Are you ready for the first must-own game of 2012? Prototype 2 has arrived and Radical Entertainment has somehow managed to surpass their original open-world masterpiece in every way possible. Fans of the original are in for a real treat as this next installment picks up the existing story with an all-new anti-hero and the return of Alex Mercer whose allegiance remains a mystery throughout much of the game’s 15+ hour story.
If you never played or managed to finish the first game, never fear; there is a nice story recap option in the main menu that will get you all caught up before this new adventure kicks off. In Prototype 2 you will be playing Sgt. James Heller; a veteran soldier whose life was destroyed by Mercer’s release of the Blacklight virus in the original game. With his wife and daughter casualties of the outbreak, Heller now serves in the military effort to keep the virus from spilling over beyond NYZ. Repeatedly volunteering for the most dangerous, near suicidal missions into the heart of the city’s Red Zone, Heller is hoping to die and take as many Infected with him in the process. In Heller’s last mission and the opening movie, we see his entire unit massacred by a swarm of Infected, leaving him the sole survivor and putting him face-to-face with Alex Mercer – the man responsible for destroying his family, his city…his life. Welcome to a new NYZ and your tutorial.
Prototype 2 opens with a fairly awesome and scripted sequence of events used to teach you the fundamentals of movement. Once Alex infects you with the virus you are captured by Gentek and put into a testing lab where you get to hone your combat skills in a short but effective arena-style battle that ends with your escape and a second meeting with Mercer who may not be as bad as you thought.
Veterans of the first game will slip right into the comfortable controls which are intuitive and high responsive considering the flamboyant visual style of the attacks and the sheer amount of violence and stylized blood and gore being shown on the screen. I thought it would be weird having X function as both punch and kick depending on if you tapped or held it, but it worked rather well and freed up the other buttons for your mutant abilities. Over the course of the game Heller will acquire numerous powers, any two of which can be chosen from the radial menu and assigned to X or Y. The RT can pretty much be squeezed for the entire game as this is what allows you to run at cheetah-like speeds, even up the sides of buildings, then leap into the air and glide. Your leaps and glide distance are all upgradable and by the end of the game you can easily cover multiple city blocks without ever touching the ground.
In fact, all of your powers are upgradable, either by finding specially marked infected and consuming their DNA or by completing bonus objectives like finding collectibles hidden around the city or completing an integrated set of BlackNet side quests. Unlike the first game that just dumped a whole bunch of random content and item hunts in your lap, everything in Prototype 2 serves the story and benefits your character.
New York City is divided into three zones, Green, Yellow, and Red, and each is very unique, both in visual style and the resulting effects of the viral outbreak. The Green zone is still fairly civilized with Blackwatch patrols watching over civilians. You won’t see too many infected here. Things start to ramp up when you hit the Yellow zone and once you reach the Red zone it is a complete wasteland with toppled and burning buildings and hordes of infected roaming the streets and Blackwatch firmly entrenched behind high walls and automated gun turrets.
Each zone is divided into multiple districts and in each of these there are several things that need done. In addition to the main story missions there are also BlackNet missions. These multi-phase missions are triggered by hacking into a mobile data terminal to ID a special target, then you go into a hunting mode by climbing to the top of the tallest nearby building and sending out a pulse. The signal will bounce back as a circular dome and your target will be at the center of that circle. Find and consume the target to trigger the next phase and repeat as necessary with any additional targets. Most BlackNet missions consist of four phases but some are longer and all reward you with special mutant perks.
As you explore the city in either free roam or while on an active mission you will likely come across a few other areas of interest. The NYZ is home to 45 Black Box recorders, 28 Field Ops, and 9 underground Lairs. While there are the obvious achievements for finding all of these, more importantly, when you find all of these items in any given district you will earn powerful mutations that will greatly enhance Heller’s fighting and/or movement abilities. Black Boxes will trigger when you get within 165 meters and a rangefinder will appear letting you play the colder-warmer game until you find it. A pulsing red light makes these easier to find at night. All collectible locations are also hinted at with pulsing blips on the map if you go into Collectible view, so it is not an impossible task. I found about 70% of all the items during normal gameplay then picked up the rest flying around in a “borrowed” chopper after the credits rolled.
