While not revolutionary, Prototype 2 does what it does very well. It's fun and brutal, and worth your time.
Lets just start out this review by saying that Prototype 2 is a near perfect sequel. For the life of me I can’t think of anything that the sequel doesn’t do better than the original title. So without further ado, lets dig into Prototype 2.
The original Prototype introduced us to Alex Mercer, an anti-hero of sorts who could go through the entire game either killing everyone and everything in sight or only those who hunted him. While he was an interesting protagonist in a gaming landscape where players rarely get to “play as the bad guy”, Mercer wasn’t exactly the deepest of characters. After the explosive ending of Prototype, the sequel’s opening lays out the vague circumstances of a second outbreak of the so-called Mercer virus in New York City.
It’s here that we learn of new protagonist Sgt. James Heller, a New York resident currently serving overseas in the middle east who can only watch the news helplessly as his wife and daughter are threatened by the spread of the virus. Upon returning home, James finds his family all slaughtered by the hands of mutated victims. With nothing left to lose, James embarks on a suicidal mission for revenge against the source of the virus, Alex Mercer. By this time the whole of Manhattan has come under martial law from a military force known as Blackwatch and has been quarantined into the relatively safe Green Zone, the diseased slum of the Yellow Zone, and the virus infested living hell of the Red Zone.
When Heller’s convoy deploys to the Red Zone and comes under attack, he is directly confronted by Alex Mercer and the player is given the opportunity to control Heller as a mere mortal in the middle of a mutation infested hellhole. After a brief altercation between the two men, Heller is infected by Mercer and given a fantastic suite of empowering abilities that soon see him being hunted by Blackwatch. Just why Mercer infected you and how the virus came to take root in New York in the first place are the driving mysteries of the plot, giving you the perfect reason to sink your claws into the game’s fantastic combat.
The basic gameplay between titles has been simplified for the better, cutting out a lot of the lesser used moves and button combinations while adding a fun timing based dodge move to keep the fighting fast and furious. Whether you’re slicing through a super soldiers with a massive armblade or slaughtering a huge crowd of civilians with your whip arm, the the action is violent and gory to an incredibly satisfying degree. Your numerous military and infected foes will be smashed, exploded, bisected and eviscerated in plenty of dynamic ways that are sure to improve your disposition if you’re in a stressful mood. Of particular note is a new tendril ability which allows you to rip people asunder with tendrils that dynamically adhere to the environment, turning the whole area into a macabre spider web of dead bodies and limbs.
Also new to the sequel are mutations, a set of “Fallout” style perks which allow you to customize your version of Heller in a variety of ways. Whether you choose to augment Heller by allowing him to reach his top running speed up to 4x faster, or to give him an extra air dash is entirely up to you. These numerous mutations add a lot of fun to the game and give you a reason to pursue the large amount of repetitive but rewarding “Blacknet” side-missions. Most of these missions see you performing mundane tasks like racing against the clock to scavenge military cargo or just eating scientists until it says you’re done. The blandness isn’t helped by a lock-on system that annoyingly seems to target everything but what you want it to, often ending with you killing or consuming someone or something you didn’t even want to attack while getting wailed on from behind. If these tasks didn’t offer the aforementioned mutation rewards I probably would have skipped them entirely.
Prototype 2 also provides you with a host of satisfying enemies to engage throughout the campaign and you’ll deal with everything from infected civilians and regulation military, to building sized monsters and roid-raging super soldiers. Sadly, they provide very little challenge due to a decreased overall difficulty from the original and the sheer amount of outrageous powers available to Heller as the story progresses. If you want a challenge I definitely recommend playing on a harder difficulty setting right from the start.
Getting away from the bad, Prototype 2’s game world and graphical presentation is a huge improvement over the bland setting and near PS2 era level visuals of the original. The three quarantined zones of the sequel offer a lot of visual and gameplay variety, creating unique environments for you to traverse while you search for the game’s numerous collectibles and goodies. The Yellow Zone’s streets glimmer in the rain as downtrodden men and women hunker down in shanty towns wearing facemasks. The Green Zone is almost pristine and people continue to go about their lives with some normality but here the military control is even more oppressive in the interest of “safety”. Last but not least, the Red Zone is a living hell of collapsing buildings where infected hordes fill every street and the only survivors are those clinging to life on the rooftops of buildings.
The various characters in these environments are well animated and you’ll see civilians comfort one another in the street and all sorts of other things. I even watched two infected seize upon a corpse and tear it in half in a game of tug-o-war before jealously dragging the halves away for consumption. In short, this is a great open world in which to experience the game’s promise of the perfect power fantasy.
As for James himself, he is a totally different sort of protagonist than Alex Mercer was. Where Alex wasn’t a good person before the outbreak and he definitely wasn’t afterward, James is simply an everyman sort of character who has had all of this forced upon him. As Heller kills and consumes his way to the bottom of the conspiracy at hand, the memories of those he has absorbed fill in the various plot points of the story and draw him through the narrative. Throughout the plot his reactions to every twist and turn ring pretty true and there were even times where I just had to smile when Heller simply doesn’t fall for the obvious BS being sold to him by various characters in the main story. Overall I cared about Heller and his story, and my desire to see how it all turned out for him in the end drew me nicely to the game’s satisfying conclusion. However, as decent a character as James Heller is, I couldn’t help but cringe every so often at his expletive laden dialogue. While I totally understand what Radical Entertainment was going for, it would have been nice to see a less cliche’d representation of an African American that didn’t resort to making him a profanity spewing technophobe.
In the end, while Prototype 2 doesn’t represent any kind of revolution for the open world genre, it’s a hell of a lot of fun to pick up and play. Especially when you’re in the mood for some gory catharsis. While there are a few small missteps and maybe a missed opportunity here or there, overall Prototype 2 is one of the best open world action games I’ve ever played and had a lot to offer if you’re looking for a bloody good time.
For more information on how we review games check out our criteria here. A copy of this title was provided to The Paranoid Gamer by the publisher for review purposes. If you have any questions about this game the reviewer will be able to answer them in the comment section. Prototype 2 is now available at retailers.