Prototype 2 – Review

[easyreview title=”Prototype 2″ cat1title=”Final Score” cat1detail=”While it’s a little sparse in the story department, brutally fun combat, a good variety of missions, and a great open world setting make Prototype 2 a pretty solid game all-around.” cat1rating=”4″ overall=”false” icon=”star2″]

Reviewed on XBOX 360

When last we took a stroll through Prototype ‘verse New York City (or New York Zero, as it’s been dubbed), we played as Alex Mercer, spending the entire game trying to cure the Blacklight virus that—as it turns out—we engineered and released. Our bad. But we did stop the military from nuking Manhattan, so there’s that.

This go-round, the action focuses on James Heller, a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who comes back to the city to find his wife dead and his daughter missing, the work of those infected by the second coming of the Mercer’s Blacklight virus. Fueled by revenge, Heller requests assignment to the heavily infested Red Zone. It’s there that he has a fateful encounter with Mercer, who’s now just kind of a dick, bombing around the wastelands of Red Zone Manhattan and creating an army of “evolved”—an army he wants Heller to be a part of, whether Heller likes it or not. After waking up infected in a Gentek lab, a really pissed-off and supercharged Heller is determined to track down Mercer and all those involved in any way, shape, or form with the virus…with extreme prejudice.

Controlling the rampage is intuitive and fluid, and Heller’s five special attack moves–claws, tendrils, a huge arm blade, hammerfists, and whipfist–are mappable to X and Y (on the 360), making it easy to pick a pair of favorite attacks and use them on the fly to slice and dice soldiers or skewer infected from afar. Heller also gains the ability to hijack tanks and helicopters, as well as rip off their weaponry to use against them.

The only shortcoming in combat is that the targeting is fairly terrible at the best of times, and, in the most frantic situations, has the bad habit of centering on a wall or an innocent civilian instead of the 20-story-tall mutated monster throwing chunks of Broadway at your face.

Heller’s covert tactics have also been tweaked, allowing for a much less frustrating and more interesting stealth side to the game. Heller’s mutation has given him the ability to hunt using a strange sort of echolocation. It also gives him the ability to tell whether or not a target is being watched, which makes it much easier to avoid detection when infiltrating a government installation. Virus detectors are also a lot more forgiving, and there’s even an upgrade to further decrease the likelihood of your detection.

But when you’re ready for the imminent bloodbath, the open world of New York makes a lovely playground for Heller to stretch his destructive muscles, from the almost-serene Green Zone to the chaotic Red Zone. The game even mixes it up a little with varied weather and lighting. It’s not a vast improvement over the original, but it’s still pretty to look at; and dive-bombing mutants from the top of the Empire State Building never fails to satisfy.

The story unfolds as Heller, aided by a priest who is conveniently well-versed in anti-government action, uses his newly acquired hunting skills to track down key Gentek and Blackwatch personnel. The quick, flashy cutscenes that trigger when Heller absorbs his prey serve to shed bits of light on the story. They are well done, but can be over-the-top at times. If I were a soldier, I would probably be horribly offended.

At one point fairly early in the game, Heller mutters, “This is starting to feel like a wild f-ing goose chase,” and that’s kind of what the bulk of the missions boil down to for me. Once you strip away the appeal of wanton destruction, you basically get what equates to 75 Degrees of Alex Mercer. Hunt down a scientist/soldier. Absorb the scientist. The scientist doesn’t know anything, but name-drops another scientist/soldier. Repeat ad nauseum. That’s not to say the hunt and the inevitable showdowns with Blackwatch troops, rogue infected, and Mercer’s elite evolved hitmen aren’t enjoyable, but they do grow a little tiresome. Thankfully, they do strive to keep it fresh by mixing the “find this guy, kill this guy” missions with escort missions, race-style collection missions, and even some undercover work killing infected as a member of Blackwatch.

And there are other things to do in the different zones, like collecting blackbox recordings, massacring field ops teams, or tracking down tasty sources of consumable DNA, all of which lead to smidgens of information and better upgrades. There is no online multiplayer, but Radnet missions allow you to complete tasks and compare your scores with your friends. It isn’t quite enough to elevate the sequel to elite status, but it makes a pretty solid go-to game after a bad day at work.

While Prototype 2 does make an impressive number of gameplay improvements to its predecessor, it does sort of fall short in the story department. While watching amnesiac Alex Mercer try to unravel his past made for an interesting backdrop to the ensuing carnage, Heller’s plays out more like the plot of every Ashley Judd I-can’t-find-my-kid movie. And while I found Heller’s brash, expletive-laden personality amusing at times, Mercer to me was the more identifiable character.

That leads me to another bone I have to pick with Prototype 2: I’m not sold on the transition from the end of the original, where Mercer is doing everything in his power to stop the virus, to the beginning of the sequel, where he becomes a Machiavellian archetype, bent on populating New York City with evolved humans. I almost feel like I’m missing out on something.

Story issues aside, when all is said and done, Prototype 2 is a lot of fun to play. While you can knock out the basic story missions in under 15 hours, the side missions fill it out and help to add depth, and the variety of side missions makes Prototype 2 a good game to just pop in and play for a few hours of stress relief.

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