May 1, 2012 by Paul Curtin
Like Hollywood, the gaming industry has a trend of releasing similar competing games around the same time. One of the most recent and biggest gaming showdowns after Call of Duty and Battlefield is the epic battle between Prototype and Infamous — both good games, both involving superheroes in open-world cities, and both debuting in the summer of 2009. Although Infamous seemed to be the overall favorite amongst gamers and critics, I’ve always considered it a bit overrated and preferred the more fast-paced and chaotic open-world environment of the Prototype series.
This time around Radical Entertainment wanted to make sure that their game didn’t live in the shadow of their competition and released Prototype 2 almost a full year after Infamous 2. So was the extra time in development enough to propel the series past the Infamous series in this showdown of superheroes?
Radical Entertainment has taken a unique approach with their sequel to 2009’s hit; instead of expanding upon the lead protagonist from the first game who most are now familiar with, they’ve taken Alex Mercer and turned him into the bad guy and introduced a new lead protagonist by the name of James Heller. Radical’s switch helps keep the story fresh and is a ballsy move that most developers wouldn’t try with such a new franchise, but introducing Sergeant James Heller as the game’s new main anti-hero looking for vengeance actually improves the development of the series by having a stronger lead character in Heller who acts like Kratos from God of War with a mouth fouler than Samuel L. Jackson’s in Pulp Fiction.
Players assume the role of Heller, who comes back from touring Iraq to discover that the virus now known as the “Mercer Virus” has broken out again and claimed the lives of his wife and daughter. To avenge his loss, Heller rejoins the military looking to kill the man responsible for the second outbreak and previous game’s savior, Alex Mercer. Right from the start of the story, Heller ends up getting his wish and confronting Mercer, who overpowers and infects him with the virus in an effort to recruit Heller by causing him to mutate like Mercer and share the same powers and hopefully the same vision of the future.
Like the last game’s amnesic story, Heller’s tale of revenge is pretty generic and isn’t anything mind-blowing, but this time the story is told better and more coherently through the use of better produced cutscenes mixed with similar acid-trip-like flashbacks. Most of the cutscenes use far better visuals than the gameplay’s graphics, which could still use some improvement despite being far better than the original. The Sin City-style black, white, and red palette for cutscenes is odd considering the gameplay is always very colorful, and the drastic change in visuals only serves as a constant reminder that you’re not currently playing the game.
While the color changes between gameplay and cutscenes aren’t a big deal, the biggest problem with the story arises with the way in which previous story’s anti-hero Mercer’s heel turn isn’t given time for an explanation. At the end of Prototype, Mercer saves the city from total annihilation; now he’s supposed to be the bad guy who may or may not be trying to wipe out the very humans he just saved fourteen months earlier. A little explanation as to what exactly drove him over the edge would have been nice.
Instead of giving players a solid reason for such a drastic change, to bridge the gap between games, Radical released a three part comic counterpart that nobody besides die-hard fans will read. It seems like a lot of gaming franchises are going this route lately, and it needs to stop. Having a grander universe that expands into comics, novels, and movies is great… but most people play video games because they don’t want to read a book. A game’s story shouldn’t have massive plot holes relating to key main characters that can only be filled by searching other media to find what’s not in the game itself.
Even with the somewhat unexpected change in character, Mercer still makes for a good villain and helps introduce another dynamic to the game by bringing about another faction of enemies in the form of transformed super-humans like Mercer and Heller. If you thought the fights in the first Prototype were some of the craziest in any game ever (and they were), then the amount of chaos and destruction that takes place on screen while Heller is fighting waves of mutants, super mutants, Blackwatch units, and super Blackwatch units in the middle of crowded streets full of pedestrians and vehicles will have you in awe as you release pure chaos on the streets of New York City like a maestro of mayhem — especially when there are never any drops in framerate or lag.
The chaos in the streets of the NYC-inspired New York Zero (NYZ) is what made the previous Prototype one of the most fun open world games ever, and Prototype 2 makes even better use of the NYZ environment by allowing Heller to traverse it just as quickly and easily as players could with Mercer in the first game. No other game environment is as big and easy to rapidly move across than the mean streets of NYZ, and by allowing such ease of mobility across the city, players are given a sense of freedom, precision, and empowerment that no other game has been able to successfully do and that comic book fans could only dream of when reading classics like Superman, The Flash, and The Incredible Hulk. This summer might be all about superheroes at the box office, but James Heller plays like a mash-up of all The Avengers in one single bad-ass character.
