Freedom is what games are all about: freedom to make the most mundane of choices, or to soar above city skyscrapers in a single bound. Prototype, developed by Radical Entertainment in 2009, offered the latter in a what could easily be considered a spiritual sequel to the company’s previous smash hit, Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. Prototype 2 continues the precedent of power, making the player feel like a deity in the damage he or she delivers, but in the process of cranking the volume, much of its substance is also silenced.
The problem with Prototype 2 stems from the fact that its story and characters do little to make you care. James Heller takes over as the role of primary protagonist this time around, and he’s essentially a thug out for blood. After his family fall prey to the Blacklight outbreak in New York City in the previous game, the vengeance-obsessed soldier goes after the man responsible for unleashing the virus: Alex Mercer, the player-controlled character in the original. Soon enough, it becomes clear to Heller that conspiring governmental forces are the ones to blame, and over the next 10-15 hours it takes to complete Prototype 2, Heller, infected with the Blacklight virus and gifted with all of of its supplementary superhuman abilities, tears through a torn Manhattan, combats a colonel, and battles the Blackwatch forces in charge of securing the boroughs of NYC. That’s all well and good, but Heller’s hardly an empathetic figure, the character development here non-existent, and so the whole retold romance of retribution wears thin in unoriginality and bland writing.
And if there’s one thing gaming has revealed in recent years, amid what some have speculated to be the industry’s second golden age – in which cinematic storytelling has become more prominent than ever before – it’s that action is driven by purpose; you craft a story well enough, and its noise becomes music. So, Prototype 2 fails in the respect of giving every kill meaning compared to, for instance, the recently released Darkness II’s poetic dissection of violence, which was powered by an engrossing and convincing love story. Here, it’s just mindless blood and guts. Luckily, the gutting is so great that it’s enough to offset any serious concerns that you’re not going to get your dollar’s worth.
Whether you’re leaping across ledges or mashing the Manhattan mob to a bloody pulp, Prototype 2 pulls off the requisite for any good open-world game: that feeling of frivolous freedom and power. As in spiritual predecessors Spider-Man 2 or Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, you’ll spend hours just roaming the city, marveling at the mayhem Heller unleashes, as his speed and strength launch him from street to sky. The movement is fluid, and the transition from wing-waving to warfare equally so. The Blacklight virus allows James to assume a number of devastating weapons, with a myriad of Medusa-like tendrils as the notable addition to the standard slew of whip and hammer, among others.
Aside from awesome hand-to-hand action, you can also use the environment to dispatch foes like fodder. You can grab civilians and opposing forces alike, climb up a seven-story building, and hurtle them to their doom, or you can assume their identity and masquerade around town as a fairly over-the-radar impostor. Capturing the unrestricted rage of the renegade is run-of-the-mill by now for Radical, but herein lies the issue: if you’ve played through Prototype, you may find yourself wanting more from a game that doesn’t add much to the original experience or even Ultimate Destruction. The game even maintains the same animation of Hulk bounding into the air.
So while the destruction dealt here is delightful, it’s also rough around the edges. Yes, this is an open-world game and the genre is often given a bit of a break in the presentation department, considering the vastness of the realm it replicates, but in the now late stages of this current gaming generation cycle, polish is particularly prudent. The NPC’s are beyond laughable, their behavioural animations and artificial intelligence astoundingly farcical. That Heller can run around in disguise as a white-collar worker, speeding up skyscrapers, and go unrecognized is just one of a handful of moments that immediately take you out of a world that, for all its inherent folly, relishes in the realism of the ridiculous. The graphics are also incredibly B-burdened, dated textures and effects drawing the occasional grimace. Frequent clipping and other noticeable graphical glitches are also par, or maybe bogey, for the open-world course. It’s not an unacceptably ugly game, make no mistake, but the Big Apple’s looked better.
Prototype 2’s campaign is lengthy enough, but its monotony will often have you wishing it was shorter. Free-roaming aside, the main missions consist of tedious tasks involving impersonation and infiltration. Like the original, much of your time is spent in a facility in the skin of a soldier or scientist and, again, these missions bear the blemishes of the oblivious enemy AI. Other times, you’ll be tracking down someone to, what else, take them out, but none of these doses of questing are very liberating when you’ve already been desensitized to hours of blood-bathing.
Overall, the verdict on this vilified romp of vindication is a simple sum-up: if you had a blast playing Protoype back in 2009, you’ll find more of the same here; if you didn’t… well… you’ll find more of the same here. In more ways than appreciated, this is a carbon copy, and though it fails to appropriately improve on its predecessor in nearly every department, it also provides one of the best outlets of frustration currently on the market (made more so by the fact that this is one of the easiest games I’ve played in a good while). However, the freedom of fight and flight is so well wrapped that even the nay-est of nay-sayers will find that there’s some fun to be had. If mindless monotony, albeit brimming with some awesome action, sounds like your cup of tea, Prototype 2 is marginally merited.
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