The original Prototype was a particular favourite of mine, and the first game I ever played on a HD screen back on my console toy. It served as a great opportunity for those of us lumbered solely with a 360 to enjoy some super-powered, open-world action akin to inFamous on the PS3.
When Prototype 2 staggered onto PC’s a few months after it’s console launch in July, I picked it up, installed it, and promptly ignored it until it surfaced in the Steam Winter Sale. I went to buy it before I was reminded that “You already own this game”.
Prototype 2 nudges the hard-to-love protagonist from the first game into the villain role, and in his stead gives us big, cuddly James Heller – a Blackwatch soldier desperate to give Mercer a smack in the mouth for the death of his family in New York. The game quickly evolves into sheer power fantasy – from the start you’re at the top of the food chain, and within a couple of hours you’re cruising around the city with ease, gutting helpless civilians and former comrades alike. You’re thrust deeper and deeper into a plot that’s difficult to follow through it’s poorly thought-out twists and turns.
It’s all very formulaic, but while playing it I’ve come to one particular problem: “Am I The Bad Guy Here?” Alex Mercer was a consummate bad-guy, having unleashed the virus in the first place. He didn’t have a single redeeming feature.
Heller is worse. Within the first 20 minutes Heller has abandoned all allegiance to his former military unit, and is dismembering people with glee, within a few seconds of meeting Alex Mercer you decide he’s more trustworthy than the organisation you’ve been with for your entire life. I haven’t quite finished Prototype 2 yet, but besides a tenuous relationship with a priest I’ve seen absolutely nothing good about Heller. Between the wholesale slaughter of NYC civilians and the use of people as a source of health, Heller doesn’t moralise at all, and the only hint of character we get is him carpet F-bombing in a wooden fashion. While many recent games that have cast us in the role of villain tried to give us an interesting character to assuage our guilt, Prototype 2 doesn’t seem to realise Heller is a bad guy, taking a black and white approach to a man who’s killed literally thousands of people.
The biggest shame is that the building blocks of a better game are clearly here. Heller is actually quite funny at times, although the humour is fleeting, a bigger appearance could have given the game another string to it’s sorely lacking bow. As it is I ended up mostly playing with the sound off and skipping cutscenes after a while because I’d stopped playing for the story, only diving in for an hour at a time to earn new powers. They can seem mundane, but are all handled so well; turning a man into some kind of fleshy mucus and stringing him around the room never gets old, and the variety of fighting styles that evolve as you get the new powers is fascinating; I’ve got happy memories of 10 minutes spent, after the unlocking of ‘immunity to small arms fire,’ giggling as a squad of marines bounced rounds off my chest. There’s plenty of collectibles and the world is, while not alive, definitely full of things to do.
The graphics are meh, with a dazzling array of muddy looking colours and very little to discern it cosmetically from any other open world game.
Despite its faults Prototype 2: Prototype Harder is big, loud fun, but little more. Maybe if it had stuck it’s tongue a little further into it’s cheek, maybe if Heller hadn’t been so utterly devoid of charisma or maybe if it had added something new rather than a redux of the original, we might have had a classic. I would have high hopes for Protoype 3: Prototype With A Vengeance, but Activision shuttered Radical Entertainment after disappointing sales, so we’ll just be left wondering what could have been.
I played this vanilla, although I did purchase the Radnet DLC to add friends, leaderboards and extra unlockables to the main game. It adds a few bits but isn’t essential.