Let me just get this out in the open right now: Prototype 2 is the most fun I’ve had gaming in a very long time. Despite its many niggling flaws, I thoroughly enjoyed every single second I was behind the wheel of recently widowed Sergeant James Heller. You see, during another outbreak of the “Mercer Virus” his wife and daughter failed to get out of New York City fast enough and were killed by the newly infected mutants. Not super mutants, mind you, just shuffling low damage zombie mutants. In his grief, he goes after Prototype 1’s protagonist, Alex Mercer; however, when he finally confronts Mercer, all he gets for his trouble is his own heaping dose of the Mercer Virus. So heaping, in fact, that Heller becomes an unstoppable fire storm of hot death that rains destruction down on anything he wants - be it animal, vegetable, or mineral. That seems like a fair deal to me. He is, in effect, turned into a superhero - a dark 90’s era Marvel-style superhero - and if you told me that the Prototype franchise is based on a series of comic books from the 90’s, I’d simply nod my head in smug satisfaction.
So yeah, even though I don’t think anyone would consider Prototype 2 a “superhero” game in the same vein as Batman’s “Arkham” games, or Spiderman’s various digital incarnations, Prototype 2 really is, deep down in its heart, a superhero game nonetheless. And here’s the thing - it out superheroes every other superhero game I’ve ever played in the past. Nothing can stand before James Heller. He has no weaknesses, he can assume any human form (as long as he previously ate them to learn their secrets), he can leap tall building, or failing that, he can run up their sides, ignore bullets, reflect rockets back at their previous owners, glide for long distances, throw cars hundreds of feet, destroy armored vehicles by throwing people into them, or by simply ripping them to shreds as easily as you or I open a can of beer. In fact, I’m fairly sure that James Heller could kick Batman’s cosplaying ass, and rip Spider-Geek in half with a wedgie of such force it would have to be measured in kilotons of TNT. What about Superman, you ask? Heller would simply eat him to learn his secrets. Of the Avengers, the only one who might stand a chance would be the Hulk, but that fight would likely boil down to a tank-throwing contest that would carry on indecisively until the heat-death of the universe.
Enough about inciting Nerd-World War 3, all that power would be useless if it came in a shoddy package. Luckily, Prototype 2 suffers from no such fate. Iit has its flaws to be sure, like a completely rote story, with ugly grey-scale + red cut scenes that may only surprise you if you didn’t play the first game, a painful dearth of side quests for an open-world game, missions that only offer two or three variations (chase/protect someone, hunt and eat someone, go somewhere and destroy the **** out of everything, and most of the time it’s a combo of all three), woefully inadequate armored vehicles, a sometimes wonky camera, and an initially embarrassing draw distance.
I say “initially embarrassing” because you do get something most open world games don’t offer to make up for it. What you do get is a vertical “draw distance.” That means if you see something on street level from the top of a building, it’s really there and not some placeholder that will change when you get close enough. When hunting, that means you can spot your target from very high up and then pounce without having to worry about sudden re-draws as you get closer to ground level. The same is more or less true for all the game’s flaws. There may not be a lot of side quests, but interestingly, Radical Entertainment has turned half of them into passive multiplayer where you compete against those on your friends list for the top score. What’s more is that they will continue to release new Radnet challenges as time goes on. The only downside is that you need a new copy of the game to access these Radnet challenges. Furthermore, the too-weak armored vehicles are balanced out by the fact that Heller himself is stronger than any armored vehicle from any game ever made, the wonky camera is mediated by the fact that you can simply turtle-up and negate all damage until you can get the camera unstuck from the corner you’re in, and finally, the weak story and cut scenes (along with the rest of the game, for that matter) do at least offer up a fair amount of R-rated one-liners that range from hilarious to smile-then-groan-worthy.
Given the relatively modest reviews of the two games in the franchise, I’m just as surprised as you probably are that I liked the game so much (the rest of you probably want some of what I’m smoking). Generally, such open-world games offer a slew of technical issues to go along with the rest of their failures, but Prototype 2 smashes this assumption in its stupid face, then skull-***** it into submission. Prototype 2 offers hardly anything in the way of technical flaws. The frame rate never once flinched even when multiple explosions (which are delightfully rendered) were occurring at the exact same time Heller is destroying more enemies at once than have ever been simultaneously destroyed by me in a videogame. To go along with the rock-solid frame-rate, there was zero screen tearing as well. These feats are more impressive because there’s been no obvious graphical corner-cutting to make it possible. The graphics may not be able to compete with Rockstar-produced open-world titles, but they’re far better for their time than, for example, the similar middle-of-the-road open-world sequel, Mercenaries 2, was for its time. The truth is that Prototype 2 probably looks better than it should.
