Prototype 2 Review
- Radical Entertainment
- Prototype 2
Made2Game Prototype 2 Review Score: 9/10
Formats: PS3, Xbox 360
Format Reviewed: Xbox 360
Developer: Radical Entertainment
Reviewed by: Mick Fraser
Sergeant James Heller is not having a good year.
Having recently returned home from a tour of duty to find that his wife and daughter were murdered by mutants infected with a bio-engineered retrovirus, he then embarked on an ill-advised mission of vengeance against the superhuman progenitor of said virus, Alex Mercer, ultimately leading to his own infection and mutation. Like we said, not a good year. But at least we care about his plight.
Alex Mercer is badass - but by infecting James Heller he may be the architect of his own downfall
[Murder Your Maker]
Anyone who played Radical Entertainment's original Prototype (released in 2009) will likely remember two stand-out factors. One was the ability to run up buildings and steal a person's body by consuming them, and the other was the fundamental, unexplainable dislike of protagonist Alex Mercer.
"While we learn what Heller learns when he learns it, we recognise the signs of deceit that he doesn't..."
Surly, sulky and ridiculously homicidal, Mercer was hardly popular before we learned that he was entirely responsible for every horrible thing that befell the people of Manhattan during the events of Prototype. Thankfully, instead of attempting to turn his character around or retroactively alter foregone events to make us like him, Radical did the logical, smart thing in Prototype 2, and made him the villain. And what a villain he is.
Immensely powerful, all-but indestructible, pathologically focused on his goal and, ironically, all the more likeable for it, we're no longer trying to find a reason to care about him in-between assimilating grannies and cutting tanks in half – we know him now and, oddly, seeing his quest from the outside makes it a lot easier to empathise with him.
The Blackwatch soldiers in Prototype 2 aren't treated gently - but as they're unanimously grade-A douchebags, it's all gravy
[Survival of the Fittest]
The flipside of this coin is that, in James Heller, Radical have delivered a character who is not only likeable, charismatic and determined, but also rendered sympathetic despite his own power by his limited, confused knowledge of current events. People keep lying to him, and no matter how much blood he gets on his hands, he just can't stay ahead of the game. That endears us to him, because while we learn what he learns when he learns it, we recognise the signs of deceit that he doesn't. He is physically stronger than Mercer was at this point in Prototype, but he sure don't got the same smarts.
Prototype 2 opens with some touching phone conversations between Heller and his family, nudging up against but not fully prodding the horrific events taking place in New York City, where a second outbreak of the Blacklight Virus (now referred to as the Mercer Virus) is sweeping the streets and turning them red. After returning home to face the worst kind of tragedy, Heller's thirst for revenge against Mercer sees him suspended from the military, before rapidly-diminishing troop numbers lead to his redeployment.
Once the intro mission is out of the way and you're let loose with the newly-infected Heller, the first thing that becomes apparent is how little Radical have changed the core gameplay. The onus is still on consuming key personnel of shady corporation Gentek (and their militant counterpart Blackwatch) to assume their forms or use their memories, and rapid evolution-through-mutation is still the order of the day – only now there is real focus. In Prototype, Mercer grew stronger and stronger towards ends that were largely unknown - here in the sequel, however, Heller intends to become powerful enough to kill Alex Mercer, and so every improvement and mutation feels like it has purpose.
The tendrils are an awesome new mutation - just look at the poor Blackwatch gits coming apart like string-cheese
This focus is indicative of the design ethic with which Radical have approached all aspects of Prototype 2. The fat has been well and truly trimmed, which becomes even more impressive when you discover that the sequel can easily run past 16 hours if you go for every mutation and side mission.
"Heller feels predatory in a way that Mercer never did."
This is because Radical have only streamlined the extra content and challenges, and not completely removed them. There are no random event icons on the minimap now, nor rooftop races and combat challenges to replay; instead, New York Zero – as Manhattan is now known – is split into three distinct colour-coded zones, each separated into individual boroughs. Within these boroughs are a certain number of collectibles such as black boxes stashed on corpses, Gentek field op teams and subterranean lairs. Finding all the black boxes or wiping out all the field op teams, to give it some context, will result in Heller unlocking a new mutation from one of five subgroups: offense, defence, locomotion, predator and power specialist. A little ripple on the map suggests the likely location of each, meaning there's less running around blind and more time to spend on dicing evil scientists.
