Prototype 2 proposes an awkward situation for me. It’s a game that raises such a degree of personal conflict that’s it’s tough to impartially compliment it on its many successes – or condemn it, for a crushing lack of originality (not to mention one of the most banal central characters this side of Infamous 2’s infamously ambient Cole MacGrath).
Admittedly, the original Prototype was an interesting game, complete with some intriguing concepts. It follows the story of protagonist Alex Mercer, and his mutation into a human wrecking ball after tyrannical biogenetic tinkering on the part of genetic engineering company Gentek and defence organisation Blackwatch. Mercer ends up part ASBO hoodie, part razorclam and armed to the teeth with the kind of freakish biogenetic human augmentations that David Cronenberg spends his Sunday afternoons dreaming up (or used to, until he went all stairwell cunnilingus – I’m looking at you, A History of Violence). In fact, from what everyone wrote about it, Prototype sounds pretty great – shame I never got to play it.
Still, it seems like its sequel is broadly more of the same, albeit with a new guy at the centre of proceedings (James Heller), who is the highly pissed-off owner of a bullet with Alex Mercer’s name on it, blaming him as he does for the deaths of his family. In retrospect, perhaps playing the first game could’ve proved a useful caveat for my expectations – as playing Prototype 2 is like flicking through a sandbox adventure scrapbook. Not that this is inherently bad – after all, it’s obvious that Radical Entertainment have appropriated some of the best elements of their other popular games into the gameplay, including Just Cause 2, Crackdown,Infamous and Batman: Arkham City – but then again, it does feel somewhat short-sighted for praising a game whose main accomplishment constitutes ripping off ideas from other titles.
Perhaps I’d be a touch more forgiving if it wasn’t for Derek Heller being such entirely unlikeable lead character. As the plot unfolds, the game struggles to validate him as an anti-hero in an uneasy alliance with Alex Mercer – yet aside from the odd wry quip, Heller crunches his way through the game like it’s some especially profane red band trailer. After all, it’s pretty tough to empathise with a character who’s supposed to be a saviour when he’s crushing civilians’ heads for sustenance.
However, that aside it does have to be said Prototype is uniquely impressive throughout. Traversing the world of a ghettoised New York under martial law is a joy, with just a squeeze of the trigger sending Heller running up vertical walls of buildings and seamlessly vaulting obstacles, before he soars effortlessly between buildings like an aggressive flying squirrel. A simple stealth mechanic of the ‘Hunting’ option (a kind of visual-sonar) either activates a beacon from key targets or outlines unmarked soldiers, which can then be assimilated so Heller swaps forms, allowing him to walk unnoticed into restricted buildings.
Combat takes the form of various mutant augmentations. You can shred your opponents with sharpened claws, use your super strength to hurl trucks at low-flying helicopters, turn bystanders into walking organo-bombs, or pick up some errant weaponry and empty a clip or two into the nearest bad guys.
Prototype 2’s gleeful overdose of abandonment is run seamlessly by the game engine, and there are plenty of hidden bonuses, augmentations (which provide little extra bits of fun like bolting chairs onto Heller), snippets of storyline gained from sucking down the lifeforce of soldiers and scientists (all played out in black and white grain-o-vision cut scenes), and of course, MORE CHAOS. It’s refreshing to see a game that allows you to make a conscious judgement rather than work to an inflicted honour meter, although I can’t help feel that the whole thing is designed to appeal to the kind of shallow action fans who greedily consumed vacuous macho titles such as Army of Two and the 50 Cent games.
I’ve long believed that there is an Incredible Hulk-shaped hole in videogames, and Prototype 2, as a lusty sandbox actioner, neatly fills it. While technically slick and accomplished, but it might just prove too low-brow for many to get behind. If you can step aside from yourself for ten hours or so, you’ll enjoy a noisy hot mess of a game (it’s just not one that should be encouraged).