Despite it being a mildly enjoyable open world kill-a-thon, my overriding memory of the original Prototype, like so many others, was of how big a tool, protagonist, Alex Mercer was. I guess that, in an industry famed for its bland, archetypal leads, the fact that he was memorable at all has to count for something, but honestly, we’re talking about one totally unlikeable tit of a lead here. Obviously aware of the generally negative response to the hoody-wearing anti-hero, Radical Entertainment and Activision have, in a rather ingenious twist, turned Mr Mercer into Prototype 2’s primary villain…..well, kind of anyway.
Shame then, that despite this somewhat inspired narrative twist, Rebellion has seen fit to replace Mercer with yet another largely unlikeable chap. Yes, he’s generally more agreeable and certainly far better dressed than Mercer, but in the grand scheme of things, we’ve gone from a massive douche to a, well, slightly smaller douche.
As Sergeant James Heller, you go in search of Alex Mercer after your wife and daughter are killed by the virus that Mercer is purported to be spreading across the city. After catching up with him and inevitably getting his ass handed to him, Heller is then gifted with all of Mercer’s tendrily super power before being let loose on New York Zero’s (sponsored by Coca Cola?) mutant-strewn streets to find out Mercer’s actual role in the outbreak while unravelling the mystery behind the dastardly Blackwatch and Gentek corporations and their links to the virus ravaging the Big Apple’s long suffering inhabitants. It’s all very ho-hum and thanks to Heller’s vague unpleasantness, I for one found it very hard to become in any way invested in either the character or the story at large.
Beyond its lack of surprises and its hit-and-miss delivery, the fact of the matter is, story aside, it’s all but impossible to remain sympathetic towards somebody who eats everyday pedestrians. It’s not just pedestrians either; this guy just loves to eat people full stop – to increase health, to gather information, to take their form – this guy can’t get enough of that most taboo of culinary delights. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always found it hard to root for genocidal cannibals. I appreciate that he is ‘consuming’ rather than actually eating, but, despite that characters not going into his actual mouth, the results are all but the same.
So basically, we are once again left with a forgettable story and an unlikeable lead, but again, like the first game, we are also left with an impressive collection of hugely destructive super powers and a wealth of enemies just waiting to be annihilated. The big change this time around comes from the much more natural sense of progression and the vastly improved levels of visual and mechanical polish. New York City (I’d really prefer not to use the ‘Zero’) is still a little bland and inevitably somewhat familiar, but just about every aspect of Prototype 2’s core design has been improved, leaving a game that, while artistically forgettable at times, proves an unequivocal success in terms of the more rudimentary pleasures of flat out destruction.
And that’s what Prototype 2 is really all about – the simple joy of unleashing the powers at your disposal with little concern for the consequences to the people or locations around you. The story may be pants, but hey, did you know that you can pull helicopters out of the sky with your gross tendril things, punch tanks until they explode and turn your hands into giant knives and horrible, goopy looking hammers (I know a goopy hammer shouldn’t work, but here, it seems to do a bang up job). The story may be wholly forgettable, but believe me, running up the side of a building while simultaneously taking out a helicopter in pitch perfect slow-mo before gliding blissfully towards another of New York’s many skyscrapers never gets old.
As much fun as it is to make the most of Prototype 2’s tighter controls and greater sense of weight as you charge your way from one end of the city to the next, leaving a truly blissful trail of destruction in your wake, it’s nice to see that the integration of both story and side missions is so much better handled this time around. Not only are the missions available infinitely more varied and often incredibly enjoyable, but the way everything unlocks and takes place feels much more organic and seamless this time around. With numerous story missions available at most points throughout the game’s ample running time, Prototype 2 feels far less linear than its predecessor while missions starting as you arrive on location helps to keep you firmly immersed in the game world around you.
With its improved draw distances and more detailed scenery, Prototype 2 stands as one of the more visually appealing and technically impressive sandbox games on the market. Unlike the original, which, if we are to be honest, was a bit of a dog to look at, Prototype 2 can actually show its face in the presence of games such as InFamous without feeling all embarrassed and self-aware. The voice work is also of a decent standard, even if the script fails to match the quality of the delivery.
The combat is ace and the sense of seamless movement and progression proves a surprisingly potent combination. Despite its problems, there’s no doubting that much of what Prototype 2 does from a purely technical standpoint is straight out of the top draw. It’s just a shame that it once again disappoints from an artistic standpoint. Heller is an improvement but is still somewhat hard to like (what with his penchant for angry swear words and love of cannibalism), and the story, while competent, has been done a million times before. Prototype 2 is certainly a more polished affair than its predecessor, but Radical Entertainment and Activision still haven’t found the right balance between the story and gameplay and, despite their best efforts, characterisation and story in Prototype 2 still pale in comparison with the often brilliant, gore-laden gameplay.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox 360 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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