Other than the hit-or-miss item and character lock-on system which can at times be frustrating, the overall controls have been reworked for the better to make using Heller’s powers easier than ever. The weapon wheel that allows players to select from all of Heller’s abilities is still present, but Radical has upgraded the system to now allow two powers to be assigned to buttons and used at any time so that players can instantly switch back and forth in the heat of combat. There’s also an improved shield, dodge, and counter system added that gives players more control of the battle and rewards players with time-slowing effects and more brutal combo finishers similar to God of War and Darksiders.
Like the original, there are five main powers that Heller unlocks as he evolves throughout the game and that players can switch between at any time during gameplay. The Claws, Blade, Whipfist, and Hammerfists all return in the same form as the previous game and allow players to choose between pummeling enemies to death with excessive force or slicing them into bits and pieces. Replacing the Musclemass ability, Tendrils have been added that allow Heller to hit enemies and objects and then tangle them up in a web and even use another one of Heller’s powers in a combination to finish them off. There’s also the newly added Black Hole and Bio-Bomb abilities, which allow Heller to transform enemies into IEDs that shoot out Tendrils which latch on and pull everything in the area towards the object and explode once fully retracted.
Each of Heller’s main powers automatically upgrade as he levels up, and players are also given one point per level to spend on abilities like improved speed, faster recovery, higher jumping, more health, and a ton of other awesome upgrades. My favorite was the ability to summon two Brawler Hunters to fight alongside Heller and the upgrade that allowed four of the beasts to be summoned all at once. Having Heller and four of his Brawler Hunters fight a group of other Hunters and infected super-soldiers with Blackwatch tanks, helicopters, and soldiers made for some of the craziest fights I’ve ever witnessed and at times I would just put my shield up so I could have a second to take it all in and appreciate how crazy the moment was and ponder over my next move.
What’s also amazing is how well the combat mixes superpowers and modern weapons. You’d think a superhero with powers wouldn’t need to use guns, but Radical has found clever ways to fit guns into the gameplay. Some missions require you to not break your Blackwatch disguise and only use guns, but almost every fight I found myself looking for the nearest rack of RPGs to add to my all-out assault and do even more damage. My favorite moments always dealt with how you can not only hijack enemy tanks and helicopters, but also mount them and choose to pull off their turrets and rocket launchers to use freely as you run circles around them or up the sides of buildings.
In order to unlock new skills for Heller and expand upon the story, players are encouraged to take on side-missions in addition to the main objectives. Thankfully, missions have also seen a massive overall and no longer consist of simply consuming an enemy’s body and infiltrating Blackwatch bases. While there are still many infiltration objectives, there are tons of additional missions that offer unique experiences, like taking out Lairs full of infected, racing on top of buildings in order to collect lost top secret intel from crashing helicopters, and one that was particularly funny which involved rounding up a bunch of scientists in a helicopter just to take them a mile high and jump out, leaving them to fall to their doom.
What’s also great is how missions include bonus objectives to challenge players and sometimes even throw curveballs at players midway through a mission by having what starts out seeming like an ordinary consume-the-target objective turn into an epic chase and brawl across the city once the target reveals himself as an infected super-soldier who’s wise to your tricks. Some quests even involve the battle of massive building-sized Goliaths who throw themselves up in the air like Heller and Mercer in an effort to come smashing down on you. It’s a shame that the game doesn’t have more Goliath-sized boss encounters because seeing a monster the size of a building launch itself up in the air in the middle of a crowded city is a spectacle that you won’t come to find in any other open world games.
Overall, Prototype 2 is a big improvement upon the first game, and it’s clear that nobody knows how to make a better superhero game than Radical. The missions can get a bit repetitive, and the graphics still aren’t as impressive as Infamous 2’s, but no other series, not even Infamous, allows players to have as much freedom and feel as powerful, which is what a superhero game should always have as its top priority. It’s hard to think of a game that’s more fun when you just want to blow stuff up and do bad things, because as we all know… it’s fun to do bad things. Prototype 2 gets 4 out of 5 stars (Great).
- Movement has been improved and is still the best of any open world game
- Missions are more varied and make for a better story
- Better combat and control system
- Improved graphics
- Plays a little too similar to the first game
- Missions can become slightly repetitive
- Story could still use more depth and explanations
- Targeting system has minor issues in very chaotic situations