Available on Xbox 360, PS3 (version tested)
Just like the movie industry and the music industry, the games industry has its fads. Prototype 2 is an example of one that has come in and out of fashion: the open-world superhero game. Open world games are themselves a little out of favour. After a period in 2007 to 2009 when they appeared to be taking over every genre, there were only a handful of notable efforts last year. Superhero spins are even more so, with 2010’s Crackdown 2 a serious disappointment, and the big comic-book franchises ditching open worlds for more straightforward narrative-led affairs (though you could argue that Batman: Arkham City was an open-world game, and the next Spider-Man looks set to return to the style).
Too late the sequel?
Perhaps that’s why Prototype 2 feels a little like it’s come along too late. Nor does it help that, like the original Prototype, it’s doomed to unflattering comparisons with Sucker Punch’s excellent inFamous and inFamous 2. The latter is arguably the best of breed, with fantastic comic-book visuals, a great range of superpowers, a convincing and interesting game world, a cool hero, great villains and exciting and varied missions. In many of these areas, Prototype falls short of the mark.
It’s also true that while Radical Entertainment and Activision promised us a more likable and sympathetic hero and a more engaging plot, the reality is a little different. Sure, we have a hero with a likeable and sympathetic background, but in-game James Heller is little more than your traditional vengeance-driven, violence-loving brute, while the plot comes straight from the games cliché factory. As a quick précis, Heller is a soldier who’s on tour when a second epidemic of Prototype’s Mercer Virus hits New York. Sadly, this isn’t the kind of virus where everybody sneezes, but the kind where victims turn into ravening mutant horrors and attack their neighbours. When Heller’s wife and child are killed, Prototype’s hero Alex Mercer gets the blame, and Heller enters New York on a mission for revenge.
Out on the Town
However, things aren’t quite so simple. What he finds is a broken city occupied by Blackwatch, an evil private security force, and where a sinister company, Gentek, is openly experimenting on the citizens. In a fight with Mercer, Heller becomes infected with the virus, but instead of dying he begins to develop a new version of Mercer’s superpowers. Escaping a secret Gentek lab, he takes to the streets in a bid to stop the virus and put an end to Blackwatch’s nefarious plans.
Heller starts off with a fairly basic range of powers. He can run at high speeds and even up the sides of buildings. He can jump higher and further than your average bloke. He can glide limited distances, grab and toss heavy objects and attack enemies with savage claws. Most usefully, he can grab and ‘devour’ his foes, recharging his health and stealing their memories and their form.
That’s a fair range of options, but Prototype 2 is a very combat-focused game. Much of the game is dominated by a simple cycle where you travel to a Blackwatch or Gentek base, devour and impersonate a guard to gain access, complete specific objectives, devour and impersonate some other key target to gain access to the next bit, and then go through some mass-scale fracas or mutant-battering boss battle. In fact, to say that it’s combat-focused is putting it mildly. There’s some variety in the side-missions, where you’ll find yourself collecting Blackwatch info, attacking Blackwatch operatives or, in the most interesting series, disrupting Blackwatch and Gentek research programs, but Prototype II is primarily a game about finding groups of enemies and tearing them to bloody shreds.