fun as the first. If that sounds like your cup of tea, this might just be the game for you.
It seems that the honest inhabitants of New York City can’t catch a break. Almost 14 months after the events of the first Prototype, the city is now under quarantine again due to a second, more severe outbreak of the Mercer Virus. The military has, once again, broken up the city into zones based on the how widespread the infection is. The living conditions are cramped, the virus is spreading at an alarming rate and things are definitely looking bleak for the city, now dubbed New York Zone (NYZ). Blackwatch, the organization that created the virus, has taken control and is running morally questionable experiments on both infected and non-infected inhabitants.
In Prototype 2, you fill the well-worn boots of Sergeant James Heller, a veteran of the Iraqi conflict who has returned to NYZ to find that his wife and daughter are dead. The Mercer Virus is to blame, leading him on a revenge mission to kill Mercer. This ends very early in the game when Mercer infects Heller with a different virus, one that gives him the same powers as Mercer, and then the game begins. The plot mainly focuses on Heller’s bloodlust for Mercer and his desire to take down Blackwatch, with miscellaneous motives and conspiracies thrown in along the way.
The plot in Prototype 2 gives the impression of being deep and complex, however it is little more than a revenge tale with a few contrived subplots added in. It gives a sense of purpose to weave the action together, however it rarely feels compelling or meaningful in a way that you’ll really care about the outcome. At times, it feels unnecessarily complicated and bogged down with superfluous plot threads, however the main story is enough to justify your actions as Heller. It’s not deep, but for a game focused on action and causing mayhem, it’s serviceable.
For those familiar with the original Prototype, the gameplay in Prototype 2 will be as comfortable as a well broken-in pair of shoes. As James Heller, you have the ability to free-run throughout the city, scale buildings, fly through the air and pretty much destroy anything in your path. You start off with Alex Mercer’s powers like the air dash and the ability to glide, and as the game progresses, you are given progressively more powerful abilities such as razor-sharp claws that can slice any enemy clean in half, elastic tethers that can constrict and crush enemies, a shield that can deflect rockets and many more.
You also have the ability to commandeer enemy vehicles, such as tanks and helicopters, and cause even more mayhem against the military and the citizens of NYZ. There are few things more satisfying than manning a tank and blowing up everything in sight, or taking over a helicopter and using the on-board weapons to take out enemies. The controls can be cumbersome at first, but vehicle combat, coupled with your melee abilities, will lead to some incredibly satisfying and gruesome enemy deaths.
The sprawling cityscape and slums of NYZ provide the same opportunities for free-running, exploration and endless carnage as the first game, with little deviation from the original formula. Throughout the game, your missions follow a standard formula: hunt down and consume key people, sneak into military compounds to kill someone or sabotage someone’s plan and defeat large and imposing infected that act as bosses. This “rinse and repeat” formula ensures the story moves along at a good pace, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that we’re treading the same ground as before, and the game does feel stale in parts as a result.
To help offset the lack of mission variety, miscellaneous objectives become available throughout the game. These can include infiltrating Blackwatch computer systems and finding crucial intel, killing important scientists and military personnel, finding scattered collectables and performing timed “run and capture” objectives that have you jumping from rooftops to collect packages in the shortest period of time. These help serve as a distraction between missions, however they are not especially challenging and ultimately feel like empty calories. More fleshed out missions and more variety in the key story objectives would have been preferable.
In terms of the ability to roam freely, Prototype 2 has taken a page from the chapters of Grand Theft Auto and allows you to cause as much carnage in the streets as you like. The military that has NYZ under tight control takes an unfavorable view of such actions and will swarm you if you cause trouble, eventually leading to them calling in a strike team with tanks and helicopters. This initially feels deliciously chaotic and fun, however it wears thin equally fast when you realize that there is little consequence. As Heller is significantly more powerful than the military, even the most aggressive enemies feel like a pushovers.
All of these factors reinforce the feeling that Prototype 2 is, despite being an open-world game, a very focused and linear affair, and a relatively easy one at that. You go from being well-equipped to overpowered within the first few hours, which takes a lot of the challenge out of the game. Some missions require you to be stealthy, but there is no consequence for getting caught outside of having to use brute force to get by. Even the large and brutish infected can be defeated by a simple strafe-and-run approach, so even those playing on the higher difficulty settings will be hard-pressed to find a substantial challenge here.
Whatever quibbles you may have about the actual missions, the saving grace in Prototype 2 is the controls. The button layout is similar to that of the first game and is just as intuitive and easy to learn as before. Holding down the Right Trigger allows you to easily free-run and scale buildings, your special abilities are mapped to the front controller buttons and the D-pad allows you to quickly select which ability you would like to use. The controls are tight and responsive, with no noticeable glitching or lagging, and they make the process of running and fighting a quick and satisfying experience.