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Prototype 2 review

So I’m writing a review of sorts for what was technically my №1 Most Anticipated Game of All Time. Sort of. I guess. It might conflict with Planescape: Torment II or Baldur’s Gate III, maybe, if one of these ever gets announced.

Prototype 2.

Yeah, it’s in English, don’t ask.

Before I start ranting, let me state one thing: Prototype 2 is, at its core, a very good game. It’s in the same category of goodness with games like Doom 2, Red Alert, or, you know, Vice City. The reader, unless he or she just happens to hate one of the mentioned titles, will probably agree with me that these three games are good. They take what their predecessors did and do it better.

Let’s see what Prototype 2 is not. It is not what Half Life 2 is to Half Life 1. It is not what Mass Effect 2 is to Mass Effect 1 (and that is a very, very double-edged statement, mind you). It is not a Warcraft 3 to Warcraft 2 scenario, either.

Just a quick reminder: I absolutely adore the first Prototype. It’s got one of the best zombie-and-mutant-and-viral-shit settings around, it’s got one of the most intelligent ways of providing the player with information that I’ve seen in this kind of games, and it’s also a lot of unprecedented fun because it assigns you as a player the role of a perfect predator. What it does best isn’t very nice, but Prototype is the best there is at what it does. Like Wolverine, right.

Of course, Prototype had its flaws: it had less-than-decent graphics for its time, it was repetitive, and the boss fights it had weren’t very interesting. So how does the sequel compare?

First of all, Radical did their homework well and fixed the graphics engine. Now the game, released in 2012, looks like a proper 2009 title, which is okay, considering it’s supposed to run well on consoles. It actually looks better than Red Dead Redemption and Assassin’s Creed, so I guess I shouldn’t expect more.

Next, they streamlined the gameplay. James Heller, the protagonist of the game, has a timed block ability and is able to dodge incoming attacks by performing awesome slow-mo jumps over his enemies. If memory serves, this is exactly what Wolverine could do, also in 2009, and the mechanic works in the same manner: basically, you spam the hell out of dodge when fighting in melee range, and you spam block whenever you’re being pelted with rockets. For smashing things, we have five “weapons”, four of them complete replicas of what Alex Mercer had in the first game, and one being brand new. The weapons are balanced out, and you’re actually better off using earlier powers on enemies later in the game sometimes, as opposed to the endless sword mode in P1. The movement scheme is mostly unchanged; the only difference is the jumps which you don’t need to charge anymore. Oh, and you can unlock up to three air dashes. How awesome is that, three dashes? Yeah, it’s extremely awesome. All the multi-button combinations are gone, too, making the combat a lot more accessible and fluid.

I can’t remember just how long it took me to beat P1 on Normal on my first playthrough, but it was somewhere in the 30 hours mark. Prototype 2, with every side mission completed, took me 16 hours on Hard. It’s also very easy, since everything that used to hurt in P1 no longer does – there’s no Leader Hunters, the tanks can (and should) be killed in two seconds flat, and any missile is accompanied by an annoying warning sound and can be easily deflected, blocked or dodged. Finally, the game only has one boss fight. Every other tough enemy which pretends to be a boss becomes a regular encounter later in the game. Boo.

Web of Intrigue is gone. What used to be a search for answers and information (often unrelated to the main plot, but it was fun and provided insight into the setting and story of the game) is now replaced by generic soldier or scientist rants which mostly boil down to “so I just ate a bad guy who knows where other bad guys are performing evil experiments”. Or something like that, anyway. I’m also not going to be the first to shrug at all the swearing going in the game, mostly for no other reason than to swear for the sake of swearing, because I guess all soldiers swear a lot. I really can’t remember any swearing in Prototype 1. Was this change necessary? Did it really add any depth to the game’s dialogues? Nope.

Here goes the real bad part, though. The game does not respect its background. There were a lot of things going in Prototype 1 which explained the origins of the main plot. Nothing like that in P2 – all it does is say: “this guy’s gone rogue, you have to stop him”. Apart from Heller, no other character has his or her motivation and goals explained. And Heller is your generic tough soldier who has lost his family, nothing new. Considering that Radical isn’t going to be making any more Prototype games, it’s a rather sad way to wrap the story up by cutting away everything that made it interesting, which makes me wonder whether the guys responsible for the plot knew that they were making the last game in the series or not. Apparently, there are comic books which cover the plot gap between P1 and P2, but they aren’t even mentioned in the game.

