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This Experiment is a Success

14 months after the events of the first Prototype, disaster still reigns in New York City, now called New York Zone. Thousands of infected transformed by the Blacklight virus roam the streets, and Blackwatch continues to hide its sinister motives from the general public. However, Prototype 2 isn't the same old bag of tricks with fancier graphics.

Players got the chance to assume the role of Alex Mercer in the first Prototype, former scientist for Gentek, a front organization for Blackwatch and the game's equivalent of Umbrella corp. The story, haphazardly told and incohesive, was riddled with flaws and poor execution. Yet, there was promise, found in the player's chance to explore the Big Apple and wreak havoc with no restrictions - when they weren't getting pummeled by infected mutants and struggling to handle the controls and lackluster stealth and combat system. In Prototype 2, the franchise asks for a second chance and mostly delivers.

Enter Sgt. James Heller, a marine that loses his wife and child to a Blacklight infection in Manhattan. He vows to avenge them by killing Mercer, only to end up infected by the villain and given strange powers out of a hidden interest. Players will then begin their journey through Heller's story, and there will be blood. Lot's of it. Lush graphics, starkly contrasted cutscenes, and lot's of pyrotechnics complement it.

Prototype 2's most obvious improvements are found in its gameplay. Heller, in contrast to Mercer, automatically comes equipped with a few nifty abilities, such as gliding, that can be improved as the player unlocks new mutations, in addition to a few satisfying new tricks. The "hunting" ability, a type of sonar Heller can use to track his targets, will prove useful when players are completing objectives; a map that displays mission and side quest locations via small icons also keeps the player focused. Rarely will you ever feel lost in this game, unless you're knee-deep in a showdown.

Combat is better too, with Heller able to dodge and counter enemy attacks at the press of a button. He also has a plethora of different skills, as well as visceral "finishers" like beheadings, brutal smashes, and - in the case of the numerous legions of armored vehicles you'll face off against - explosions. Nearly anything you find will be used as a weapon, from cars you can toss into the face of your enemies to missile launchers you can rip from gunships and tanks. Using the powers that Heller inherits however, are the main attraction.

Any combination of a couple of Heller's abilities can be mapped to your controller at once, and changed on the fly with no problem. Whether it's the hulk-like fists you can use to smash and obliterate with; sharp claws that will turn Heller into a fierce incarnation of Wolverine; the snakelike Whipfist that'll make short work of any helicopter normally out of your reach; even the tendrils you can use to devastate enemies and the blade you can disembowel - and decapitate - your enemies with. The incorporation of a leveling system - experience is primarily gained by consuming important enemies and completing quests - as well as the use of these powers and even rudimentary weapons will eventually raise Heller's proficiency, making them more powerful. Soon, you'll even be hijacking tanks and gunships with ease and unleashing havoc on the wonderfully rendered battlefield.

The gratuitous amounts of customizing you'll do as Heller evolves also makes the grind of consuming people seem enjoyable. Different perks can be chosen as you level Heller up to your liking; pretty soon, those brutes and juggernauts you struggled against before will be harmless, especially when you can wipe them out with earthquakes, dive into the ground and cause spikes to erupt, and conjure a massive shield to defend against them. I haven't even mentioned the pack of mutants you'll be able to summon, or the enormous enemies you'll end up facing, like Hydras, mutated monsters that rise from the pavement, or even the Goliaths, infected colossi several stories high. Then, when you're not fighting the faceless Blackwatch soldiers and scientists, there's the Evolved, powerful new enemies that are an integral part of a new development later on. Nothing in Prototype 2, however, would be nearly as exciting without the impressively-rendered set pieces of New York.

Traveling throughout Manhattan and watching as tanks open fire against legions of infected monsters can seem unsettling at times. There're secret missions to complete for new mutations, lairs where infected and other dastardly enemies can be found; and plenty of pedestrians you can consume - they're mainly interactive props, really - at your leisure. Heller's blindingly quick speed and climbing abilities put Altair and Ezio to shame, and scaling the top of the Empire State Building only to dive toward the streets always feels exhilarating; the improvement of the game's stealth feature, much more forgiving this time around, only adds to the allure, although poor AI detract from it.

The game's campaign features plenty of missions, although somewhat repetitive, where your stealth abilities will be used, though they'll never become too difficult. Sensors can detect Heller's presence, and acquiring the identity of targets to gain critical intel in guarded bases will feel like puzzles that put your deductive skills to the test... if you wish, that is. You could just bash their heads in and capture the target the hard - or in some cases, easy - way if you don't want to waste your time with the stealthy missions, although the hunting feature will make it easier to systematically eliminate any distractions. Guards will notice odd behavior and a gauge will fill until they're on full alert and hunting you down with bazookas and strike teams, in addition to super-soldiers; you'll then have to lose them and shift your identity until things return to normal. With the numerous places Heller can escape to, this normally tedious tactic is made easier.

Story-wise, Prototype 2 is still a game with dozens of missions that follow the same pattern; yet, Heller's action-packed adventure ties these events together and keeps the normally monotonous formula from becoming exhausting. A few surprising characters, as well as a nice twist or two, give the game a narrative experience they can invest themselves in. However, this doesn't come without flaws.

One of my chief problems with this game - and no, it's not the kitschy and exaggerated violence, which I love - is its treatment of Heller as a character. The writing in this game is hit-or-miss, with moments that will have players bursting out in laughter or awe at Heller's apathy, and others where players will undoubtedly cringe worse than they did at hearing Snake Fist talk in F.E.A.R. 2. Yeah, it's that bad. The nearly misogynistic tone of Heller - and even the game in general, if one considers a rather hamfisted title for one of its achievements - makes it hard to believe he's a caring husband and devoted father, in spite of all the hell he's enduring and inflicting to avenge them. This area is where the game suffers most, and after the spectacular final showdown, we're almost left sympathizing for the villain instead of the hero.

However, Prototype 2 is still a successful and otherwise thrilling game; or, a guilty pleasure for those too ashamed to admit they play this foul-mouthed and exorbitantly macabre romp throughout New York. While Heller obviously wasn't written to be liked, his one redeeming trait is what will keep players interested: no matter how angry or brutal he is, he's still a father that loves his kid. Cliché, I know, but in this era of popcorn storytelling, it's sure to touch more than a few lives - when players aren't too busy ripping others apart.

Comments
  • Nice review. As someone who absolutely hated the first Prototype, it's nice to see that the second got the formula right. I still don't know if I'll be playing the game anytime soon, but at least I know I won't be frustrated with it like the original
  • Very detailed review, great work! The first Prototype was one of the few sandbox games where I strayed from my main mission often, just to run around the city. Glad to hear most of the gameplay seems to hold up!...and please tell me I can still karate kick helicopters!