Developer: Radical Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
Having never played the original Prototype, it may seem odd that I knew exactly what to expect when I began playing its sequel, Prototype 2. However, I’ve had my fair share of experience playing third-person open world action games (with RPG elements thrown in) such as inFAMOUS and Crackdown. The idea is simple enough: you play as James Heller, an ex-military man returning to the newly infected New York City in search of avenging your recently murdered wife and child. However, things don’t go so smoothly and Heller’s path crosses with Alex Mercer: the protagonist of Prototype and Prototype 2’s antagonist. Mercer ends up infecting James with a virus which grants him newfound strength and abilities. The game’s narrative focuses on Heller’s attempt to prevent Mercer from carrying out his plan to eliminate the human race, and essentially start from scratch with his genetically enhanced race of “Evolved” humans.
Much like the relatively simple story, the game’s mechanics are composed of aspects associated with the third-person open world action (with RPG elements thrown in) genre, which is also desperately in need of an acronym. Combat is mainly centered on melee attacks, combos and special attacks with quick time events making an appearance. This fits in perfectly with the character of James, who is literally consumed with rage and morphs his arms, at will, into weapons. As the game moves on, more and more abilities open up, and you have access to new weapons, such as the Whipfist and the Hammerfist, which allow you to wreak havoc in more interesting and dramatic ways. The combat early on in the game is particularly enjoyable as you get to grips with James’ attacks, and I found myself purposely looking for fights with the Blackwatch soldiers just so I could get back into the fray. The leveling system was incredibly satisfying as you became able to obliterate enemies which previously caused you nothing but grief. It is refreshing to play a game in which you actually feel your character grow in tandem with your expertise in battles. Sadly, the latter part of the game could often turn into a sloppy mess of button bashing, which in turn lead to an even sloppier mess of poorly rendered textures.
Unfortunately, for a game released in 2012 it doesn’t stand up too well to its contemporaries in the presentation arena. I often saw very poorly rendered textures specifically for explosions, fires and blood splatters, which would seem out of place even in some of this generation’s older games. The animations for Heller’s attacks were distinctly lacking and it was difficult to tell which moves I was pulling off solely by watching the character. Points like this can often be forgiven if we are treated to an interesting world, but unfortunately Radical is not able to offer us this. The city in general is ugly and indistinguishable from most other game worlds. At times it is difficult to tell the different zones apart from each other, which you would imagine would be difficult considering the last island you visit is the most ravaged and desolate of them all. This bland city not only makes you long for the streets of San Andreas, but it also helps to remove the player’s emotional response of wanting to protect and save the citizens of New York.
Which leads to the question: are we even supposed to want to save these denizens of the Big Apple? Playing as Heller comes very close to offering a unique and interesting experience, but unfortunately Radical came close and stumbled at the last hurdle. He may not be the most in-depth or detailed character and he seems capable of displaying practically one emotion throughout the entire game. However, we are spared the often ill-conceived morality choice mechanic of several contemporary games and simply asked to follow Heller along for the ride. The game even allows us to willingly slaughter countless innocents and suffer no consequences. There is no secret bar going up or down in relation to who you murder; Heller has become an enraged monster and the game makes no attempt to have you believe otherwise.
This is, of course, until a very confusing scene in which he lets a Blackwatch commander live simply because he is on the phone with his daughter. Does Heller feel no regret or remorse when he mercilessly devours thousands of other Blackwatch employees? Especially when several of them scream “please no, I have a family!” before Heller tears them to shreds. These random acts of kindness juxtapose with his monstrous acts of violence, create a frustratingly confusing character; if Radical hadn’t tried to add any artificial depth to this character so late in the game he could have been quite interesting. Instead they attempted to show a more caring side to his personality, which is ultimately pointless as he personifies the emotions of hatred and violence.
However, the voice acting does help to drag the game up from its knees. Cornell Womack does an outstanding job as Prototype 2’s Heller. He well and truly steals the show in the cut scenes and gives brilliant performances consistently; especially in one of the final scenes where he faces off with Mercer. His ability to display such raw anger, pain and grief is incredible and deserves recognition. The cutscenes themselves were also incredibly well executed. Radical’s choice of colour scheme could not have been any better. The colour palette is almost wholly black and white to remind us that Heller sees the world in a very clear cut manner, and he knows which side he stands on. There are splashes of red and orange to highlight the only emotions which he is capable of feeling now: anger and hatred.
All in all, Prototype 2 is a fully functioning game and rather mundanely delivers in every aspect of this genre. Sadly, it does not break any new ground, and even worse it comes so close to offering gaming an interesting character yet stumbles spectacularly. The combat system and the levelling mechanics are well done, and the game allows players to fluidly experiment with different attacks to see what works best. While some aspects of the game, such as the voice acting and cutscenes, do stand out it is a shame that other aspects of the game lack so much and drag the experience down into the grey and bland realms of “decent”.