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Prototype 2

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Radical Entertainment
Release Date: April 24, 2012


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Xbox 360 Review - 'Prototype 2'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on May 1, 2012 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

In the original Prototype, you played as Alex Mercer, but the tables are turned in the sequel as you control Sergeant James Heller. Your sole mission: finish off the protagonist of the first title by becoming a a mutated monster.

Prototype 2 starts off about a year after the previous game. Alex Mercer, the protagonist of Prototype, had saved the virus-infected New York City, and everything was returning to normal. However, a second and more dangerous viral outbreak returned New York to a state of panic. The evil Blackwatch military organization placed New York under quarantine, dividing up the city into three zones: Red (heavily infected), Yellow (partially infected) and Green (safe.) The people live in fear of the infected and Blackwatch, and things are generally bad.

In Prototype 2, players take control of Sgt. James Heller, whose wife and daughter lived in New York. He returns from an overseas tour of duty to discover that they appear to have been killed by Alex Mercer. Heller attacks Mercer, who refuses to kill Heller, choosing instead to infect him with the same virus that gave Mercer his powers. Mercer follows this by claiming that Blackwatch was responsible for the death of Heller's family. Newly empowered and extremely angry, Heller sets off to find the truth about who killed his family, vowing to kill anyone who may have been involved.

Sadly, the story in Prototype 2 is almost incoherent. The characters seem to have no distinct motivations or ideas. Heller veers between delighting in violence and being disgusted by the violence of others. The villains vacillate between downtrodden soldiers trying to do the right thing and cackling mad scientists who experiment on orphans. At no point could I get a clear grasp on why anything was happening. Plot points are introduced and dropped at a moment's notice, and characters are considered important because the plot says so.

To the game's credit, it is often funny. It's clear that some of the developers didn't take anything seriously and Heller is often a parody of himself. The game is better when it tries to be funny. Heller is not a sympathetic character, but he's more enjoyable when he's comical than when the game tries to humanize him. He sometimes comes off as a well-meaning person who's in a bad situation, and other times, he threatens to do obscene things to people's skulls. Things change at a moment's notice, and it's jarring and strange. There is one cut scene where Heller brutally murders two soldiers but refuses to kill a third because he heard him talking on the cell phone to his daughter.

For the most part, the combat system in Prototype 2 is much improved over the original. Gone are the stun-locking enemies and awkward controls from Prototype. Everything in the game can now be done with a simple set of button presses. You can have two powers equipped at a time, and those powers also involve a single button press. If you have the Blade power equipped, pressing the X or Y button initiates an attack, and holding it causes you to do a spin. There are no complex moves or abilities, and several powers were removed, but this also means the combat system feels less awkward. Instead of struggling against enemies who are cheap and unsatisfying to fight, combat has been boiled down to a simple system. Almost every attack has a counter, and to dodge, you simply press the A button at the right time. Doing so causes Heller to do a slow-motion hop over their heads, avoiding the damage and allowing you to counterattack. Others must be blocked, and once you earn the Shield power, you can block by pressing the right bumper.  

Prototype 2 has almost completely done away with the point-spend leveling system from the previous game. You power up in two ways: Evolution and Mutations. With Evolution, the simpler of the two, you gain experience points for defeating enemies and completing missions. Earn enough points, and Heller levels up. Each level lets you pick from a group of special passive traits, ranging from Health to Shapeshifting. Each grants a special bonus related to that trait, with up to four available levels for every trait (Finishers only has two). Shapeshifting can lower the rate at which enemies detect you, slow down the speed at which Strike Teams arrive, or make it generally easy to change forms. Regeneration lets you regenerate health outside of combat, and the ultimate upgrade allows you to regenerate while fighting. You need a lot of EP to earn these upgrades, so even if you do every side-quest and find every source of EP, you'll still need multiple playthroughs to reach the maximum level.

The other kind of upgrade is Mutation, which is a passive perk that you earn by completing a side-quest. Some of these are simple collection missions, such as finding hidden boxes or enemies scattered around the game's three islands. Others involve finishing the game's side-missions, earned by devouring certain soldiers and then using their information to hack their BlackNet terminals. A Mutation is a bit more powerful than the ones you gain from leveling up, and each Mutation can be categorized. Defensive Mutations boost your defensive abilities, so you can improve your overall health, increase the time you have to block, or take less damage from attacks. Locomotion Mutations increase how fast you can move, and Power Specialization grants extra damage to your weapons. Mutations are easier to earn than Evolution levels, and each grants substantial bonuses. The only limitation is that certain mutations are locked based on how far in the game you've progressed. You can only unlock the full set once you've reached the Red Zone.

In Prototype 2, you have five different kinds of special attacks: Blade, Claws, Hammerfist, Tendrils and Whipfist. Blade is slow but more powerful and can use an area-of-effect spinning blade attack. Claws are faster and allow you to do a pounce attack. Hammerfist creates huge area-of-effect attacks and is strong against armored foes. Tendrils can lock down enemies and be used to crush enemies with nearby environmental objects. Whipfist has the greatest range. You can equip two special attacks at once, and the two can be switched at any time. In addition to that, you have two special moves. One shoots deadly tendrils out of your body in every direction, and the other lets you summon Brawler enemies to fight for you. These are great for clearing out huge numbers of enemies or winning fights, but they can only be charged by consuming defeated enemies. Beyond that, you have superhuman strength, agility and the ability to transform your hands into powerful shields.

