The battle between Radical Entertainment’s Prototype and Sucker Punch’s inFamous that took place in 2009 was in the grand scheme of things a fairly trivial one with both games showing admirable quality, leaving their own marks on the industry yet both able to part ways feeling the victor. Critics and consumers alike enjoyed flinging dubiously dichotomous super-powered protagonists around invitingly vast sandbox cities. Seasoning variants in similar recipes saw these two fighting hard to take the ‘Best Graphic Novel-esque Anti-Superhero Free-Roaming Action-Adventure Game’ award from Crackdown; a major win-win situation for gamers (with PlayStation 3 consoles at least) who could enjoy first-hand not one but two great games within a month of each other.
Sequels were something of an inevitability. Sucker Punch gave us inFamous 2 last year (which was mightily well-received by MediaKick). Radical held back nearly a year to throw the dice and make their move but it’s been worth the wait: Prototype 2 is the chaotic, frenzied adrenaline rush it needed to be that has the sheer admirable gall to consume the identity of a heartfelt action-drama while offering gamers everything they could possibly want from a summer blockbuster-style sandbox game.
Prototype 2 doesn’t start out as the brash rock-’em-sock-’em shameless brawler it soon develops into: a moody noir cutscene introduces star man Sgt. James Heller, whose wife and kid were murdered by the Blacklight virus which was unleashed during Alex Mercer’s rampage in the first Prototype game. During a mission, Heller winds up chasing after Mercer who summarily infects Heller with the virus in an attempt to use him to take out Blackwatch, the government agency that controls the security of a fairly devastated New York and was in charge of producing the virus.
Heller quickly learns to take control of his newly acquired powers which he uses in a long-game fight with Blackwatch and their commanding officers. As Heller discovers more about Blackwatch though, he starts to use his powers for his own means and discovers that the distinction between good and evil is far from clear-cut and all sides involved in this war have their hands dirty… even Heller.
Missions at their core require you to run rampant through New York; a completed mission adds a small piece to the story puzzle and helps develop Heller into something powerful enough to rival Heller. Heller’s ultimate motivation is to find out what happened to his family but Prototype 2 struggles to balance sentimentality with a raging, merciless, gleeful violent streak. There’s no denying that the story is highly intriguing when put together in small flashback-based chunks, it’s just that the emotional edge revolving around Heller’s lost family and the overarching detailing of New York’s destruction at the hands of the virus is tainted by how brazenly vindictive the game lets you be. It’s not just the main chapters that let Heller wilfully commit genocide: mini-games let you kill guards in an Angry Birds style; side missions ask you to target individuals to ‘consume’ the identity of for information then fight your way out of the impending battles that ensue.
That said, the gameplay is really polished and a near complete sense of freedom paying oh-so-many dividends from the very moment you’re free to roam help with overlooking the dual personality state Prototype 2 struggles to strike a balance with. As long as you don’t dwell too much on the semi-saccharine undertone that runs through the campaign you’ll quite simply have a hell of a time. The process of travelling from mission to mission, along with the subtly intelligent structures of each objective that cater supremely to how you’d want to play the game and utilise your supernatural arsenal, is something that is undeniably entertaining.
The destructive qualities of Prototype 2 that let you take vengeance on a plethora of Blackwatch facilities in any sickly enjoyable way you choose or just generally go nuts in the city are where the game really shines. Abilities are easily selectable/interchangeable and the stealth elements required on occasion to successfully infiltrates certain locations add a superb tactical layer to the mission process; carnage is inevitable but there’s something wonderfully sinister about having the option to clear out a base without raising an alarm. A well-designed levelling system works largely to the game’s favour also, the ability to throw points into areas outside of powers such as jumping/gliding skills and overall strength helping you tweak Heller to fit the way you want to approach Blackwatch annihilation.
In spite of Sgt. Heller’s torrent of F-bombs and merciless genocidal glee somewhat tarnishing the supposedly sentimental journey he’s on, Prototype 2 has an intriguing puzzle of a narrative that does enough to prevent complete derailment and disenchantment occurring in the wake of being bombarded with pieces of story that focus on the plight of a strong favourite for the ‘Least Likeable Protagonist’ award.
Even if a lot of these story pieces are in a way blue-sky equivalent irrelevancy, the narrative intricacies that weave a complex web actually make taking on the numerous side-quests a worthwhile exercise. There’s more importance placed on the information-providing DNA consumption than in the first Prototype, and thanks to the Blacknet ‘hub’ locations that give you access to these quasi-missions placed in teasingly well-guarded enemy bases the bloody process of unlocking before completing them is made just that extra bit fun and purposeful.
Prototype 2 may masquerade as a story-driven tale of espionage, deception and supernatural beings coming to terms with their own strifes but let’s be honest, it’s the grandiose spectacle of flinging yourself around the city and feeling like a bona-fide turbo-charged Predator that pulls you in and keeps you playing. Thankfully the latter is so damn entertaining that attempts made at being the former are ultimately inconsequential; from the moment you acquire powers and are free to run riot, the city becomes your playground of destruction and it’s because of how much twisted fun this can be that I wholeheartedly recommend this game.