Developer: Radical Entertainment
Release Date: April 24th, 2012
Available on: PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360
Reivewer’s note: I played this game on the PC. There may be differences between versions.
In 2009 we saw the entertaining Infamous/Prototype rivalry where two superhero third person open world games released less than a month apart from each other. I always felt that the rivalry was a quality vs. quantity thing: Infamous had a solid quality framework, while Prototype had a bunch of stuff going on at once. In the end most people found Infamous to be the superior game and it has gone on to be one of Sony’s best franchise. Prototype, while not as successful, got another shot. Does Prototype 2 fix up any of the problems from the original, or is it still an unorganized mess?
One thing that has been improved from the original is the plot. Prototype’s plot was a mess that you had to go out of your way to get: chunks of it were hidden as collectables that told things in random order. Prototype 2 is a lot more straight forward. You play as James Heller, a soldier getting back from Iraq only to discover that his wife and daughter were killed by the plague in New York. Swearing revenge against Alex Mercer, the protagonist and patient zero from the first game, Heller finds himself among the infected. Now with new powers to try and a few allies inside the city, Heller needs to go through both monsters created by the virus and the military group Blackwatch to find and kill Mercer. Heller is a hero that is easy to relate to, and while the game isn’t especially complicated I don’t really see that as a bad thing after Prototype’s clusterfuck of a plot.
Another thing Prototype was pretty clusterfuckey in was its gameplay, something else Prototype 2 has managed to streamline a little better. In the original Prototype you had about five weapons each of which had a long and complex list of attacks and combos that, in the end, were ultimately useless because the game was just easier to play by mashing the attack button over and over. Prototype 2 changes this by having each of the six weapons only have two attacks: one for tapping the button and one for holding it down. You can now also equip two weapons at once rather than just one. While it may sound like they cut out a bunch of the combat, this is honestly for the best as it streamlines the game. Each of the weapons no longer have a ton of useless moves with a few useful but difficult to preform actions wedged between them. Now you can know what a weapon can and can not do immediately with no issues. Your weapons can also be used together in some interesting ways. A new weapon, call the tendrils, can stick enemies to walls or trap them to the ground. If used on larger enemies then you can use your claws or blade on them to lob off an arm, reducing their offensive capabilities. The whipfist is also no longer hilariously over powered, which is a good thing.
The majority of the enemies are basically just cannon fodder for you. Regular soldiers and the basic zombie-like infected put up little threat beyond maybe swarming you with their numbers. They often go down in one hit and don’t need any kind of planning to take on. It’s the bigger enemies that you need to watch out for. Brawlers will jump at you and use their claws, while Hydras will burst out of the ground and throw rocks at you. The military will call in tanks and helicopters (which you can hijack eventually) to hunt you down. Some of it may be interesting the first time, though the game doesn’t really have enough unique enemies to keep it interesting all the time. The game sometimes has boss fights against “evolved” enemies who have similar powers to you. These should be interesting, but the majority of them pretty much boil down to “block until you can counter attack, counter attack, wail on them until they get back up, repeat.” Even the game’s last boss falls to this patter, which is really a shame.
The game’s missions will be sure that you at least do some varied things, even if most of the things are some form of getting to a specific location so you can end the mission with a big fight. You’ll do some basic (and hilariously easy) stealth by shifting into the bodies of other enemies. You’ll sometimes pose as enemies and be stuck using a vehicle or turning the game into a third person shooter for a little while (in which case it resembles the mediocre Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City). None of it is particularly bad, in fact it’s nice to sometimes get a break from the usual action here and there. There’s just nothing that stands out as being particularly brilliant. During Prototype 2’s 15 hour campaign I kept thinking it fell to the same problem that the original game fell into: quantity over quality.
Sidequests don’t really make up for this at all, often just being repetitive. The majority are done through Blackwatch terminals, which require you to first find and consume the person tied to the quest. You’ll either find those people wandering the world randomly (You’ll be alerted) or you’ll be pointed to their location by interacting with the terminals. Most the side quests aren’t really very interesting though, basically just requiring you to go to some location and kill some enemies before moving on. Searching for collectables and exploring the environment has gameplay uses though. If you find all the collectables in an area you can give yourself some passive upgrades. Sometimes you’ll also find enemies with special DNA that you can consume to get better at certain skills (though I question how an enemy’s DNA lets my rocket launcher hold more ammo.)
While there is fun in just going on a rampage and slaying monsters and people alike, Prototype 2 still suffers from trying to do too much and not really focusing its efforts into a couple of really good gameplay elements. It’s messy, which I think is the best word to describe it. It’s not as messy as the original Prototype, but it still spreads itself too thin to be more than a messy but fun time killer.