Release date: 2012
Developer: Radical Entertainment
Spieldauer: 20 Stunden
An experiment worth testing
When the media reports on violent video games, it’s mostly games like Battlefield or Call of Duty. And they obviously contain violence, since they thematize wars and armed conflicts, both real and fictional. But in comparison to the Prototype-franchise, they could be considered games for kids – at least in matter of brutality and the amount of virtual blood splashing your screen. In just about the first half an hour of Prototype 2 you’ll have seen more blood then in these two games combined. But what is Prototype 2 actually and even more importantly: Why is there so much blood in it?
Starting it off, Prototype 2 from 2012 is, like its prequel Prototype from 2009, a first person action shooter, in which, unlike its prequel, the player takes control of James Heller, a marine who lost his wife and daughter to the so called „Mercer-Virus“. The origin of this virus is the protagonist of the first iteration, Alex Mercer, who unwillingly had his DNA infected with a special form of blood strain, turning him into a form of super-human with enhanced strength, endurance and agility. It also gave him the power to shapeshift, changing parts of his body into deadly weapons and even posing as a different person. During his bloody crusade for revenge on the company Gentek, responsible for his mutation, Mercer destroyed whole armies of soldiers, monsters and whatsoever. Meanwhile the city descended into chaos, since anyone else in contact with the virus, did not get the benefits of super-mutation, but instead turned into a brainless mutant, similar to the ones in the Resident Evil movies. Back in Prototype 2, Heller, who thinks that Mercer is responsible for the death of his family, returns to New York, the theatre of both games and finds the city divided into three areas: The green, the yellow and the red zone. The green zone is supposed to be the safest or ‚least-infected‘ area, while the red zone encompassing Central Park represents the epicenter of the virus.
In the very beginning of the game, Mercer ambushes Heller’s platoon and butchers almost the whole unit using his powers. Heller is the sole survivor of the onslaught and tries to kill Mercer, who proves to be immune to gunfire. Instead of simply finishing him off though, the supermutant instead infects Heller with the virus, turning him into a mutant as well and granting him the same powers. Mercer tells the grieving marine that it was in fact Gentek who created the virus and blames them for Heller’s loss.
This is where we find our ‚hero‘ when we first enter Prototype 2, but in all honesty, the story does not get more complicated than that. It serves more as a vehicle to justify killing and absorbing officers and scientists, in order to assimilate their memories and find the masterminds of Gentek. While the character of Heller is defined as the anti-hero, who’s just after revenge, the side characters mostly remain pale (not to mention that there are not many of them in fact). Next to being shallow, the story also tends to be partly illogical. Though the idea of collecting knowledge by ‚extracting‘ it from certain characters is a nice spin, it’s the exact same premise as the one of the games‘ predecessor. Also, the first Assassin’s-Creed-games had a very similar concept of storytelling, but they just did a far better job. But well, we are not in this game for the story, I can assure you.
As previously mentioned, the Mercer Virus lets you shapeshift completely or just turn your limbs into weapons. Like in Prototype they come in different forms, which we unlock in the cause of the game. They are all quite unique in which they serve different purposes, like e.g. the claws, which quickly slash through men and mutant, or the hammerfist, with which Heller can smash even tanks. But there are also new mutations, like the ‚Bio-Bomb‘, an attack with which Heller infects an individual, who, as the name suggests, does explode later in gory fashion. There are also passive abilities which allow Heller to run faster or increase the Bio-Bomb’s area of effect. These abilities can be purchased and upgraded with either experience Heller gains from kills, by completing mini-games, or by absorbing certain beings.
Since we can also use our shapeshifting power to pose as someone else, there is often the option to use a stealthy approach. I’m always a big fan of not being detected and doing things black ops style, sadly the stealth mechanics in Prototype 2 often feel unrewarding and also unnecessary. Why bother taking out people one by one, when you can simply use your overpowered abilities to quickly take out a whole base? However, there are missions in which the game tries to force you to be stealthy, which in no game is fun. But in this case, it is all so annoying, when compared to the fun direct approach using your fists. In addition, some of the abilities feel and play quite similarly, like the claws and the blade-arms, who just serve the same purpose, whilst additionally the fights, especially towards the end, get way too easy and rarely ask for a strategic approach.
But they are fun, nonetheless, and at least for a sometime, somewhat challenging. And being overpowered is okay to me when considering you are a mutant with supernatural abilities in present times New York. It is also quite fun to navigate through the ruins of the big city, jumping and running on walls or over rooftops like in the Spiderman-franchise. Like in those games, the gameplay is heavily relying on playing Prototpye 2 with a controller. Especially selecting the desired target in the fast-paced fights is a pain in the ass, and the missing support for aiming with the mouse a no-go.
Another essential point of criticism is the AI, which at best can be described as functional. While the soldiers in fight strictly keep their focus on our hero, when out of combat they don’t even realize if a whole platoon just disappears behind their backs. It is in fact possible to silently kill a whole base without raising the alarm, or, even worse, grabbing a soldier, flying off to the next rooftop, taking his appearance and return jump back down with a three point landing without raising any eyebrow. You don’t need to have played games like Splinter Cell or Thief to realize the absurdity of this, but alas, you don’t play Prototype 2 for the sneaking.
The engine of Prototype 2 is the same like in Protoype, which by now is 10 years old. While the fast-paced fights effectively blur over the dusty graphics, you see the ravages of times at any other given moment in the mushy textures, the low viewing distance and the effects. One thing I do like is the consistency of the style, e.g. the cutscenes, which are kept in a black and white with only red for accentuation like in The Saboteur. Also, the ‚tendrils‘ and mutations all over the city contribute to the apocalyptic mood. All in all graphics and the sound are quite okay, but also not much above the ‚average‘, but that’s not what you play Prototype 2 for.
To be fair, Prototype 2 is not a pearl, it’s not even a nugget. It’s the sequel to an ‚okay-game‘, which does what is expected of it, but not more. Confusing story, a bad AI and terrible controls are what the player will get, but also an open world à la Spiderman 3, a lot of blood and the overpowering feeling of being a superman. Because that’s what you play Prototype 2 for, the feeling of being overpowered, which e.g. Saints Row IV also tried to evoke but ultimately failed at making the superlative vision entertaining throughout.
So, for anyone who did enjoy the prequel and is unsure about this game, I hope I’ve given you an idea of what to expect: mostly the same. For anyone else it might be worth a look, but don’t expect Prototype 2 to be any more than a mediocre mix of genres and games. And all the examples of games listed above are a way better deal if you are looking for somewhat perfection of a certain genre. But as you should have gathered by now, perfection is not what you play Prototype 2 for.