When the first Prototype released in June of 2009, it received a good bit of praise, though it had quite its share of problems such as the controls not feeling quite right at times and a very complicated scheme to use the powers that Alex Mercer gains throughout the game. In addition, the environment was quite repetitive and got boring at times. Radical Entertainment listened to the criticisms the first game received and have worked to improve on the gameplay. In addition, the protagonist of the first title is now more or less the main villain and the main character is a different person entirely.
In the opening sequence of the game, you character: James Heller is a soldier in Iraq speaking with his family and yearning to be with them. As he speaks to his daughter and wife, you come to care about him. As things progress, things get worse and news of a second outbreak start coming through these phone conversations. At the end, you hear of his family being killed by infected citizens. Alex Mercer is blamed for this and so James Heller has made it his personal mission to kill him. When he does confront him, Alex infects him with the virus so that he is changed as well.
The controls are a lot tighter now. For example, when you dash, you don’t feel like you are running at an uncontrollable speed. The Helicopter control scheme has also been improved (L2 and R2 control altitude, the best way in my opinion). The cities feel more alive and colorful as opposed to the drab environment of the first game. In addition, they are divided into three zones. There is the yellow zone, where you start, the green zone, which is the cleanest, and the red zone, where the infection is growing on buildings and there are few uninfected civilians. This helps to keep the game new and fresh with different environments. Brawlers have a look to them rather than the pink humanoid blobs of the first game. There are also new enemies such as the Goliath and the Juggernaut.
The landmarks and hints have been done away with (which was part of what annoyed me with the first game as you had to run up a building or bail out of a helicopter with ridiculous precision to get a lot of them). Instead, there are black boxes which can be tracked down on your map. When you find one, you can listen to it and hear a recording (many of which show the brutal killers that Blackwatch soldiers tend to be). There are also field ops to destroy and Lairs to eradicate. You can even hack their networks and get missions out of those. The first game had hives and bases you could destroy, but those would regenerate and so it became boring getting rid of them. Once you get rid of a lair, it is gone, which makes for some continuity.
James Heller, as opposed to Alex Mercer, does not lose his memory nor does his personality change in that he seems to care about others, or to put it another way, retains his humanity. In terms of the cut-scenes, he seems also to show a lot more personality than Alex did in the first game. Granted, this is not really saying much since Alex in the first game had all the personality of a burnt stick. After James is changed, he goes to a priest for what he should do. The cut-scenes play out in mostly high-contrast black-and-white with little bits of color here and there. As the story progresses, more characters come into play.
The patsy power (where you could finger some innocent soul and others would shoot him down) is gone, but it has been replaced with the bio bomb. Stealth consuming is easier as you press the circle button and then have the option to consume, grab, or bio bomb. You can rip the guns and missile launchers off of APCs, tanks, and helicopters and use it against them or even demolish them with a single button press. By pressing L3, you can check if an enemy can be stealth consumed. When using this ability, the victim glows red or white depending on whether they are being watched. In addition, the complicated button combos to access your more powerful moves have been simplified to context-sensitive controls. You press for a light attack, or hold down for a heavy attack.
For example, you can equip the new tendrils power, hold down the button, and execute a black-hole attack where tendrils explode out from a central target and pull in other enemies and debris to explode in a bloody mess. Hammerfist makes spikes erupt from the ground, claws cause a claw pounce, and the blade produces a tornado attack. The shield is separated from your powers and accessed via the R1 button. This makes severe counterattacks possible and changes combat (I almost never used the shield in the first Prototype).
Upgrades are done via levels and mutations. As you complete mission, consume special targets, you gain evolutionary points which allow you to upgrade your attributes. Then there are mutations where certain abilities are augmented. Mutations come with an illustration and function similar to Fallout’s perks (such as gaining more health when consuming enemies).
Another improvement is that the difficulty spikes that were present in the first one are gone. This is a mixed blessing. On the plus side, the ridiculously hard boss battles are gone. In the first game you could be playing along, get to a boss, and then you could be in throw-your-controller frustration territory. We’re not talking the kind of Difficulty of Demon’s Souls where the game fought hard, but fought fair, this is AI cheating because it can. The downside is that some may feel that the game is too easy. Even on hard, the game seems a bit underwhelming, especially as James becomes so overpowered (especially in the way he can take out a tank or a helicopter in one button press). It becomes less of a question of how do you survive and more of a question of what diabolical means to kill your enemies in the nastiest way possible?
The game tends to drag towards the end a bit as by the time you get there, you’ve pretty much done it all. There’s really nothing new to do. The main campaign can be beaten in about 10 or so hours, though there are side missions to play that will augment the game greatly. There is also Radnet, which brings on new challenges, though these are much like the events in the first game (which I pretty much ignored then as well as now). There are new mutations available through Radnet and if you’re the sort of gamer who must find everything, then Radnet is worth a look.
Story wise, the game is still kind of in B-movie territory, as are most of the games out there, but there are several plot twists, and the game does a neat job of tying up a glaring loose end left from the first (since I want to avoid spoilers, I will refrain from naming them here). Though some don’t care for Alex simply becoming a villain, it actually makes sense that he would given his colorless personality in the first game as well as what he found out as the game progressed (again, avoiding spoilers).
The voice and character acting leads me to one of my criticisms of the game. James Heller seems, for lack of a better way to put it, a little too black. It is as if whoever did the writing for the acting is trying a little too hard to make the character fit the stereotype of a black man. If you’ve seen Rico Rodriguez in Just Cause 2 or Garcia Hotspur in Shadows of the Damned you’ll probably understand what I mean. Granted this is really a design flaw in the entire industry, and I do not for a second think the designers are racist. But this is something I found a bit irritating while playing the game.
However the stereotypes are but a minor annoyance and the game is a solid entry. This not the first Prototype with a different coat of paint. This is a sequel that has been improved in many ways, in fact, it is an example of what a sequel should be. Even if you didn’t like the first Prototype, you should give this game a look if open world games appeal to you. Another question that comes up: do you need to play the first Prototype to enjoy this game? The answer is “no”. The first game had its moments, but got incredibly tedious to play. I suppose I played it longer than others since I wanted to complete a ridiculously long Web Of Intrigue (over 100) and really did not find it worth it. And as I said, the difficulty spikes were really annoying. There is no reason you need to play the first game. I will say that if you want to try the first one anyways, go right ahead, but once you play Prototype 2, you probably won’t want to go back to the first one.