I have very few complaints with the game and most of those are just commonsense things. For starters, Heller is the second most-wanted man next to Mercer so you should NEVER be able to escape an Alert or even show your face as Heller. I can infiltrate a military base as consumed soldier #3, tear up the joint, and then run behind a dumpster and switch to public enemy #2 and walk down the street. I also question the whole suspicion meter. If you and your buddy are on guard duty and suddenly your partner leaps 80-feet into the air and flies away I think that suspicion meter would max out. Likewise, if I smash into the center of your military base or even come gliding in for a landing, doesn’t that warrant more than a momentary bar of yellow? And the viral detectors are a joke. It is virtually impossible to get detected in this game, so don’t even bother wasting your upgrade points in that category.
My other complaint is more gameplay related and has to do with the all-powerful Hammerfist. You can spam this attack over and over and get through pretty much any encounter, and that’s before you even level it up. By the end of the game pressing A to jump and holding X to ground pound with erupting spikes is nearly as powerful as your Devastator. Hammerfist also reduces all Field Op encounters to a single-attack success since targets are all clustered together. Just jump, lock-on, and pound the ground.
If you can tear yourself away from the Hammerfists you’ll find numerous other shape-shifting weapons that can be switched out on the fly like the improved Tendrils, the razor sharp Claws, the giant Blade Arm with tornado attack, and the flesh-ripping Whip Fists that can shred a chopper or yank an enemy right to you for easy consumption. Every fast attack has a more powerful and deadlier version if you hold down the button so expect unprecedented carnage as you wreak havoc on the hordes of infected abominations roaming the city streets in a visceral celebration of blood, guts and dismemberment. Prototype 2 is without a doubt the bloodiest and most violent game I’ve ever played.
There are so many cool abilities and attacks but there is no real incentive for mixing them up other than for pure visual gratification. I almost wish they had chosen to level up your abilities through their repeated use; say like every 1000 enemies you kill with your claws you level up, but instead, you must seek out specially marked mutants and consume them to level up your viral powers. Similarly, there are also specially marked soldiers that will boost your weapons and helicopter piloting skills when consumed.
New York has been given a complete visual overhaul for Prototype 2 and the results are far superior to the original game. Each of the three zones is very distinct in their level of carnage and decay. Draw distance is impressive from normal gameplay elevations, although expect some heavy fogging when you climb the tallest of buildings or start flying choppers at max altitude. The fog is really heavy in the Red Zone with all the extra-tall buildings and textures, but I just pretended it was smoke since everything was burning anyway.
The action and the combat are fluid, frantic, and fantastic with animation to match. The camera works 90% of the time; 98% if you remember to hold down LT to lock your target. The other 2% is usually indoors like military bases or lairs where the camera might get stuck on a wall, but I never died because of it. The framerate is consistently smooth even with 200 infected swarming the streets or one skyscraper size Goliath tearing down the city. Where Prototype 2 really shines is in the presentation. The cutscenes are these Sin City-style black and white movies with one bit of color present like the red in Heller’s collar or the orange flames of a fireplace. The memory flashes every time Heller consumes a special target are also very impressive and highly original. A lot of effort went into these and it shows.
Equally as impressive is the audio package that combines a fantastic score full of excitement and energy, able to seamlessly weave emotional narrative and insane combat, along with some excellent sound effects, mainly of the squishy and splattering variety. The voice acting is superior – some of the best in recent memory. Heller sounds genuinely pissed off throughout the entire game, but still manages to deliver a few witty quips at just the right moment. Some of his comments after reading target bios are priceless.
To finish the story and check off all the collectibles took me around 20 hours; that included doing all the BlackNet missions, which I highly recommend since they give you valuable mutations that make the main game a lot easier. This completion time also included some random experimentation with a few of the RadNet events. Scattered about the city are icons noting these mini-game challenges that can range from Collateral Damage, Rampage, and Recovery, to Incineration and Chopper events. You can trigger these skill events at any time within normal gameplay or access them through the RadNet menu option. While there is no live multiplayer, the game will track your scores with any of your friends who are also playing the game, giving you an added level of post-game competition and extended value.
To boost your value and extend your gameplay time, Activision is offering the RADNET Edition of the game (the version I am reviewing), which includes 55 free pieces of additional content, including in-game Events, Challenges, Avatar Items, Dynamic Themes and Behind-the-Scenes videos, as well as bonus Mutations for Prototype 2's main campaign, all to be released over the next seven weeks.
Open-world sandbox games are becoming more and more popular, which obviously leads to a bit of skepticism, but I guarantee you’ve never seen or played anything as mind-blowingly original or viscerally exciting as Prototype 2. With a brand new character, engaging story, enhanced powers, and integrated gameplay features like Hunting and Mutations, Prototype 2 is a visionary nightmare that’s a dream to play.