You can’t rate a Slim Jim. Either the spicy, salty, vaguely meaty taste and oily texture is exactly what you desire or it is not. With a watered down fountain Mountain Dew in my hand, a Slim Jim is the perfect meat-style snack. In most other situations, the thought of eating a meat snack sounds disgusting. Prototype 2 falls into the same category. It might be greasy, sleazy, bloody, and dirty, but there is something about Prototype 2 that hits the spot.
When Prototype came out, I was still nursing a hangover from the trashy post-millennial superhero angstfest Infamous and the thought of enduring another grey city full of faceless enemies and starving collateral made the bile rise in my throat. When I launched Prototype 2, my inner Gob was saying that I had made a huge mistake. The color palette was black and white and red, the dialogue was purple, and the long cinematics made me blue. This was going to be a turkey of a game.
In the last decade, the art of storytelling in video games has made great strides. Games like Portal have made ambient storytelling the norm. Even Infamous, a game I have a hard time finding nice things to say about, did a great job of communicating the events of the world through TV news updates. Having to sit through long, overly dramatic video clips between action scenes is outdated game design and not something I want to see in 2012. What makes this even more annoying is the fact that these scenes aren’t really necessary. The short vignettes when Heller, the main protagonist, eats a significant enemy and absorbs their memories are excellent and let the story breathe. I wish the designers had relied more on this technique and not felt the need to bog things down with boring interludes.
Once I was past the intro videos and was finally able to play, Prototype 2 came to life. Running through NYZ, the New York Zone, with superpowers and no compunction towards violence is a liberating experience and one that blows away most other superhero games. Even with limited powers, Heller is a destructive force. Turning his hands into claws, tentacles, or even swords and murdering the teeming masses of humanity that fill the streets is way more enjoyable than it should be. The feeling of power is more tactile than in most games of this sort. I suspect the very physical nature of Heller’s powers makes it so. Making cars explode via dropkick, tossing soldiers into helicopters, and annihilating tanks barehanded is rewarding.
When Prototype 2 is a sandbox and the player can run roughshod over the mercenaries of Blackwatch, it is among the finest sandbox games of this generation. I place it in the same company as Saint’s Row 2 and Just Cause 2, when there is stuff to do. The problem is, Prototype 2 just doesn’t have enough content. The main story is very linear, with no branching or alternative paths. The Blacknet is a series of side quests that are gained by eating special enemies and accessing military computers with their credentials. These missions are pretty pedestrian, but at least they provide things to do. The optional Radnet is more interesting. Radnet access is available to those who purchase Prototype 2 early and it is a good reason to grab the game sooner than later. The Radnet missions unlock over time and include both minigames and challenges. Completing all of a week’s Radnet challenges unlocks an upgrade for Heller, video content, or dynamic themes and get you one step closer to unlocking a special skin.
There are collectables, as you expect from a sandbox game. The Blackbox collectables are embarrassingly similar to the Satellite drops from Infamous but there are far fewer of them. Monster filled Lairs are much more interesting, as they can be challenging. Special Ops are small squads of Blackwatch soldiers and scientists that need to be wiped out. Completing all of the collectables for a region of the city earns Heller a Mutation, so there is plenty of reason to complete them. I just wish there were more.
The aforementioned Radnet is a really interesting approach to the issue of early sales. Rewarding players with new weekly content for seven weeks after a game’s release is definitely preferable to punishing used buyers. That the unlockable content is actually worth pursuing is even better. This is the path I want to see more games take. I, for one, will be playing Prototype 2 longer than anticipated in order to get all of the Radnet content.
The Prototype aesthetic is evocative of a very particular era of comic book history. One look at Heller’s pulsating organic weaponry and I am reminded of late-90′s Top Cow comics. Witchblade and the Darkness are obvious touchstones for Prototype‘s look and feel. Fully animated and updated to modern standards, Prototype manages to make this look good. The writhing tentacles that festoon Heller and most of his enemies are both grotesque and powerful looking. As a plus, the proportions and details are much more realistic than Michael Turner and Marc Silvestri ever managed.
No matter what my opinion of the art direction of Prototype 2, it is indisputably a beautiful game to behold. The lighting effects are gorgeous, the explosions suitably impressive, and the world manages to look bleak without looking dull, no small feat. The way the pavement cracks when Heller lands from a huge jump communicates his power and energy more than anything else in the game. While I would have preferred more variety in the enemies and pedestrians, there is a bit of variation.
The cool memory montages drawn from the defeated and consumed are a true work of gaming art, integrating video and warping effects deftly. These moments feel more like a big budget blockbuster than any other part of the game. While I have been negative towards the cinematic cut scenes, they look tremendous. The limited palette makes the scenes look great. Too bad they drag on and on.
The city of NYZ should be the star of the game. It is big and sprawling, with beautiful graphics. Thing is, it is not a star. In fact, I can hardly remember it. There is a big church and… That’s all I remember. Maybe it is because of my love of GTA and Saint’s Row, but I feel like a city should have more flavor. What are the major restaurant chains? What are the upscale neighborhoods called? I have no idea. This is a minor quibble, but it took me out of the game.
The background music is of the cinematic score type and was completely ignorable. I do not foresee collectors groveling for a CD release of the soundtrack. I could have used some Norwegian Black Metal as I shredded underpaid mercenaries, but I guess that is what headphones are for. A real missed opportunity.
Voice acting in Prototype 2 is a different matter. While the script is a bit silly and overwrought, the actors really make it work. Heller’s foul mouth and strange exhortations could very well make this a cult classic in their own right. Upon seeing a giant, pulsating sack of fluid, Heller compares it to his balls before it bursts and releases a monster to fight. The surrealism of Prototype 2‘s sensibilities made me chuckle more than once. The other voice actors do a respectable job, particularly the gentleman playing Dr. Koenig.
Reading over this, it sounds like I didn’t like Prototype 2. That is not true. Quite the opposite, I really loved Prototype 2. Much like a Slim Jim, this game is a blast while it lasts. Finding creative ways to tear enemy soldiers and monsters asunder is a pleasure, one that is rewarded with a bloody path behind you. Gliding between buildings like a malevolent flying squirrel and pouncing on the unsuspecting is pretty fun, too. Hell, everything is fun. The only problem is, there isn’t enough of it.
Control and Gameplay: Great
Balance: Very Good
Appeal Factor: Good
FINAL SCORE: GOOD GAME!
Short Attention Span Summary
In this, the summer blockbuster era of gaming, where bigger always equals better and the optimum volume is always loud, Prototype 2 is exactly what it should be. The combat is deceptively flexible, though battles that revolve around using the Shield are less fun than the others. The graphics are shiny and look good. The plot is dark and gritty enough for most 13 year olds. Is it art? Nope. Is it a guilty pleasure? As Heller is prone to saying, fuck yeah.