Dodgy doctors, alien DNA, overly-powerful corporations and lone heroes are the order of the day in Prototype 2, which follows up 2009′s well received – if slightly under-developed – original with more open-world action and bodily mutations.
In this second instalment we take control of James Heller, a bloodthirsty Army hero who cleans his nails with a machete, having failed a psych assessment following the death of his family. Killed by the perpetrators of the virus which infects him, Heller demands revenge, and using his newfound mutant powers, begins the hunt…
In a Terminator 2-esque reverse plot switch, this time we spend a lot of the game chasing the hero of the previous game, Alex Mercer, whose role in this second outbreak is initially unclear. The style in which missions are doled out is familiar – certain locations are marked on your in-game map. You can pick up missions to advance the plot, or alternatively leave them alone so you can enjoy roaming the open world.
This is probably one of the best things about the game, your ever-increasing powers allowing you to traverse skyscrapers in a single bound, and fly over stadiums, stations and army bases to inspect the scenery.
There’s lots in New York Zero to see and find. Numerous black box recordings are dotted around for discovery, which then contribute to your XP, which is also boosted by completing other side missions such as the various Field Ops that must be disrupted, or infected lairs that need purifying.
As your character levels up you are given choices of improvement in various areas, movement for jumping height and flying distance, for example, or mass for more strength and less chance of your attacks being broken up.
Once you start to dig into the missions you also realise the potential of Mercer’s other ability – shapeshifting – which initially seems a bit of a novelty as you mundanely access areas via hand scanners. But soon the bio-radar units that can track you emerge in Blackwatch defences, and the need for more subtlety in gaming approach becomes apparent.
The hunt and scan feature allows you to see which people are vulnerable for “consumption”. It sends a pulse towards the target and returns to imply the direction you must take. Often my favourite tactic was to consume just about every soldier in the place until there was no-one left to guard my target.
Fighting-wise, the combat is fast and frenetic. Camera angles can sometimes intrude when you’re taking on three tanks and a pair of choppers simultaneously, but that’s to be expected, with the angles of potential in building jumping and free running are almost inexhaustible.
You can also take control of tanks and helicopters, using their missiles against themselves or driving round to cause distraction and disruption in the Blackwatch ranks. Once you level up to a certain amount, you can also “finish” vehicles in a single attack. Very satisfying.
Your powers can be mapped and altered with experience, not only through XP upgrades but the consumption of important mutated enemies; you can absorb their deviant powers, including blades, tendrils and bio bombs, leaving you with an excellent range of attacks with which to confront future opponents.
They also allow you to summon some beastly Brawlers to assist in your battles. A flaw in the sound design is made apparent here, as the Brawlers are constantly accompanied by gunfire sounds – perhaps assuming that you will be in the middle of a fight when they are called for. I only noticed as I called them to help me celebrate getting an achievement for reaching the top of the Chrysler building!
There’s a real sense of improvement over the previous instalment, and I for one found myself quite smitten with this title. However, the plot is pretty standard B-movie fare, and there’s nothing to write home about character-wise – the game may help you to genuinely feel indestructible and all-powerful, but it can’t make you care about any of the characters.
Standard plot clichés such as missing daughters, turncoat relatives, and plenty of lurching twists, they’re all present and correct, with the expletive-laden dialogue to match. Heller just isn’t a compelling central character, and ultimately his enemies or allies aren’t either. It’s a curious game that is compelling due to the gameplay and graphics, but oddly cold in terms of emotional connection.
If Activision can work on this for the inevitable third Prototype game, they may well have a cult classic on their hands. As it is, it’s an above average title with plenty to offer but just a few strands short of real classic videogame DNA.