The original Prototype was a flawed game, in many ways. Although it was undeniably fun, and playing the ridiculously powerful Alex Mercer made for some true stand-out moments, the ropey combat system, repetitive game play and below par visuals didn’t help it, and both gamers and critics regarded it as a mid-table title, and one that could have been so much more.
Moving on, we have Prototype 2, a game that goes out of its way to address many of its predecessor’s mistakes, and in many ways, it succeeds.
Taking place after the events of the first game, Prototype 2 once again sets the action in a virus-ravaged New York, only this time, the protagonist isn’t Alex Mercer, but James Heller, a soldier who becomes infected with the Mercer virus after his wife and daughter are killed by infected civilians.
Vowing to get revenge on Mercer, Heller begins a campaign to bring the first game’s protagonist down, but soon discovers all isn’t as it seems, and shady genetics corporation Gentek, along with the elite military unit, Blackwatch, are up to no good. So begins another brutal and bloody campaign.
Bright lights, big city
As with the first game, Prototype 2 is a free-form open world game, and as Heller, you can wander around New York’s various districts performing main story missions, side quests, looking for collectables and so on. Unlike the original game, however, New York looks very nice indeed.
The visual engine has been amped up considerably since last time, where visuals took a back seat, and although this isn’t the best looking game you’ll ever see, hit quite often with some strangely low resolution textures, it still looks far better than before, and is actually quite impressive at times.
The world is far more detailed, and feels more alive, with a host of atmospheric touches, such as Blackwatch instructions to citizens over announcements systems, shanty town refugee camps and all manner of experiment compounds where Gentek is performing nefarious deeds. It’s a far cry from the bland and barren city streets of the first game.
Within this more detailed environment are far more varied and well thought-out missions. The main story missions are decent enough, although never groundbreaking as such, and the side missions, which were such a bore in the first game, are much better here, and are even tied into the story.
Instead of generic, ‘kill so many enemies with a certain weapon’ kind of thing, there are some missions that see you finding information about an enemy, whom you then have to hunt down and consume to learn more information. This often leads to additional, connected tasks, making up a set that, once complete, grants you a bonus upgrade.
Yes, these missions do share much the same structure, and can be a little samey, but they’re much more enjoyable than the first game’s arbitrary challenges.
Collecting diversions are more fleshed out too, and you have to locate such things are black boxes in each area, using a vicinity meter to track them down. They make for nice diversion, and when you complete various collections, you earn an upgrade.
So, the game looks good, as plenty of missions, and a little more variety, but what about the main course, the combat? Thankfully, although the combat remains very similar to the first game, it also improves upon it a great deal. A lot of the abilities from before return, along with a few new ones, and the core combat mechanics, whilst not perfect by any means, are far more fluid and accessible.
It’s easier to target foes this time, and utilising Heller’s vast array of brutal skills is much easier than it was for Mercer. It’s easy to run in, take out a few opponents, absorb some others and the grab a poor soul, run up a building and dive bomb him into the floor before gliding off to evade pursuers. It’s a great system that really does endow you with god-like powers, and this time, it makes for some, almost choreographed, fight sequences.
Powers don’t have to be swapped out all the time with the pop-up menu wheel this time, and you can map two powers to the face buttons. This means that you can easily utilise two powers in combo attacks, such as slashing up some foes with claws before using the tendril’s black hole to squash the life out of any survivors. It’s a simple addition, but one that dramatically elevates the combat.
Great power, great respon… blah blah
Heller’s powers borrow a lot from Mercer’s (which is explained by how he acquires them), and he gains a few new tricks too. But, even the existing powers are fine tuned this time, and you feel like you’re in much more control than with Mercer. Whereas in the first game you could barely contain Mercer’s abilities, and couldn’t avoid slaughtering swathes of innocents, here it’s far easier to play the good guy if you wish, targeting your rage and avoiding collateral damage. This is partly down to the better targeting system, and more responsive and usable controls, but also to a general improvement to how the whole game plays. It just feels better all around, and much more polished.
Outside of combat Heller retains Mercer’s excellent locomotive skills. He can still run at super speeds, up buildings and glide through the air, and the end result is every bit as satisfying as it always was. Just traversing the city, running, jumping and gliding from building to building is a joy, and when you couple this with the ability to pick up and throw all sorts of large objects around, you have a game that simply screams “go on then, have fun!”
Being chased by a chopper intent of blasting you to bits? No worries, run up that building, rip up an air-conditioning unit and let ‘em have it. At ground level? No matter, lob a car or truck instead. This was possible in the first game, but again, thanks to the refined controls, it’s much easier to pull off here, and it just never gets old.
I hunt, therefore I am
The stealthy, hunter mechanic has also been overhauled this time, and Heller’s ability to absorb and take the form of anyone is used in a much better way than previously. You’ll do a lot of base infiltrating where you’ll need to disguise yourself as an enemy solider or scientist, and using disguise is essential for avoiding pursuers.
Again, this was the case before, but here it’s been tweaked and is much better, with far better indoor missions. In the first game it was a clunky mess when you had to locate and stealthily absorb foes, especially when inside bases, but here the useful new sonar-like sense system makes things much smoother. By simply clicking the analog stick, Heller sends out a pulse that scans the area. People who can be safely adsorbed in secret show up as white, whilst people begin watched show up as red, and you can to focus your attention on those watching them, taking them out strategically so you can remain hidden.
This sonar also comes into play when tracking down specific individuals. Pinging the city sends back a return pulse that gives you an idea of where to go, and when you get closer, it highlights your target. This sounds simple, and it is, but it works, and is another refinement that further makes this into the game the original should have been.
What’s more, the level up system has also been altered, and there are various areas in which you can power up Heller. Attack, defence and stealth all have their own elements to upgrade, mainly by completing specific missions that grant bonuses to certain stats, and Heller will also level up core stats as you progress, such as greater health, damage and speed. It’s up to you how you spend your points.
Evolution of a killer
Prototype 2 successfully manages to improve upon almost every aspect of the original game, and other decisions, such as turning Mercer into the game’s antagonist, work very well, giving him much more presence, as you know how he originated, because you controlled him in the first outing.
The improved game mechanics, of which there are many, along with enhanced aesthetics, indulging better audio and cut scenes, lead to a hugely enjoyable game that’s only really hampered by some still repetitive content. This content is much improved, but it still suffers from repetition a little, and although the game can be challenging in places, Heller’s considerable powers, like Mercer before him, do unbalance things a little. To put it simply, few foes in the game stand a chance against such a powerful force, and although it’s certainly fun, the game’s a little lacking a lot of the time, when it comes to challenge.
Still, niggles aside, Prototype 2 is a huge improvement over the original game. It’s not quite the same difference as Assassin’s Creed II was to its sub-par first outing, but it’s a marked improvement and a fine game in its own right.