A superficial prototype.
Prototype 2 questions the merit of one idealistic—some would say, essential—quality of video games: fun. In the craft of writing, "fun" is usually seen as a childish word, a brainless adjective that shouldn't be used unless it's absolutely appropriate. In the craft of video games, "fun" is usually the goal, that feeling of unadulterated whimsy or fantastical power trip that makes players want to leap into the air and exclaim "WWEEEEEEEE!!!" With the abundance of incredible full retail games, however, "fun" is not enough anymore.
That said, Prototype 2 is at its best when compared to Crackdown, to the philosophy that an open world should be first and foremost a playground; in this case, one filled with skyscrapers to climb, streets to sprint through, pedestrians to shove, and mercenaries to murder with your arsenal of attacks. Every mission and every set piece is meant for James Heller to do nothing more than display his powers and rampage through the city without a care in the world. With the ability to run along the side of buildings and to soar between them with a series of jumps, air dashes, and glides, James can maneuver around the city with the superhuman speed necessary to outrun full-blown helicopters.
Even if James is surrounded by a throng of infected beasts and
Blackwater Blackwatch mercenaries, he has very little to worry about. Along with his superior power, speed, and dodging ability, he eventually gains the ability to transform his arms into blades, claws, and tendrils as well as cause an area-of-effect Devastator that inflicts a ridiculous amount of damage and has incredible crowd control. By leveling up and completing side tasks and Blacknet missions, he will continue to evolve his powers with mutations that grant boosts to all of his attributes. And if James ever runs low on health, all he needs to do is grab some poor sucker and consume him for health. James would give even Kratos a run for his money.
For passive multiplayer, Prototype 2 includes "Radnet", unlocked via a code on the back of the game manual, which will grant players access to various mini-games and challenges. While they earn players medals and extra evolution points for Heller, the main point is for players to compare their scores to their friends and to unlock extra skins and other rewards for completing an entire set of challenges. More sets are also viewable and will be available in later weeks, improving the replay value of the game.
Despite all these solid features, however, Prototype 2 sells itself short with a boilerplate story and cliché characters who won't stop interrupting the gameplay. James Heller begins the story as a soldier fighting overseas whose wife and daughter are killed by infected humans and, in his search for the truth, gets himself reassigned to the hot zone in New York City. Along the way, he encounters Alex Mercer from the original Prototype who infects him with the Mercer virus, which soon makes James a guinea pig of the biological research company Gentek. With a few lucky breaks, James eventually breaks free so that he can plan his plot for vengeance.
Unfortunately, the story doesn't take the opportunity to build upon this setup beyond a few lackluster plot twists and lots of anger. The justification for killing all the soldiers and Gentek employees is based around the idea that they're pricks experimenting on human beings and shooting innocent people. No, really… almost every Blackbox recording James finds is about Blackwatch soldiers killing some poor soul without any remorse. This message is hammered out so many times through tiresome dialogue that I wouldn't be surprised if they impaled a bag of puppies with their dicks.
At the same time, between spewing lines filled with profanity and shouting, James has no problem involving innocent New Yorkers, who might as well serve as clutter. There's no penalty for consuming an innocent NPC for health or slicing a crowd just for the fun of it. Consuming a person also gives James access to all of that person's memories, many times for the purpose of getting one piece of information that he could have gotten by threatening his victims anyway (or asking nicely). Meanwhile, he ignores the fact that the soldiers probably have wives and children of their own, but he doesn't give a shit or a fuck (yep, that's how he talks). Blackwatch and Gentek may be evil pricks, but James Heller is a self-righteous hypocrite.
Also, apart from the final Red Zone, the connection to the city is lacking. James doesn't so much "explore" New York City as much as he travels through it to get from one objective to the next. And how difficult is it to find anything when the map shows players exactly where the "hidden" collectibles are, anyway?
It also doesn't help that missions are extremely repetitive. Almost all of them require James to leap into a base, consume the commander, shapeshift into the commander to open any locked doors, maybe consume some enemies for DNA or information, and then flee the alert. Find, kill, flee, rinse, repeat. Moreover, these missions frequently involve stealth killing, which allows James to shapeshift into a killed foe without alerting the attention of enemies. But performing a stealth kill is as simple as knocking into targets until their line of sight is impaired, and it's so effective that James can ignore fighting altogether. That's in large part due to the dumb AI who can't tell when their friends are being taken out one at a time right in front of their face.
While Prototype 2 is fun, it's also bare. Killing monsters and gaining superpowers will always be entertaining, but the game could have been so much more than a short power fantasy, a lazy revenge story with hackneyed villains and a stereotypical portrayal of a black male protagonist. For a full retail title, it's just not fully fleshed and much better suited for a rental. Modern gaming has already evolved years ago—it's about time Prototype 2 caught up.