Heller retains Mercer's ability to shape-shift, but it has become significantly less important. There's pretty much no reason to bother with stealth aside from one or two areas where you get a bonus for not being seen. Enemies are too weak, and there are few benefits to being incognito. There's no strong encouragement to blend in; in fact, several of the special moves that made it easier to do so have been removed. Instead, you have a catch-all "Bio Bomb," which lets you sneakily plant a bioorganic explosive inside enemies. Once it goes off, everyone nearby is distracted, making it easier to chow down on them. Prototype's stealth was silly, so this is no great loss, but it would've been neat to see the system refined since the shape-shifting is such a big part of the franchise.

One of my bigger complaints is that Prototype 2 went for simplicity to perhaps an excessive degree. While your powers work well and are easy to use, there isn't a lot to them. You hit enemies with your basic attack, and you have a special charged attack, and that is about it. There's very little room for developing strategies and techniques, and there's very little choice in how to grow or develop. The simplistic combat system isn't akin to Arkham City, where every move had a purpose. The focus is on dodging and blocking, and everything else is secondary. You can pick between Blades or Claws based on personal preference, but there's no reason to switch up abilities at any point. Most players probably default to Claws/Tendrils because it's all you have before you get other powers, and nothing else offers a marked improvement.

This simplicity is not helped by the fact that Heller becomes ridiculously powerful rather quickly. It takes a short period of time for Heller to go from "slightly stronger and faster than a human" to a god-like being who can ignore bullet fire and destroy tanks. In some ways, it's really satisfying. Prototype 2 does a much better job than Prototype of making you feel like an unstoppable super-powered being. Once you get strong enough, several enemies are incapable of hurting you. You can stand in the middle of a swarm of gunfire like Superman while going head-to-head with a genetically engineered super soldier. The problem is that the game starts running out of tricks long before Heller does. The feeling of going toe-to-toe with a pack of monsters and winning is great the first time. It loses something as Heller gets more powerful, but you won't worry about being outnumbered once you get the Pack Leader ability. When upgraded, this allowed me to summon more Brawlers than the enemy had, and each was substantially more powerful than my enemies. Prototype 2 makes you feel powerful; it just would have been nice if it felt like you needed that power.

Prototype 2 manages to be fun, and it's a credit to the developers who redesigned the system. The original game grew tiresome far before you reached the credits, but the same can't be said of the sequel. However, there just isn't much room to grow or advance once you've gone through once. It's possible to do a system that has both simplicity and depth, and unfortunately, Prototype 2 focuses mostly on simplicity. This makes it a solid single-playthrough game but hurts its replay value. The combat system may last for a single game, but there's no reason to go back to it, and there's no added challenge, even on higher difficulty levels.

This simplicity might not be a problem if there were more to do in Prototype 2, but it really doesn't. The Blacknet side-quests offer the most extra value, but most are short and simple, boiling down to "go here" and then "kill this." They have miniplots to help make them feel more substantial, but they're in dire need of some variety. The other quests involve busywork, such as collecting Black Boxes. They're marked on your map, so it's a short trip.

Part of the reason for this lack of content seems to be the Radnet feature, which is where a lot of the optional challenges lie. This includes races or wacky minigames, the sort of stuff that you saw a lot of in Prototype. However, RadNet is locked behind two walls. The first is getting the "RadNet Edition" of the game. The second, and more egregious, is that all of Radnet's challenges are time-locked. New ones will be gradually released every day until Jun. 7. A number of special powers and hidden skins are hidden via RadNet. Unfortunately, this is a strong encouragement to wait on buying the game even if you're interested, as you can probably get it cheaper by buying more content in a month or two.

Prototype 2 isn't much of a visual improvement over Prototype. The graphics are not terrible, but neither are they very impressive. The city is bland and empty, feeling extremely lifeless even at the best of times. It isn't until the Red Zone that I even felt like I could distinguish parts of the areas, and only there because it is a destroyed wreck. There's very little variety in characters or models, and most of the visual effects are pretty lackluster. To the game's credit, the voice acting does a lot to lend atmosphere to the game. There's a lot of amusing background chatter, and Heller's frequent curse-filled tirades do a good job of mimicking how the player might be feeling at the time.

Prototype 2 is undeniably an improvement in many ways over the original game. It controls smoother, has plenty of simple quality-of-life improvements, and it lacks many of the frustrating features that plagued the original. Unfortunately, it solves problems by erring on the side of simplicity. This creates a more playable game that has less replay value and less content. The content that exists is solid and well made, if a bit repetitive, and you'll probably never get bored before the game is done. If you enjoyed the original Prototype, you'll certainly enjoy the sequel. However, the short length and lack of content, not to mention the fact that RadNet content is time-locked, mean that it's a much better choice to pick up a few months down the line instead of right now, when it is cheaper and has more to do.

Score: 7.7/10

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