Radical also didn’t fix another important flaw of the first game – its repetitiveness. In fact, P2 is even more repetitive than the P1, since there’s like five different types of missions in total and you just keep doing the same assignments served with different sauce. Even the part of the first game where Mercer lost his power, which I used to hate with passion, actually worked to break the tedium. Nothing like that here, Heller only keeps growing in power, while his job and the foes he’s facing do not change.

The AI characters are still stupid and ignorant of things happening right under their nose – actually dropping from a skyscraper in the middle of the enemy base while wearing a disguise only fills 1/3rd of the detection meter. At some point you just stop caring about being disguised, and then certain missions which require you to be in the correct disguise and out of alert really start to annoy you. The AI is another missed opportunity, really, because actually modeling a realistic behavior of the special forces on one side and the infected on the other (and not imposing disguise requirements on the player) would be a huge step forward for the game.

In fact, maybe the game was not intended to be treated seriously from the start. The non-stop action gameplay together with stupid F-word jokes, clichéd characters with no motivation and questionable actions, and the overall ease of the game make it a perfect entertainment for the weekend, you just don’t approach it with your brain working. It’s still better than Michael Bay movies, at least. Heller having a tragic background with his family actually makes a lot of sense, letting the player associate with and feel for the character. Fine, but did the serious first game really sell so bad that they had to change it like this?

So what’s my biggest issue with the game? Hey, expectations. I wasn’t really feeling all too well about it when I saw the trailer showing another guy doing the same things Mercer did. I wanted bigger, faster, stronger. Mercer was technically an unstoppable being by the end of P1, having just withstood a nuclear explosion. If you devs wanna make me believe there’s someone who can kill him, you better make this guy damn tough. I guess Heller is a perfect match for Mercer the way he was before the ending sequence of the first game. After that? Three years after that? They better add in some lore and cool stuff, or I won’t bite.

So yes, I’d like to have some fun crushing skyscraper walls by throwing Hunters at them and fighting all kinds of foes in the offices. Real-time environment destruction? Yes please. And then, I’d like to see a realistic reaction from the government to the second outbreak in NY. I’d like a mission where you just jump and snatch a nuke in midair and throw it back where it came from. I’d like to hijack an F-16 on the move. I also wouldn’t mind fighting some big and imposing-looking mutant freaks every once in a while (hey, Shadow of the Colossus material right here, devs, what were you thinking?). Hell, you can even make the characters involved use the F-word all out while things like these are happening, I don’t mind, I’d be doing my own swearing if this was delivered to me.

There’s just so much you can do with a character like Mercer or Heller. And I guess that’s why we’re not going to see a proper Superman game anytime soon.

I want all of that in a sequel to a game which had me jumping skyscraper high and smashing tanks with bare hands (and killing mutants with claws). Instead, I get a block ability, a dodge ability, and a move that lets me tear weapons off armored vehicles and use them in my hands.

Radical don’t even play their cards right with the final fight. Still, I admit that it’s a legendary material right there, what they have managed to do with it. That final fight, it sits proudly on its throne in the same room with very few select others that manage to show a clash of two god-like beings without being cheesy or stupid. But. It could have been so much more if this game was more. You know, like two godly beings laying waste of the whole city in real time. F-word, guys, right there.

Well, I digress. SOMEWHAT SPOILER PART HERE!

The game’s final boss encounter is a bright star in what’s otherwise a fun but forgettable game. It does everything right. It’s hard, it’s fun, and it doesn’t involve any overpowered mechanics (like that of a bastard of a mutant from the first game who you really didn’t want to melee, ever). It also makes you feel damn awesome when you beat it, partially because what other games make automatically in cutscenes (like War tearing bodyparts off the bosses in Darskiders), you do by mashing buttons. This buttonmashing also feels very heartfelt, because the game, despite all its flaws, actually manages to convey its message about Heller.

That message, dear reader, is this: “I am fucking pissed off, so don’t fuck with me, even if you can withstand a fucking nuke.”

SPOILER ENDS.

Prototype 2 is a very good game about a pissed off guy with near-godly powers. It retains most of what made the first installment of the series good, makes some of it even better, completely forgets about other good parts which, maybe, were not wanted by the target audience, and doesn’t fix some bad things anyway.

It also lets you ascend the Empire State Building in about ten seconds, then drop down in about two.

Play it if you like awesome.