aug8 000101 Mutant Anti (super)hero Meets Open World: The Prototype 2 Review (PC)

If there’s one genre I never get tired of, it’s open-world games. I don’t even care about the context – wild west? Sci-fi? Fantasy? Modern day? I really don’t care – the moment I’m given the opportunity to run around some large area, exploring as I see fit with few constraints, my eyes light up and I get this creepy “Where’s the crack?” look on my face. So when I found out that Prototype 2 bills itself as an open-world game where you take the control of Heller, a superpowered hero (or anti-hero – more below) fighting against corrupt scientists, security forces, and monstrous “Infected”, the excitement hit me right away. Again, I’d welcome the opportunity to play as a lovable cartoon penguin in an open-world game, but a violent flesh-powered superhero? It added to my eagerness more than a flightless waterfowl, I assure you.

Hero or Anti-Hero? How can you tell?

The story places you in the role of Sergeant Heller, a man who quickly finds himself given strange and amazing superpowers as a side-effect of a large-scale mutation outbreak. After escaping from your initial capture in an R&D lab, you find yourself having to wage a one-man war in a city where various factions (a corrupt R&D firm, their private security force, fellow highly evolved mutants, and the more mindless mutants themselves) are vying for power. For those of you who didn’t play the original game – that includes myself – don’t worry about missing out on important background information. First, this game’s story is entirely easy to follow and understand immediately – it’s not very deep. Second, the game includes a quick summary of the first game’s events to help put the ensuing conflict in perspective. Third, and perhaps most importantly, it doesn’t matter all that much because both the story and the characters in the game are hard to take very seriously – and for myself (and I’m guessing, a lot of gamers) that’s just fine.

Let me put that into perspective here. It’s not that the story for Prototype 2 isn’t interesting – I found myself wanting to learn more about the machinations of the bad guys in this game, seeing what they’ll do next, or listening to Heller and his allies talk and plan. The voice acting doesn’t disappoint either – nothing sounds amateur to my ears, and the characters all stand out decently enough. But the dialogue in the game plays off the most cliche’d stereotypes of action flicks and comic books. Just about every person you encounter in the game, with the possible exception of Heller’s priest-ally (who deserves recognition as a rarity in game storylines – the priest who isn’t established as a reprehensible jackass within five minutes of introduction), is surly, snarly and angry, cursing out everyone around them. You can sum up most of the dialogue in this game with the words “Fuck you, you fuck!” So if you’ve got sensitive ears, or really, if you just find this kind of thing distasteful when it’s in excess, heads up – Prototype 2 just loves the F-word.

With that in mind, I want to stress that the story for Prototype 2 is still pretty interesting. The characters you meet stand out, the situations you’re thrown into are fun, and the storyline appealed to me. It’s just the sort of game that tries hard to make every major player sound either like a badass or a wannabe badass, and the result is kind of comical. Even Heller himself spends so much time salivating over the prospect of slaughtering his enemies that I can’t tell if you’d call this guy a hero or anti-hero. But you know what? Some people love this. It’s like with comic books, where some people want to see Batman being all thoughtful and brooding as he protects the city, but other people want to see him just beating the holy hell out of his opponents like the crazy vigilante everyone accuses him of being. Whatever you like on that front, just know what you’re getting into here.

Ported With Pride

I did the review for this game on a decent PC rig, picking up the Steam version, so what I’m about to say is of particular importance to you PC gamers out there: do not be spooked by the fact that this game appeared on the consoles. If you’re a mostly PC gamer like myself, that multi-platform note for a game is enough to give you pause because, really, historically ports have been utter crap on the PC. This has been changing in recent years, probably owing to better multiplatform development methods more than anything else, but it’s still enough of an issue to be a concern. Let me be clear: it’s not a concern with Prototype 2. This game looks, and plays, as smoothly as any native PC game. Hell, even smoother than many. I’m not sure whether this is due to the aforementioned development methods, or just the fact that Radical put so much particular effort into their port, but the “why?” doesn’t matter so much. It’s enough that the PC experience is the joy that it is.

By the way, I’m not just talking about the graphics and stability of this game. The controls are a delight as well, whether you’re using a controller to play the game (probably the recommended option), or even a keyboard. I played the game using both options, but really, I’m a mouse and keyboard guy whenever the option presents itself, and even relying on that input method I experienced no real headaches. Reaction times were swift, control was relatively intuitive, and it wasn’t long before my entire experience with the game just felt entirely natural. Again, if you’re a PC Gamer who gets leery about investing your money in games that were principally “console” in orientation, relax when it comes to Prototype 2.

