Open world games and I have a very sorted history. More often than not I’ll find myself bored with the wide open world long before I’ve exhausted the main story missions which usually results in me spending a few more hours being a total jerk to everyone before I give up on the game for a week or two. Strangely enough the prospect of being able to wander around and do the missions whenever I feel like it doesn’t appeal to me that much although there have been several open world games (Red Dead Redemption, Batman: Arkham City) that have captivated me, usually due to their heavy focus on story. Prototype 2 comes 3 years after its predecessor and whilst the news of Radical Entertainment’s demise might not bode well for it I really did enjoy the original and figured the sequel would be worth a look in.
Prototype 2 puts you right back where the original started: New York City, New York. After the infection being dealt with in the original it appears that it has returned with a vengeance, spreading like wildfire in much the same manner as it did before. Alex Mercer, the character you play as in the original, is again being blamed for the whole thing and you, James Heller, are sent in to take him down. Your brief confrontation with him ends with you being defeated and Mercer gifting you with much the same powers that he has and attempts to recruit you into his plans. What follows is a story of multiple betrayals, conspiracies and open warfare that should be quite familiar to those who played the original.
Whilst my memory might be foggy from 3 years ago Prototype 2 doesn’t appear to be a massive graphical jump up from its predecessor. As far as I can figure there are 2 main reasons as to why this is. Firstly the primary audience for this game is consoles and there has been no improvement in that department since the original Prototype was released. Additionally, much like MMORPGs, there tends to be a lot of stuff on screen at any one point in time, putting a hard upper limit on how good you can make the environment look before performance takes a massive dive. That being said it’s definitely up to par with other console-first games of this era but when you’re playing it on PC you can’t help but feel that it should be looking a lot better.
What I’m more certain about is the similarity between the core game play of Prototype 2 and its predecessor. Cutting right to the chase here it’s basically identical to the almost all of the same weapons, abilities and missions. There are differences of course such as the addition of the hunt ability, changes to the devastator attacks and reworked upgrade system. With that in mind Prototype 2 plays much like the original with you leaping around New York and unleashing all sorts of carnage with the new abilities providing some, but not a whole lot, differentiation to keep you interested.
Like nearly all open world games Prototype 2 takes the typical structure of giving you way points on your map to go to where you’ll begin a mission. Along the way you’ll pass by various collectibles, encounters and side missions that you can take or leave at your leisure. At the beginning of the game it’s worth your time to deviate from the story missions as much as possible as those early upgrades will make the rest of the game a hell of a lot easier. As you start to get towards the end where levels start coming thick and fast the side missions start to mean less and less, to the point where you really don’t need to stray that often because you’re so powerful that really nothing will get in your way.
I felt that the Hunt ability was a really great addition in Prototype 2. Essentially its a tracking mechanism where you send out an orb of red that, upon reaching your target, bounces back to you like a kind of sonar pulse. Most missions will start off with you being given a target and then told to hunt them which will involve you sending out multiple hunting signals as you track them down. It’s a pretty cool mechanic and it really fits in with the whole Prototype idea, being an amalgam of DNA from all sorts of creatures.
Of course the mechanic starts to lose its lustre after you use it for the 50th time to track down yet another scientist/commander/whatever. Indeed this is the greatest weakness of Prototype 2 as whilst there’s tons of missions to keep you occupied they are unfortunately quite similar in the way they play out. It also doesn’t help that there’s a lot of asset reuse throughout the game with all lairs, bunkers and science places all being the same rudimentary shape just with different things sprinkled around the interior. This is not an uncommon problem for open world games but most do a lot better at hiding the repetition than Prototype 2 does.
It doesn’t get any better when the powers you get in Prototype 2 are exactly the same as the ones in the original. As the screenshot of the power wheel shows you the same 5 powers you had in the original are back again. Of course they needed a mechanic in order to reset these powers back to zero and that seems to be the only reason for a new main protagonist. Indeed, as I’ll touch on later, Heller’s inclusion in the story seems to function simply as a way for them to repeat the same power building mechanics they had in the first game without having to make up something about Mercer losing his powers.
This is not to say they’re any less fun than they were before hand though, far from it. Whilst some powers seem like they’re only in there for the token time when you need them (claws, whipfist) the combination of tentacles + anything else is awesome fun when you’re bashing lots of enemies around. The hammerfist also seems to be the weapon of choice for pretty much any occasion as you can simply leap into the air and then slam back down again and avoid pretty much any damage whilst devastating everything around you.
However there are some real brain farts of missions where you’re basically stripped of your powers and forced to make do with whatever the game gives you. The screenshot above is an example of one missions where you have to play nice and use regular weapons to take down all your foes. It’s a change of pace, done in order to break up the monotony of your unbridled chaos, but it is rather annoying to have all those awesome powers stripped away from you. Especially when you then have to do an escort mission, the worst possible kind of mission any game can have.
I would probably have forgotten about missions like these if I hadn’t had to play through them multiple times due to the game crashing at random places. Now I’m pretty sure it isn’t a problem with my PC as I’ve played countless hours of other games recently but I had Prototype crash out on me at least 6 times during my time with it. The trigger was random as it crashed after things like someone messaging me on steam or alt-tabbing but it would never consistently crash on those things. Most of the time it was simply during the middle of the mission which would then me back to before the mission started when I got back into the game. I lay the blame at this instability solely at the fact that it was a console first game with the porting process being less than stellar.
Whilst I might lament that the sections where you get your powers taken away from you are annoying the vehicle sections are actually quite fun, mostly because of how ridiculously power your vehicle seems to be in comparison to every other vehicle in the game. There are a few unfortunate escort missions among the vehicle sections but for the most part they’re simple “destroy all the things” type encounters, much in alignment with the rest of the game. The vehicles are also thankfully trouble free much unlike some of the other sections of the game.
The story of Prototype 2 is also above what I’ve come to expect of AAA titles these days although there’s this weird anti-intellectual/anti-military dichotomy going on in it that I don’t quite understand. Throughout the game it seems that pretty much every commander or scientist you meet is salivating at the chance to use their fellow man as test subjects for whatever horrible experiment they can think of. In the beginning I thought it was just a typical American anti-intellectual plot but Prototype 2 lumps all military in the same bucket not too long after.
Ultimately the story isn’t bad but it’s nothing particularly stellar either. Mercer’s motivations seem to have changed dramatically from the end of Prototype 1 and Heller’s character, who’s your typical badass for almost the entire game, starts to come apart towards the end. I felt it started out strongly but as the game progressed on and the same story repeated over and over just with different names it started to lose its lustre and the eventual conclusion did a good enough job to wrap it up that I didn’t feel cheated by the whole experience.
Prototype 2 seems to take the angle of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” as the game is essentially Prototype 1 with a few things polished up and a reworked plot that allows the game to start from square 1 again. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that idea, that’s how the Call of Duty franchise has stayed so profitable, but there really is barely anything new about this instalment in the Prototype series. With the closure of Radical Entertainment as well this might very well be the last time Prototype will grace our presence and it’s unfortunate that the opted for what amounts to a giant DLC pack rather than a new game that takes a fresh look at the Prototype idea. It’s still a fun game to play and I’m sure achievement junkies will love tracking down all the collectibles hidden around the place but it really feels like a game made for those who enjoyed the first or those who missed it initially.
Prototype 2 is available on PS3, Xbox360 and PC right now for $78, $78 and $49.99 respectively. Game was played entirely on PC on the Hard difficulty setting with around 10 hours of total play time and 58% of the achievements unlocked.