Prototype 2 has mutated a bit since the first game. Gone is the sullen, reactive protagonist, the bland depiction of New York, and the cunning opponents. Instead, Heller, the newest Evolved to stalk the streets of New York, is a man of action, New York Zero is alive and vivid, and Blackwatch and Gentek have devolved into a state of Saturday morning cartoon villainy. With all these changes, though, Prototype 2 stays true to its roots, putting you in the role of the antiheroic lurking monster terrorizing New York, and it's still an absolute blast.
Prototype 2 introduces James Heller, a soldier whose family was wiped out by the infected. Everyone knows that Alex Mercer was responsible for the plague, and Heller signed up for suicide missions into the ravaged heart of Manhattan to try to kill him or die trying. When his patrol is wiped out and Heller is abandoned in the heart of the Manhattan Red Zone, a chance encounter with Mercer leaves him as a vessel for the Blacklight virus, and sends him on his vengeful rampage against Blackwatch, Gentek, and Mercer's army of the Evolved.
The plot is weak, and never really has a compelling turn, but the plot is, for better or worse, only there to justify the action, and in Prototype 2, the action never really lets up. Starting off with the power to lift cars, sprint and leap with inhuman prowess, devour humans to gain their forms and knowledge, and somewhat inexplicably glide, Heller's array of mutations builds up over the course of play, through side-quests and collections, as well as by eating the infected creatures you're sent up against to steal their powers.
In this, Prototype 2 accomplishes a pretty cool Mega Man vibe that no other open world game's quite managed. Kill a monster with razor-sharp claws and eat it, and you get those claws. See an Evolved poke a tentacle bomb into someone's head, devour him, and it's yours. Each boss demonstrates how the powers work before you pick them up, leading to the anticipation of eating them and taking their strength for your own.
The tendril power is especially notable, able to send out infected elastic tentacles to grab objects in the environment and drag them back to crush the target, or else use those same tentacles and handy surfaces to draw and quarter targets, not to mention holding quick enemies or vehicles in place. It's magnificently versatile and spectacularly grotesque. It's not at all uncommon to finish a fight with the street strung with gory tendrils and torn-off body parts like Christmas garlands, and it highlights the heights of carnage that Prototype 2 is all about.
And what streets they are! While Prototype's Manhattan felt bland, each of the three zones in Prototype 2 feels alive, from the slums and refugee camps of the Yellow Zone, to the relative civilization of the Green Zone, to the devastated buildings and infected-teeming streets of the Red Zone. While Prototype 2's main plot might fall short, its environment tells the story of a struggle between the organic and inorganic, and manages to far outdo its predecessor.
You'll explore them as you search for infected lairs, audio tapes on black boxes, and Blackwatch field operations, which you can wipe out for passive boosts to your powers. Along the way, you'll learn that rather than their canny, cunning portrayal from Prototype, your enemies have degenerated into being so pointlessly evil it's absurd. Blackwatch and Gentek murder autistic children for not speaking, capture fat people for testing then gas them when they won't fit in cages, and run field tests for captured monsters by letting them loose on refugee camps. It's a bit of a disappointing change, but once you get past your expectations from the first game, the combination of ridiculously evil enemies and tremendously brutal protagonist end up working out.
If there's anything to complain about, it's that the game ends suddenly and limply, and leaves a fair amount of the coolest things in the story mode. While the streets of NYZ have no limit to the number of baseline infected and Blackwatch soldiers, it seems like the evolved, the Orion super-soldiers, the gargantuan mutants and the hydras have all checked out early. It puts a damper on the ability to explore the city when some of the coolest opponents aren't present.
Overall, though, Prototype 2 is a compelling package. It doesn't have any room for subtlety or depth of character, but it comes across as the video game equivalent of a dumb summer blockbuster, in a very fun way. Whether you're sprinting up the side of the Empire State Building to toss a hobo like a football over the horizon, webbing enemies in your tendrils and slicing off their limbs or upper-cutting a helicopter so hard it explodes, Prototype 2 delivers on constant, high-octane action.