Thursday, May 3, 2012

Prototype 2 review

The original Prototype was a divisive title, managing to impress while also to wholly annoy. It successfully made you feel the part of the anti-hero badass with your ample supply of treacherous mutations, but it progressively fell short in both the narrative and gameplay departments. Prototype 2 disposes of these issues and goes far beyond what Radical Entertainment gave us with the original game, almost three years ago.

Prototype 2 follows the story of a soldier named James Heller. Having lost his wife and child to the Blacklight virus outbreak in New York City, Heller is determined to find the source of the outbreak, protagonist of the first game Alex Mercer, and enact vengeance upon him. However, Mercer purposely infects Heller with the virus in order to win him over against Gentek and Blackwatch, the real organizations that caused the outbreak. Conflicted and troubled by this new truth, Heller must uncover the mysteries of the Blacklight virus and with it, Mercer's true goals.

Just back away, man. You don't even know.

I'll be the first one to tell you how disappointed I was with the first Prototype's narrative. Ostensibly, Prototype is just a feel-good, care-free action game, but beneath it was an interesting concept with a story revolving around a character that never evolved beyond his insatiable thirst for retribution. Needless to say, it got old pretty quickly. Heller also partakes in this vengeful spirit, but the difference between him and Mercer is that his character actually grows.

Going from a standard soldier's life to one wreathed in chaos and despair, Heller is constantly transitioning from kind-spirited father to merciless killing machine and you witness it firsthand. Besides some cheesy one-liners and overused cursing, Heller's conversations and choices are interesting ones. While it's an overly serious game, on more than one occasion I laughed due to Heller's comments about his surroundings. For instance, the beginning of the game has you consume a commander who provokes you with the irritatingly overused term, 'bro'. Slamming the guy into the ground and crushing his head with the most brutal curb-stomp in gaming makes the moment feel perfect. No, Prototype 2 doesn't have the most incredible and engrossing story (it'll take you about 12 hours), but it's a hell of a lot better than what we were served with previously and that should be respected.

Melee combat is the core of what makes Prototype distinguishable from the rest of the open-world action games and the sequel doesn't disappoint. You can choose from five different weapon mutations such as the iconic claws or blade arm and everything is upgradeable. One of the new powers, called tendrils, strings your opponents up with random tentacles which latch onto the surrounding environment. It's extremely satisfying to be pummeling an opponent and at the very same time watch as your tendrils spring out, tethering the target to objects in close proximity.

Regardless of this outcome, both these dudes are bad guys. I call it a win-win.

This time around, instead of having to switch to each weapon mutation individually, Heller can map one power to two face buttons. For instance, you can set your claws as X or square and your tendrils to Y or triangle. This makes stringing together combos easy and makes the combat more diverse, effective and far more interesting. The Targeting can be a bit wonky at times, but the system in place uses smart-locking mechanics you've seen in its predecessor. It isn't Arkham Asylum or City, but I never had trouble dealing with multiple enemies due to misplaced targeting.

Each weapon also has a unique strong attack as well as multiple unique executions. The tendrils, for instance, swarm a single target, expand outwards, grabbing anything and everything in a 360 degree radius and then pull them towards the helpless victim. Oh, and if you've never played a Prototype game, know that civilians are your proverbial health potions. They litter the streets, screaming and running but once caught and executed in style, you'll understand why it's quite literally the greatest way to heal - ever.

Since we're on the topic of great things, I must say that Prototype 2 contains the best free-form exploratory transportation I've played in games. Exactly like the first, simply depressing a single button allows you to rip through the streets with lightning speed, scale immensely tall buildings and even soar through the skies. It's an absolute blast to run around the city and it's augmented further by a newly implemented collectible system.

Running and flying around the city are some of the best parts of Prototype 2.

Instead of dealing with the mindless destruction of water towers, infected buildings and slowly unlocking the memories of others (Web of Intrigue), Prototype 2 makes collecting items and completing side-missions fun again. Firstly, Evolution Points (EP) are now specifically designed to evolve or level Heller up instead of being used as a currency. When Heller levels he'll be able to choose from a variety of upgrades that significantly boost his innate abilities. BlackBoxes, operation dossiers, field ops teams and lairs all serve as side-missions or collectibles that not only gain Heller a significant amount of EP, but also gain him special mutation trees that can be filled out. These range from defensive abilities like being immune to small arms damage to locomotive abilities like gaining an additional air-dash.

Why these side-missions are so special is because they're actually fun and rewarding to complete. My personal favourite change is actually locating the dossiers and upgrades. In the first Prototype, you'd run around and find people with a specific icon hovering over them that would indicate the harboring of a specific memory. That was about it. Prototype 2 works much in the same way, but finding people or creatures with these icons and consuming them will grant you a permanent upgrade to your powers or unlock a new set of missions. Something else that should be mentioned is how every single side-mission and collectible that has yet to be discovered is viewable on your main map. The exact location isn't disclosed, but if you follow the pulse it's always right on.

It ain't easy, killin' tanks with their own parts.

Great as the side-missions are, they aren't perfect. There are locations that look like copies of one another, like entering a lair, and most of the time it ends in a simple, 'kill everyone' requirement. However, the rewards are so great for finding and clearing a set of lairs or massacring a field ops team that you'll hardly mind the ceaseless killing. Besides, isn't that what you signed up for in the first place?

Going with the theme here, Prototype 2 is an evolution of the original game's formula. While it borrows quite a bit for obvious reasons, everything it does is substantially better. Prototype 2 is a pleasant surprise that follows the guidelines of what to do in a sequel perfectly. Radical obviously took the time to amend their mistakes and it shows their effort in pure quality. If you even remotely enjoy free-form action titles, you owe it to yourself to give this game a true shot.

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