Game: Prototype 2
Developer: Radical Entertainment
Available on: Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
In the Summer of ’09, two games were released that were, on the surface, very similar. They were based around protagonists that were placed in situations that gave them both superhuman-like powers. Cole McGrath and Alex Mercer ran roughshod over their foes within Empire City and New York City respectively, but, whilst inFAMOUS contained a deeper story with more endearing characters, Prototype tried to be more “edgy” by slipping a curse word in every 5 seconds and having a shallow narrative. The gameplay in both was comparable, with both characters possessing super powers that would make some Marvel heroes blush.
That was 3 years ago. This time round, a year separates the release of the difficult second album for both “bands”. Radical Entertainment have changed the lead singer from the easily dislikeable Mercer to Sgt. James Heller, and Activision have given Prototype 2 a last minute push in promotion by using Johnny Cash’s version of “Hurt” in TV ads. Those adverts paint a picture of an “emotional roller coaster”. A story that will tug on your heart strings and make you feel for Heller. Don’t read into that marketing. Prototype 2 is not an emotional “roller coaster”, but it is cracking good time nonetheless.
STORY: The story begins with Heller, who is an American soldier in Iraq, receiving phone calls from his scared wife and daughter about a viral outbreak in New York City. When he returns home, he finds out that his family are now dead because of the creatures simply known as the Infected. These Infected are humans that have been exposed to the Mercer virus and transformed into the walking dead. NYZ has been quarantined by a military force, Blackwatch, and a group of scientists called Gentek. Heller’s goal is to avenge his wife and daughter’s deaths by murdering the first game’s protagonist and virus namesake, Alex Mercer.
The story is really weak and doesn’t carry any momentum into the game after a solid opening. It’s a non-event in the entire game that doesn’t provide a decent pay-off because the build up is never there in the first place. James Heller is a clichéd character that is difficult to relate to and, for that reason, Prototype 2′s story is a second thought throughout.
GRAPHICS: There are two big differences in Prototype 2 when it comes to how everything looks in NYZ; the cutscenes, and the in-game graphics. The cutscenes are akin to Frank Miller’s Sin City, very stylish and very attention grabbing. They contain three predominant colours; black, white, and red (with the red bringing vibrancy to the bleak scene). These are highly impressive and give the game a look that is incredibly striking. The face models are phenomenal here, however, that is a stark contrast to what you’re seeing when actually playing the game itself.
Other than James Heller, the majority of characters in Prototype 2 look bland and generic. Stone faced, emotionless human beings greet you around every corner with faces that are so devoid of character and wrinkles, they’d would make a Botox patient-in-waiting jealous. The Infected you face suffer from similar problems, apart from the larger ones that no longer have any semblance of a homo-sapien. The monster-like enemies tend to have more detail and care about them, however they still lack any real polish.
NYZ is a city that has been dilapidated thanks to Blackwatch and the Infected, and the world that Sgt. James Heller travels around in does show its disrepair, but there are no defining features in NYZ to make it feel different to any other urban landscape in any other sandbox game. The buildings all look the same, the pedestrians all look the same, and there is no stand-out feeling of, “Yes, I’m playing a Prototype game”. The destruction aspect does have some plus sides such as footpaths crumbling nicely under Heller’s hulking feet and glass shattering as you run up a building’s face, but other than a few instances, Prototype 2′s in-game graphics are bland and boring.
SOUND: With every blade that is dragged across the ground and every body that is brutally pummelled, the audio within Radical’s title affirms the fact that the sound in Prototype 2 is terrific. Every noise has its place here and it is all done really well. The score conforms to, what is now, the usual in video games with an orchestral-come-industrial package, but that doesn’t mean that the music in Prototype 2 isn’t good. In fact, it’s pretty damn enjoyable. “Resurrection”, which is the main theme, is a slow and atmospheric jaunt, while “Murder Your Maker” is an epic tune.
