Prototype 2 Review
Written : Monday, April 30, 2012
By: Richard Walker
As the old adage goes, absolute power corrupts absolutely, but having absolute power in Prototype 2 is so damn liberating, that it's hard to care about anti-hero Sgt. James Heller's gradual downward spiral as his humanity ebbs away. As a lead character, he's hardly the most charismatic protagonist and you get a genuine sense that he's actually a bit of an asshole. To be fair, he's a man driven to the edge having lost his family after returning from a tour in Afghanistan, as well as finding New York plagued by the Mercer virus, so it's easy to see why he's so pissed. That's no excuse for Heller being such a dull cipher however, and it's certainly no excuse for Prototype 2's confused and confusing conspiracy.
Locked down under the military jackboots of Blackwatch, who in turn overlook the vile, twisted experiments being conducted by Gentek, New York Zero is the perfect playground for Heller to flex his new virally contracted powers, with plenty of soft targets to rain down a proverbial shitstorm upon. Infected by previous moody Prototype hero, Alex Mercer, Heller is just as brooding and moody as his predecessor, but his range of powers make him an even more formidable force. If you're expecting subtlety then, forget it. You won't find a single ounce of it here.
Prototype 2 quite possibly has more explosions than any game in the history of the universe. And if you're not killing or consuming enemies to steal their identities and memories, you're kicking a helicopter out of the sky, dismembering limbs or simply making anything and everything go boom. From the very beginning, Prototype 2 is balls-to-the-wall action, but believe it or not, it can start to wear a bit thin after a while if you stop to think about it too much.
"Heller's re-enactment of the Thriller video was rubbish."
This is in no small part down to the repetitious nature of the game's objectives, which generally consist of consuming a Blackwatch trooper or Gentek scientist to infiltrate a top secret lab or military base, before destroying a valuable target or some form of infected specimen. There's very little attempt to inject much variety into proceedings, and even the Blacknet dossier side missions or random collectibles dotted around the city fail to up the ante much. It's all a bit of a grind, albeit a rather compulsive one, which is a credit to the sheer amount of fun and reckless abandon that Heller's abilities afford.
Gliding and dashing through the air to come crashing down on a tank in a maelstrom of rubble and debris is immensely gratifying, and experimenting with Heller's powers is all part and parcel of what makes Prototype 2 such a brainless joy to play. Don't go into Prototype 2 expecting a compelling story or nuanced characters though, because all you'll find here is a muddled disjointed mess. Ultimately, all you need to know is that Heller is out to kill previous Prototype protagonist Alex Mercer, because beyond that, the story fails to ignite much excitement.
The compulsion to see the game through to the end is a direct result of Heller's powers, from the simple claws and tendrils, to his huge arm blade, hammer fists and whipfist. You'll soon settle upon your two favourites and assigning them on the fly is a snap thanks to a simple radial menu. Using them is easy too, as is wall running, gathering momentum and gliding through the city hunting for your next target.
Divided into three zones of increasingly concentrated infection levels – Green, Yellow and Red – NYZ is a place fraught with danger, but none of it is particularly life threatening for Heller thanks to the questionable AI of the Blackwatch troops who turn a blind eye to the majority of Heller's noisy transgressions. That said, we like that you can glide into a heavily fortified base as long as you're appropriately disguised, and shapeshifting into a Blackwatch soldier or Gentek scientist is just a d-pad tap away. It makes no sense when you swoop in, then run off at superhuman speed with no reaction from enemies, but on the plus side, it means that Prototype 2 is an open-world game with absolutely zero frustration. It's kind of unintentionally funny too.
The only frustration in Prototype 2 is relatively minor, with a slightly twitchy camera rearing its head when things get too chaotic, usually when you're fighting a Goliath; the largest infected in the game. Thankfully these instances are few and far between and the rest of Prototype 2 is so hellbent on ensuring that you're having fun at all times that it's easy to overlook the odd niggle here and there.
Prototype 2's weakest point is undoubtedly its narrative, which fails to engage as Heller shouts and scowls his way through dour pre-rendered monochrome cut scenes. It's only by the end that you get a glimpse of Heller's human side, by which time you'll have already made your mind up about him. It's the combat, momentum and ongoing quest to upgrade Heller that pulls the game through, keeping you hooked as you crush tanks by tearing off their turret or bring down helicopters by tearing off their missile pods, blasting them out of the air or cleaving them in two with your arm blade. Prototype 2 is truly the ultimate power trip.
It's also a fundamentally better game than the first Prototype, stripping out the annoyances present in the original game, while building upon the sense of empowerment that the hero's abilities grants you, improving the combat mechanics and adding a nifty dodge manoeuvre to boot. It's a shame that Heller is such a dull character then, growling his way through what is otherwise an entertaining romp through a great-looking open-world New York, albeit a destroyed, virus-ridden New York. Constantly unlocking new abilities and upgrades also keeps you playing, which is something the narrative fails to achieve.
"Give me a hug, pleeeeease!"
As a result of Heller's powers, the achievement list fails to put up much of a challenge, although it does excel in demanding that you experiment with Heller's various mutations, whether it's destroying five tanks with a finisher, mounting a helicopter with your extendable whipfist or killing twenty baddies with a hammer fist earthquake. There's always something to do and there are plenty of collectibles to look out for too, all of which are generally worthwhile as they grant additional mutations to add to Heller's burgeoning arsenal of gooey superhuman abilities. It's a solid, if simplistic list.
Prototype 2 is nearly one of the most entertaining open-world games around, in a brainless Hollywood blockbuster kind of way. Heller is simply a blunt instrument, serving his purpose as an empty vessel for the variety of pointy, stretchy mutant appendages he can wield, and the story fails to deliver. Add to that some rather samey gameplay and you have a game that proves compulsive enough to keep you hooked while you're upgrading Heller and gathering collectibles or clearing out mutant infested lairs, but doesn't manage to draw you into its mixed up post-apocalyptic conspiracy. Our recommendation? Turn off your brain and you'll have a blast.
Gruff, shouty Heller, the sound of bludgeoning and dismemberment, the squelch of blood and the sound of explosions going off almost constantly. That's about all there is to hear in Prototype 2. The soundtrack is largely perfunctory and forgettable.
A startling vision of a destroyed New York, Prototype 2's open-world is sizeable and looks good. The characters and models are solid and well-drawn too. It all looks great, though somewhat unremarkable. It's visually stronger than the first Prototype too.
A joy to play, Prototype 2 gets even more enjoyable as you progress, unlocking new powers and mutations. Improved combat and less frustration also ups the fun factor.
A large open-world with plenty to see and do, Prototype 2 is a good-sized game offering around 15-20 hours of gameplay. It's not as vast as most open-worlds out there, but it does a fine job in keeping you hooked. There's the option to start up a New Game+ once you finish the game too, which is always a good thing.
A fine achievement list that's incredibly easy to complete, but also filled with interesting tasks that'll put Heller's powers to the test.
A relentlessly fun game, Prototype 2 is marred only by a barely decipherable story and a dull, unsympathetic character in Sgt. James Heller. Everything is geared towards showing you a good time though, and if you can switch off your brain, you'll enjoy everything Radical Entertainment's sequel has to offer.