Radical's sequel to their 2009 sandbox romp is an improvement, but it's still very repetitive and difficult to become invested in.
Back in 2009, I reviewed the original Prototype and thought it was a pretty good game, but not great. Fast forward almost three years, and the sequel is upon us, again developed by Radical and published by Activision. Prototype 2 (P2) continues the storyline presented in the original, but puts players in the boots of Sgt James Heller instead of Alex Mercer. If you aren't familiar with the events of the original Prototype, a summary video is available from the start menu that gets you up to speed. The video mentions the key players, including Gemtek, Blackwatch, Mercer, who are all connected to the virus outbreak in New York that has decimated the city.
The opening video of P2 adds in James Heller, a husband and a father of a young girl who is also returning from another tour in the Middle East. Unfortunately, he arrives home just a day after his wife and kid were mauled by a beast infected with the virus. He centers his anger on Alex Mercer, the one who started the virus outbreak when he attempted to steal a vial of it from Gemtek. After signing up with Blackwatch, Gemtek's massive military arm, Heller has a chance encounter with Mercer. The tutorial mission has you chasing Mercer, only to get infected with the virus yourself. Although instead of turning into a flesh-eating beast, you become like Mercer -- a sort of super-human.
Within about ten minutes of playing P2, the connection between Heller and Mercer is divulged, which I thought was a poor decision. Going into P2, I thought the idea of chasing Mercer was interesting, but it turns out he's really there to focus your anger in the right direction. You don't see a lot of Mercer, but he's still a key part of the story.
After this encounter with Mercer, Heller unites with a mentor, a pastor at a local church who has a shady past and lots of inside information on Blackwatch. Your goal, instead of hunting and killing Mercer, immediately becomes taking down Gemtek and Blackwatch, which is what Mercer is after too. This means plenty of one versus many battles, as was the case with the first game. That's fine, but the tedious nature of these encounters is about as bad as it was the first time around. Fortunately, getting into and out of danger (i.e., Alerts) is easier this time around thanks to being able to switch to a saved alternate form instantly. That's not to say that Alerts are still kind of flaky and annoying, but they aren't quite as frustrating as the first game. I suppose it helps that Blackwatch are as dumb as ever.
The members of Blackwatch are human, they are your garden variety para-military force except that they have no morals or conscience. They're almost all identical in appearance and voice, too, and similar to the citizens, they're essentially pins for you to bowl over. In terms of their intelligence, it's awful, and it's another area where P2 requires that you be graciously forgiving or tolerating of its universe. There are many examples of Blackwatch's inept behavior, but what gets me is how you can infiltrate their bases, Consuming their agents one at a time. When you consume a guard for example, his weapon drops on the ground. His buddy will see this, but he won't react. I guess he's thinking that "you" just decided to drop your gun and go for a stroll.
When you have Consumed a citizen or Blackwatch agent, you still have all of your powers, so you can run at super human speeds, right up the side of a building, and this doesn't alarm the other Blackwatch agents very much. A small gauge will show suspicion, but, come on -- if your comrade suddenly started running straight up the side of the building, wouldn't that be more than just a little suspicious? There are lots of other things you need to overlook and forgive in the story and gameplay, which may be easier for some to accept than others. For me, while I completely understand the idea that this is just a game, I found it hard to be so forgiving of ideals that seemed to conflict with the ones the game was basing much of its make-up on. Finding Mercer and Heller are primary goals for Blackwatch, but that their operatives are so inept and yet so quick to kill other humans at the same time was just asking too much.
P2 gets a lot right, though. Jumping, running, gliding, and running up the sides of buildings is all available from the start and frankly, it's fun. You're given a good amount of freedom in this sandbox, and while there are some collectibles (not as many as in the original Prototype), you're encouraged to cause an enormous amount of destruction and chaos. That's well and good, and I enjoy throwing cars into the bay as much as anyone, but I couldn't escape that there was just no penalty or reward for doing all of this. In spurts, it's fun, but there is no morale compass here. Of course you have your own, but I thought the game could have benefited from something more substantial and interesting, like inFamous 2 has. As is, Heller can murder innocent citizens, who are really just props for destruction, by the dozens, without any repercussions except maybe a pesky Blackwatch Strike Team. Even your pastor buddy could care less what you do. Within the first hour I realized that the hundreds of people walking around NYZ are just props, invites for collateral or focal damage. I found it difficult to connect with Heller party because of this, and also because he's just a generic angry man who is really just a mechanism to this endless, I almost want to say pointless, destruction and chaos.
Ok; so while I've spent most of this review harping about what I don't like about P2, I still think it's a good game. It just happens to be one of those games where there's a lot to say about what I don't like, but meanwhile, the core experience is still good. It's fun having so much power, and learning new mutations and abilities. The flow of the game is great too, because as with other sandbox games, you can pick up the next story mission when you feel like it. In between story missions, you're free to spend your time on optional missions and running run around the city, causing as much or as little mayhem as you want. The game gives you plenty of freedom to cause a big mess and then come back with everything basically being reset, which is cool, but also creates some continuity breaks. These breaks aren't hard to swallow given what other things the game requires you overlook, though. There are some neat collectibles to get too in the various districts around NYZ, and plenty of challenges and events to partake in, especially in the Radnet Edition, which includes another fifty-five of such events.
Furthemore, P2 controls well, and its presentation is very good. I didn't find the language to be as bad as some say it is (nothing has topped Rico from Killzone 2 yet for me). In summary, P2 is a very good game, better than the first although very similar to it, and one that I can enjoy a couple of hours at a time.