Comedy isn’t something that many games can do well, but James Heller; that man should be on tour with Peter Kay. Laughing out loud and giggling uncontrollably are hard not to do when hearing Heller speak. He uses the “F” word nearly 200 times, and isn’t afraid to rattle a few more expletives out along the way. The thing is, it’s not meant to be funny. Prototype 2 is unaware of its ludicrous language and equally ridiculous lead character. There’s no way to feel for this man who has lost his family because he doesn’t seem that bothered himself. Other characters in the game are equally as proficient swearers and it grates on occasion. I myself, am a Grade A swearer, but to try and keep up with the people of NYZ would be difficult.
GAMEPLAY: The bread and butter of this game lies in how it plays. Controlling James Heller is destructive fun as he leaves soldiers and monsters lying in his wake. Travelling across New York is fluid and going from mission end point to mission start point isn’t mundane. Stomping up the side of a building and launching off of it creates a Godlike feeling in the player as you glide across the cityscape. A lot of games nowadays give the player the ability to scale tall buildings, but so few are as good at it as Prototype 2. Now, skill isn’t required when climbing a skyscraper as the foul-mouthed James, yet it still doesn’t taint the pleasure.
There are many ways in which to dismember your foes as powers and weaponry are unlocked throughout your entire venture. Heller has, by the end of the game, five different powers that morph his arms into murderous tools. They all have their purpose, but as it takes some time to unlock all of them, powers that you collect earlier in the game are more powerful than others gained through mutations. These are upgrades that are gained through side quests called, Blacknet missions. As you gain Evolution Points throughout the game and level up Heller to a near impervious point, combat becomes easy and is lacking an edge to urge players to get to the illusive finishing line. Yet, with that said, tearing enemies apart with your individual powers is still wonderful.
If you’re not into solid melee, you can have a gander at the arsenal in New York. Like the original, vehicles can have their weapons ripped from them for your own use on the ground, or they can be hijacked. The guns and rocket launchers from tanks and helicopters are so powerful that they make your battles overly easy. Hijacking these vehicles can be fun though, flying a helicopter across the New York skyline is especially more pleasing than driving a cumbersome tank.
Consuming people, which is like inhaling their body and soul, is how you remain alive in Prototype 2; just like the first game. This is a simple mechanic that gives you health, vital information (when consuming specific people) and allows you to transform into the body of your last victim. The stealth aspect is also back and remains glorious at points. When tracking a certain target while incognito, you can spot enemies that are watching your desired prey and pick off ones that are vulnerable until nobody is watching your latest meal. Sometimes, when trying to stealth grab an unsuspecting Gentek scientist, you may accidentally pick up a nearby table and send a Blackwatch base into alert. The original suffered from this problem a bit more, but when it happens in Prototype 2 it is just as frustrating. You can send a group of Blackwatch soldiers into a tizzy if they see a soaring James Heller come crashing down into their base, but inconsistently, they won’t question a James Heller that is gliding into a base while disguised as a Blackwatch employee for some reason.
The Blacknet side missions are a nice caveat to the main story, even if they do become repetitive over time. These consist of hunting different targets, consuming them and finding out what evil plans the dastardly Blackwatch and Gentek are planning. The pattern of these become tiring, but the art of hunting does not. Hunting is how the protagonist can track a certain person that they need to consume in order to find out vital information. With a click of the analog stick, a red pulse is sent across the game world and retracts in the direction that your target is. It is brilliantly implemented and a fantastic idea.
LONGEVITY: The main story will take quite some time to complete. That’s a problem though as it drags towards James Heller’s crescendo. NYZ does have plenty for the player to do with side missions and collectibles. The Blacknet missions are interesting at the beginning, but are creatures of habit by the end of it; it all gets too “samey”. The completionist will have plenty to keep them busy though with collectibles known as Blackboxes, random enemies that give perks once consumed and various other bits on the side.
VERDICT: If you saw those Johnny Cash adverts, put them out of your head straight away once you start playing Prototype 2. There is very little emotion or grandeur to Radical’s title. The story is poor and the characters are one dimensional. The voice acting is hilarious, but not intentionally. Where Prototype 2 really shines is in the gameplay. Once you forget about Heller’s motives and what is actually going on within the story, you’ll have a blast running up buildings, gliding through the air and – as Heller would say – blowing s**t up.