In Prototype 1, protagonist Alex Mercer got in touch with his inner flying squirrel in a bid to crush genetic engineering corporation Gentek, as well as their cross-promotional evildoing co-Captains, Blackwatch. The military gets involved to provide Alex with a lot of vehicles (and more people to eat) that he can hijack for the free-roaming world. As Alex learns that people are tasty and that eating them gives him access to their memories as well as special skills and appearance, he discovers that Hope, Idaho is actually somewhat the opposite of Hope, and that all of this genetic tinkering began there with a woman named Liz Greene. Naturally, Alex eats her too, thus stopping the entire project. He is now the most powerful flying squirrel cannibal in New York City.
In Prototype 2, protagonist James Heller gets in touch with his inner flying squirrel in a bid to crush now-antagonist Alex Mercer, as well as genetic engineering corporation Gentek and their cross-promotional evildoing co-Captains, Blackwatch. The military gets involved to provide James with a lot of vehicles (and more people to eat) that he can hijack for the free-roaming world. As James learns that people are tasty, and that eating them gives them access to their memories as well as special skills and appearance, he discovers that Alex is actually not a nice guy, and that Heller’s family was killed thanks to him. Naturally, James sets out to eat him too to stop the entire project. He will have to become the most powerful flying squirrel cannibal in New York Zero.
I guess what I’m saying is that you shouldn’t expect a new story here. Sure, there are some elements that are different, but you didn’t come here for that, did you? No, you came here to make enemies into biological weapons, throwing them the length of a football field. You came here for cutting people in half like a desk fan devoid of its protective cage and set on its side. You came here to be a high-jumping, free-roaming, flying squirrel-man throwing tanks into the side of helicopters while transforming your arms into giant whip-hooks. Well then, you’ll be just fine as Prototype’s story is a mess but the gameplay you are craving is here. Let’s dig into the flesh and see what’s underneath Alex-James-Mercer-Heller.
“The time for waiting is over.” – Elizabeth Green
The first Prototype hit the street in June of 2009. It’s been a long wait to 2012 for Prototype 2, so let’s take a look at what’s new under the hood. The first and most noticeable change is the adjustment to the combat engine. It seems like there is infinitely more enemies on the screen, and their AI is a little bit better than in P1. You can now split up your attacks and assign them in pairs to X and Y, leaving B to grab people and A to leap tall buildings in a single bound. This is more smooth than P1’s combat, meaning you can juggle enemies using a combination of different attacks.
Some enemies that are otherwise nearly impossible to kill are rendered armless and looking dumb by the right combination of tendrils and sharpey-things. Other enemies look like they slammed into a brick wall when they hit your spiked shield power, leaving them vulnerable for all sorts of evisceration. Eventually you can pick up the Bio-bomb ability – a skill that allows you to poke enemies in the neck (Hi again to those stuck-in-the-middle army guys!) and then throw them into a crowd to obliterate them. You’ll also get the blade, claws, and whipfist from the first Prototype to go along with huge fists (a la another Radical title – Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction). Thankfully, there are some new powers to toy with for Mr. Heller, so it still feels new.
The first divergence is how you get your new powers. Sure you are eating folks and doing missions for experience and powers, but the upgrade system has been completely retooled. Instead of dropping your experience points into a specific upgrade, you’ll unlock the 38-possible mutations by completing side missions and gaining levels. At level up you’ll be presented with a far-shorter menu of options that grant additional health, speed, jump height, and eventually finishing moves. The best of this crop is the Pack Leader skill – Heller gains the ability to summon an pair of angry Brawler dogs to the party. They’ll do a great job of killing off your enemies, or at least distracting them long enough for you to drop your big attacks on them. This simplified system ensures that you are thinking a bit about your choices, as you won’t unlock every possible move through a single play-through – you’ll need the included New Game+ mode.
The next divergence is the Web of Intrigue. Many folks, including myself, missed out on a lot of the included story of P1 because the web of intrigue was a nearly random chance of running across the over 100 folks who had insight into our storyline. The random chance has been nailed down a bit courtesy of the new Hunt ability. Heller can send out a ping that will span the entire city, giving players a return ping. This means that you’ll always be able to lock down your target and consume them – there is no way for them to hide. Later on in the game this gets a little more complicated, but I’ll save that little story bit for you to uncover.