There are, however, a few issues I had with Prototype 2 that don’t have any redeeming counter-features. The first one is the fact that you can’t freely travel between the three islands that make up Prototype 2’s New York City. Oh, you can travel between them to be sure, but only via so-called air bridges that require you to assume a military identity and somehow make it to the roof of the building the helipad is on without raising anyone’s suspicion. Oh, and the only way up (unless you’re lucky enough to happen upon the exterior stairway) is to either jump several stories from street level, glide in on your mutant wings, or fall from the sky and land with such force that you leave a crater. That we’re forced to do this stuff without raising an alert is pretty ludicrous if you ask me, because if you do trigger an alarm by being too obviously super-powered to be anyone else but James Heller - on whom the military presence in New York has standing shoot-to-kill orders - you won’t be able to use the air bridge until you escape the alert. This can be reasonably difficult for the first half of the game before Heller is the god of destruction he becomes later on because Strike Teams and their attack helicopters are dispatched at the first hint of any James Heller-ness. At least you have ample ways to dispose of them and usually killing every enemy on the screen will allow you to morph into a new identity and cancel the alert. However, if you don’t have a military form on standby, you’ll need to consume one first - which, unless you use stealth, will trigger another alert. What I’m trying to say is that trying to use an air bridge can trigger a death spiral of alerts that will eventually make you question if you even really want to travel to another island. It would have been so much better if you could simply fly there once you unlock the ability to ‘jack helicopters.
The other issue is lock-on targeting. It’s as-per-open-world-third-person-shooter usual. In other words, it’s crap. Heller has a tendency to want to exclusively target the furthest enemy first and then only let you cycle to every enemy but the one you want. The game also preferentially targets helicopters which is useful until you need to target something other than a helicopter. Often your only option is to take out all the helicopters first and then hope you can manage to select your intended target before more spawn in right on top of you. Luckily, like I said before, you have a million different ways to dispose of them, and since the game preferentially targets helicopters, it’s easy to do so.
Finally, Prototype 2 is a bit on the short side for an open-world game. I did everything save for getting gold on a few Radnet challenges and spent a lot of time simply zoning out while I wrecked the city (according to my Radnet challenge leader board, I’ve spilled 48,248.11 gallons of blood and caused over 20 billion dollars in damage), and completed the story on the hard difficulty setting in only around 35 hours, with the actual story making up around half that, I’d estimate. At least it was 35 of the most action-packed hours I’ve ever experienced, but I don’t know anyone who likes open-world games because of how short they are. Prototype 2 really would have benefited from more side quests and collectibles (I’m not sure there are even 100 of them). Also, the map gives you the locations of all the collectibles so you don’t even need to spend time hunting. You do, however, get sweet mutation upgrades when you collect all of a specific type (Black boxes, lairs, and field ops - those last two require combat. You don’t “collect” them as much as you “destroy” them.). Finishing a set of Radnet challenges also nets you mutation upgrades; however, three of the five sets won’t be released until later this month and next month, long after early adopters have finished the game and moved onto something else. Not a good idea if you ask me. They should all be available from the start.
As I said earlier, however, even with the flaws, the rest of the game is a pure unadulterated joy to play. The controls are silky smooth (except for the rare occasion where you’re racing) with all of Heller’s moves never more than a few button presses away. When you’re traversing the city at your own pace, Heller arguably moves faster and smoother than Arkham City’s Batman, Spiderman 2’s webslinger, and blows Ezio Auditore’s parkour skills out of the water. If you’re looking for a game that gives you god-like powers and doesn’t make you think too much or ponder the moral quandaries of the game-world and the player you’re in control of, then Prototype 2 is as good as you’re going to get. Never before have I played a game that was easier to give an A to than this one.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Prototype 2’s James Heller out superheroes every other superhero that’s ever appeared in a videogame. He’s faster and stronger than Batman, more focused than the Hulk, has a larger arsenal than Spiderman, and is funnier than Superman. In other words: Prototype 2 is the ultimate power fantasy. In what other videogame do you get to eat bosses after you defeat them?
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