When you include Heller's personal Evolution level, increased through standard XP-harvesting, and the genetic improvements afforded by consuming plot-advancing characters, there's a shit-ton of mutations, abilities, skills and upgrades to unlock, and none feel like filler.
Like Mercer, Heller has the power to leap over buildings and glide around the city. Navigation is fast and hugely satisfying
[Theory of Evolution]
For example, the predator mutations accentuate Heller's unique ability to locate specific individuals using a sort of viral ESP. Clicking the left stick sends out a pulse of energy similar to echo-location that covers the whole city and bounces back from the target, something infinitely cooler than just sticking an icon on the minimap. Other new abilities like the tendril attacks and Pack Leader (whereby you summon your very own gang of mutated monstrosities to take down helicopters, among other things) are not only useful but feel like they were actually MISSING from the original.
Combat and motion have seen no significant overhauls outside of balancing tweaks in the former and smoother animations in the latter, but these minor changes come together to amount to major improvements in the flow of the action. Heller feels predatory in a way that Mercer never did, perhaps because of the military background of the character or maybe because it was a logical step in creating a cooler protagonist. There are still issues with the auto lock-on and collision detection, but they're tempered by the sense of incredible power and strength inherent with the series.
Of course, besides Heller and Mercer and a supporting cast of interesting, driven characters, the other main protagonist is New York herself. While not quite as alive as GTA4's Liberty City, Prototype 2's NYZ has the feeling of a city in the grip of horror. The three zones have their own personalities: Yellow is the quarantine zone, where the infected populace have been herded "for their own protection". This is the starter zone and relatively safe compared to the rest of the gameworld. The Green Zone is apparently safe from the actual spread of infection, but the infected themselves infiltrate it regularly from the Red Zone, Mercer-central, where the virus has taken over completely.
Stop flirting and kick its arse! Heller's blade mutation is incredibly powerful; that skyscraper-sized monster is in serious trouble
[Adapt to Survive]
The citizens of New York Zero are a harried bunch, on edge, fleeing at the first sign of trouble, stumbling and tripping on one another in panic. Blackwatch soldiers patrol every street, and their forward operating bases and Gentek labs are everywhere. While the AI is reactive to your actions, the inclusion of the suspicion metre countermands it by only responding to sustained conspicuous activity. So stepping off a building, dropping 100 feet and leaving a bus-sized crater in the ground will cause people to scream and flee, but the nearest soldier will simply look you up and down when you are obviously infected unless the suspicion metre is sufficiently filled. It doesn't make a lot of sense – nor does it rein you in.
"Heller is everything Mercer was, but with the added bonus of a personality."
Arguably, Heller's incredible god-like strength and speed are both the best and worst element here, just as Mercer's were before him. Being ridiculously overpowered is an immensely satisfying feeling in an action game, but when you stop caring about consequences it can actually be detrimental to the atmosphere – you start to wonder why Heller bothers with disguises and subterfuge for most of the game instead of just killing everyone outright. It would have been beneficial for Radical to balance your superhuman actions with more severe consequences, but as it is nothing feels like a genuine threat.
Even by the endgame when the challenge is upped by the sheer number and variety of enemies in any given fight, Heller has spammable abilities that help him retain the upper hand. If you die it's usually not due to a genuine challenge, but to things becoming so frantic you lock onto the wrong enemy or try to hijack a tank when you're low on health instead of absorbing the staggered abomination in front of you.
But the complaints are minor. Heller is everything Mercer was, with the added bonus of a fleshed out personality and a real quest, just as Prototype 2 is everything its predecessor was with an extra dose of awesome. Radical have paid great attention to detail in every area, from the realisation of their graffiti-coated, terrified city to the top-notch voice acting and unmatched sense of empowerment. More than anything though, Prototype 2 is everything a sequel should be.
It's an evolution.
Words by Mick Fraser (Twitter: @Jedi_Beats_Tank)
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