The Web of Intrigue missions are entirely optional, of course, but there is also a new //Blackwatch mission set included in the game. The missions are pretty standard fare, including fetching packages in a race format, infiltrating Blackwatch strongholds, closing down lairs, and hunting. These reward Heller with the new mutations I mentioned above, so they are worth doing if for nothing other than the power bump. I cranked through all of these missions in the course of the game, and I can’t say I rightly remember very many of them. The Web of Intrigue targets have the same frantic flash of memory that you got in P1, and they are always interesting, but I can’t say I feel the same about the missions themselves. Prototype 2 has you running into the same cookie-cutter military base types and just obliterating enemies en-mass, just like the original. You can now stealth-consume enemies as long as they aren’t being watched by anyone else, so there is an opportunity for you to play it a little more safe, but all this typically yields is marginal bonus experience. The Blackwatch missions are ranked against your friends, and unlock additional goodies like making-of videos, new skins, and the like, but I suspect most players will simply skip it to keep the ball rolling.
“Red Crown be advised. I’m not in the fucking Blackwatch.” – James Heller
I want to take a moment to talk about James Heller. I’ve played a lot of games where I didn’t connect with the protagonist, but very few where I outright don’t understand most of his motivations and actually grew to dislike him. James Heller, you angry flying squirrel, I don’t like you. Heller is very one-note and stupid enough to never pass the promotion test to Sergeant. He spends a good amount of time logging into computers and spends as much time hating and punching them. He refers to anyone who can walk and chew gum as “nerds”, “geeks”, and “pencil-necks”, and swears worse than anyone I’ve ever heard. I’m guessing that the number of times Heller screams fuck is directly proportional to the amount of enemies I killed through the course of the game. The cutscenes, while quite well rendered in a mood-setting black and white with red highlights, does a great job of reinforcing how much of an asshole Sgt. James Heller actually is. By the end my wife and I were freely writing up our own retcon of how James kidnapped his wife and kids because nobody this angry and dumb could attract a mate. The voice acting, tied to this rock of a caricature, does a decent job – even if the content is tripe. When a man has his family killed, I’m sure he comes out the other end angry, but there is a range of emotions that comes with a tragedy that large that goes completely unexplored here – an unfortunate miss.
The enemies in P2 are similarly angry, and are almost as stupid as Heller. They scream and use more TLAs (three letter acronyms) than I ever did while I was in the military. They crash their helicopters (is there another state for a helicopter in flight?) and scream bloody murder, but they are also seemingly oblivious to everything going on around them. They seem content to sit in their bases and wait for something exciting to happen. Their agenda is essentially the same as it was in P1, so expect a head-on fight, developing a misguided cure, and then eventually the “nuke from orbit” options to play themselves out. I’ll fly past them in my squirrel form only to have them raise their alarm by a few millimeters. I’ve picked up rocket pods off of a downed chopper and got “Hey, you been working out?” from a nearby soldier. I’ve leapt hundreds of feet in the air and speed-ran my way up the side of a vertical surface and didn’t get so much as a head scratch from the nearby enemies. In fact, the only time I ever alerted enemies is when it was scripted or I outright decided to eat somebody, pick up a car, or do something completely extreme. A quick switch to another form and an air-dash later, I was able to exit the alarm and then waltz back in like nothing just happened. The only thing they seem very good at is killing incoming infected as they skirt the base.
“I don’t need another Mercer running around.” – Col. Rooks
So here we are, at the end of Heller’s journey and at the end of my review. It may seem like I’ve just dogged P2 for the past few hundred words, and truly I have, but here is the kick – it wasn’t a chore to finish Prototype 2. Sure, the game wears thin with some repetition by the time you clear the Red Zone and do the multi-staged flying squirrel face-off at the end, but damn it, the game was actually fun. The setup and story are essentially the same from the three-year old Prototype 1, and that is a problem – there isn’t a lot new under the sun with P2 to show three years worth of development time. Many of the same animations, the same weapons, hell- even the same story – so if you’re looking for content then this might not scratch that itch.
The star here is clearly the new combat engine, and boy does it deliver. You rise from incredibly powerful to obscenely powerful over the course of the game, and it never gets old. This game reminds me of the Bay-splosion Transformers movie series – completely lacking in story, plot holes big enough to slide a planet through – but if you just turn off your brain, you can enjoy hours of explosions. James Heller and Alex Mercer may both be from the same batch of cookies, but somehow three years later the action still works. Leaping onto a helicopter and yanking the pilot out and whipfisting them to the ground, ripping the turret off a tank and beating it with the larger end, cutting the limbs off grotesque mutants, and flying across the New York landscape fills a certain niche. While I am surprised that Radical didn’t make some more …well… radical changes to their sequel, what they did deliver isn’t bad. My suggestion is this: come for the bombastic and over-the-top action, try to forget the storyline – I already have