Prototype, released back in 2009, was a bit of a rough diamond. Putting you in control of the hideously mutated, wildly over-powered anti-hero Alex Mercer, its brand of virtual havoc-wreaking was as satisfying as its storytelling abilities were shallow. The Blacklight virus-infected Mercer could well have taken on a whole army single-handedly in the open world adventure, but you’d be hard pressed to find a gamer who actually liked the a-hole.
Scouring internet message boards, developers Radical Entertainment have taken constructive criticism to heart, and are looking to work out all the kinks for the sequel Prototype 2.
First off for Prototype 2, a new suitably-gruff-with-a-heart-of-gold protagonist; Sergeant James Heller. Looking forward to getting back to his wife and kids after a middle-eastern tour of military duty, he is horrified to return to find his wife and child murdered. But it wasn’t a simple stick up job. Nope, the military-constructed Blacklight virus, turning the citizens of New York into grotesque zombie messes, is still ravaging the city, and at the heart of the madness is once again Mercer, seemingly responsible for the Heller family’s death.
But following an early confrontation with Mercer (who also imbues Heller with his own brand of gooey, powerful, Hulk-SMASH limb possession, nearly killing him in the process), the original mutant madman claims to not have had anything to do with the Heller’s deaths, and hints at a wider government conspiracy.
Though we haven’t seen enough of the game to say confidently whether the first game’s story-telling failings are completely patched up, it’s certainly a more promising premise this time around.
Action came in spades in the first game, and the ante has been upped once more here. Heller has massive stretches of New York city to explore at any given time, and a crazy arsenal of offensive abilities with which to avenge his family’s death. As well as being able to glide and run up walls, Heller can turn his arms into massive blades, and giant hammer-like fists. Two attack styles can be used in tandem now without changing them out in a menu screen, allowing for combinations of fast and heavy attacks.
Brand new moves are introduced too, and are particularly gruesome. Tendrils can now fly out of Heller, attacking multiple opponents at once and stretching them between buildings into contorted positions. Even more disgusting is the bio-bomb, where Heller grabs an infected New Yorker, pumps them full of a mutagen that attracts other gooey street crawlers, before blowing them all into offal with an explosion.
All these skills can be upgraded to make Heller into a true beast, capable of taking out hundreds of zombies, soldiers, tanks and attack choppers in seconds. You can still also commandeer the many military vehicles that come to attack you too (or pull off their giant projectile weapons and turn them against your foes), but with Heller so intimidating to begin with, and vehicle controls fairly clunky, it’s not a very useful skill.
There are even some light stealth sections, with Heller consuming civilians and government soldiers whole, taking on their appearance, healing his wounds and, in some cases, absorbing their memories which can be vital to mission progression. A biological sonar of sorts can be used to track down targets, adding a pulse like shimmer to the game world as you go on the hunt.
It’s often a frenzy of mutant minions, screen filling Titan bosses, explosions and flying gore, but even in the pre-release build we played there was little sign of slow down. It’s also gut-turning and grisly; if you’re not a fan of the red stuff, this game certainly will not be for you.
The main fear was that Prototype 2 may struggle to build meaningful missions around the chaos; why stop to progress through the constraints of a mission when you’ve got the freedom to do practically any destructive task you desire? Radical Entertainment will have to work very hard to keep the single player missions more varied, rewarding and (most of all) exciting than the madness surrounding them.
One area where Radical Entertainment have definitely made significant strides is with art direction. The first Prototype game delivered a world that was cold and washed out; suitably depressing as a setting for a plague, but repetitive and boring when stretched over the entire game.
To get around this, NYC is split into three distinct zones; Red, Yellow and Green. Red is Manhattan, where Mercer’s influence and virus is in full force, with tendrils and pulsating growths dropping maliciously from the shimmering towers. Yellow is a quarantine zone, where New Yorkers live grim lives in shanty towns and the government forces carry out shady experiments. The Green zone is heavily militarised, but has yet to feel the effects of the virus.
Each zone is vastly different in look and feel, adding much needed visual variety to the series. You’ll feel dread as you enter the Red zone, pity in the Yellow zone and anger in the Green zone, with a level of detail missing from the first game in the series.
Prototype 2 sees the franchise expanding on what made it great first time around, upping the chaos but seemingly with a far more refined, emotionally involving story to grab you along the way. However, it can still be too easy to get lost in the over-powered madness. Radical Entertainment have certainly built a great base to springboard from; hopefully the directed story missions will be just as engrossing.
Prototype 2 is set for release on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on April 24th.