With port concerns laid to rest, let me talk about the basic appearance of the game itself: it is, in a word, beautiful. Stunningly beautiful, to me. Even though the sights of Prototype 2 are largely limited to an overcrowded city under martial law, man, does that city itself ever look like… well, like a city. A busy place, filled with big buildings, trash, parks, people roaming around, cars driving to destinations. The characters you encounter, from the anonymous man on the street to the security forces to the various infected themselves, are detailed gloriously. The action is gorgeous as well, and while all of the infected seem to have a kind of “ugly thing that has lava for blood” look going on, this is one game that just feels unbelievably satisfying with each and every move you make or sight you see.

Much to Do, More to Kill

The game doesn’t just please in terms of graphics either. There’s a pretty sizable main campaign that spans three sizable conflict zones, though you’re initially locked to the first one – the game is open-world, but they still section off some things until you advance enough in the storyline. Count on having the storyline to follow, a considerable number of side-quests and optional challenges, some exploration-based challenges, and… well, the sheer fun of rampaging around a city, unleashing mutant death on the human enemies, the mutants, and – if you really want to – the civilians themselves.

Regarding the gameplay, I also want to mention just what sort of powers you’re going to find yourself using as Heller. Prototype 2 makes you into a by and large melee/stealth dynamo – while there’s a considerable number of powers to unlock via levelling-up and story/challenge missions, most of them revolve around either getting in close and pounding on your enemies with your fists, or stealthily, instantly killing your enemies and assuming their identity with no one the wiser. All of the abilities feel like they should – damaging, awe-inspiring and powerful. Whether you’re running up buildings, slicing into enemies with powerful claws, or doling out area attacks against your victims, the game manages to give the continued sensation that yes, you are playing a badass that everyone is right to be afraid of. The fact that these abilities are unlocked over time also helps urge you on to want to play more, just to see how truly powerful you can make Heller.

Some Minor Flaws

With all this in mind, no game is without its flaws, so here’s a few to consider with Prototype 2. For one thing, the aforementioned story – for some people, wall to wall snarling, cynical people cursing each other out is just off-putting. Me, I don’t care so much, other than noting that there’s more words in the great dictionary of offensive language than “fuck”. If you can get into action heroes and their enemies trading vulgarities and threats with each other – or at least, laugh at it – this is more feature than flaw. If you can’t, well… you’ve been warned.

Another minor flaw is that the inhabitants are a bit… unconcerned about what your character does, until he’s either flat out detected or he gets violent. In the context of the game, Heller is a dangerous, wanted man who even the civilians are probably scared to death of. Sure, he’s stealthy, but when he’s running up walls and jumping a hundred feet in the air right in the middle of an army base, someone should probably find that suspicious. Frankly, I hurled myself off of the highest building I could find, landing right inside of a troop-carrying truck – soldiers all around me – and they didn’t even blink or turn their heads. Very relaxed, these guys, until you hit them in the head. This isn’t a major concern, but it does shake some of the immersion when no one notices the obviously mutated guy may be that mutant everyone is worried about.

Not only that, but while getting initially noticed is rather difficult, eluding notice is shockingly easy. Heller has several powers at his disposal – instantaneous shape-shifting, and a “scanning” ability that shows you which opponents are currently being watched – that make eluding authorities even more trivial. In fact, if you attempt to stealthily kill a target who is seen, the game will explicitly warn you that they’re being watched and prevent you from engaging in it. Likewise, if you DO get noticed and find yourself being chased, ditching your followers is as simple as finding a space with no line of sight to you and instantly shapeshifting. Really, I understand that many people dislike too much challenge in their game, but Prototype 2 outfits you with such an arsenal of abilities that the detection and pursuit system could have been a bit less forgiving than it is.

But those are minor flaws. Really, Prototype 2 is a fantastic game, and learning that developer Radical Entertainment was shut down in its wake is disappointing. At least they went out with a title they can be proud of, even if it didn’t quite meet the sales levels they hoped. Either way, for those of you curious about the title, it’s now available on Steam – and as ever, look for this one to be steeply discounted, considering both the state of the developer and, well… the fact that Steam is what it is. But for you open-world action lovers, especially if you enjoy the superpowered twist, Prototype 2 is a game to hunt down.