STAFF REVIEW of Prototype 2 (Xbox 360)

Friday, May 11, 2012.
by Ken Laffrenier

Prototype 2 Box art With the sheer volume of video gaming developers, studios, and titles hitting the various consoles; the most common inference that reviewers place to new titles is the fact that game A seems a lot like game B or that parts of game A borrow elements from games B, C and even that awful game D. However, depending on the individual reviewer, this is often misconstrued and even redirected to imply that the game is better or worse simply because of the comparison.

All of this creates the ideal lead into Prototype 2. Sure, I could have given some anecdote as to how I like to glide between buildings during my morning commute, or even referenced the first Prototype title to create a tone for my review...but yet again I would just be putting unfair comparisons in play.

Activision plays a strong role as both publisher of the title and owner of the Radical Entertainment Studio. Prototype 2 is the ?sequel? to Radical Entertainment?s 2009?s release and is only the second title to be released by the developer since Activision acquired the development studio in 2008 (three ?cancelled? titles round out the teams schedules). This title uses the same game engine named the Titanium Engine as used for most of the team?s titles since 2005 including Scarface: The World is Yours and The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction.

For those of you who may have missed (or simply didn?t take a liking to) the original title in 2009, Prototype 2 has a nice way of bringing you up to speed. In the initial game menu there is an option to view a nicely edited video that showcases the infection of New York, Alex Mercer?s genetic mutations and how Alex became the anti-hero while battling the forces of evil. Obviously you don?t need to have prior experience as you aren?t playing as Mr. Mercer this time around. Instead you will be taking on the role of James Heller, who becomes (conveniently) infected by Mercer upon his return to NYZ (New York Zone...damn virus!).

It seems that James has rushed home for the front because of the outbreak and because he is a career military man, James has been actively reassuring his wife and daughter that the government will look after the issues (someone missed the entire premise of the Bourne movies). Handily, James returns home to find his family killed due to complications of the virus and sets off to find those responsible...which creates a great opportunity to bestow upon James all of the horror and flying glory that comes with the specific infection that, it seems, only Alex can provide.

Yes, the initial setup for the story and the character development is convoluted and contrived but at least we don?t have to sit through some lame back-story that shows the development of some whiny kid into the ultimate bad guy (I?m talking to you Anakin). Fortunately, the main story line has a fair amount of intrigue and development that spans a few characters and there are even a few twists thrown in for good measure. There are various side quests that try to add to the story but really just stall out the flow and quickly bring you out of the intrigue and place you squarely into a series of questionable and mundane situations.

So the story, has a chance right...there is a good amount of pacing, mystery and action to carry some entertaining value...but...the entire game feels as though the game developers had no interest in talking to the writers once development was started. You battle through a series of government agents and infected baddies, you covertly acquire the intel to guide you to the next objective, you watch as various residents are bullied and battered into submission and that?s when you...pick up your cell phone for a quick call to your contacts who conveniently know exactly what to do, where to go and what to expect...and of course you do this while casually walking among the denizens of this ravaged city. The stories there but there weren?t writers involved to help guide from one situation to the next and they could have helped to bring the side missions into the whole to create a unified narrative.

The gameplay itself takes you through three regions: Green, Yellow and Red. Each region is accessible only as the story progresses and showcases the degradation and levels of infection while keeping in time with the advancing abilities of our hero, James. The Green region shows low infection areas with check points and some sense of order. The Yellow region showcases areas of rampant infection while residents try to hold onto some stability. The Red region shows us the center of the infection with absolute chaos reigning all around.

Of course as you make your way through you are not without some offensive and defensive abilities. What?s really enjoyable is how these abilities are presented to you. You start the game very well equipped which allows you to immediately feel a sense of power and drives you to jump into virtually any situation. As you complete some missions, garner xp, destroy specific monsters or complete side quests, you will be rewarded with a whole range of powers. Whether upgraded claws, longer glide ranges or the ability to make those around you into bio weapons, each progression fills you with a real feeling of might and you can?t wait to lay waste to everything around you. Add to this the ability to absorb the features of virtually everyone you meet which builds your health bar while allowing you to hide in plain sight and you can?t help but feel invincible.

Lucky for you most of the encounters you?ll experience are against enemies that are relatively easy to destroy because the ability to target any specific enemy is a challenge all its own. By the end of act 2, I fully expected to be awarded an achievement for successfully targeting a couple of enemies in a row. The AI tries to help your targeting by directing you toward your objectives but often you are faced with swarms of infected brutes which require a certain amount of targeting to bring down.

Visually the game is a nice polish over the original offering but you can?t help but feel that you?re using a 2012 template over a 2008 gaming engine. Oh wait, that?s exactly what?s happening!! Graphically, the designers went to great lengths to ensure that most elements had the level of detail, texturing and transition that gamers have come to expect, however the game tends to muddle many of the visuals which provide a really disappointing aspect to some great efforts. The developers have added enough variations of the residents and even the infected to avoid feeling as though you?re constantly running past the same person but I would have appreciated the same effort put into some of the government officers as they are the ones you most find yourself absorbing. There are some great visual representations with the outstanding use of the abilities of James Heller himself. You are given these terrific and powerful weapons but when you see the series of tendrils draw out of yourself, into your target, out again to grab various elements before tearing your enemy apart really showcases your destructive have been able to witness them in a more ?high def? environment would have been a crowning achievement on behalf of the team.

The sound really adds to the environment while playing up the ongoing chaos. All of the voice actors provide an ambiance specific to the surroundings, whether background characters feeling betrayed by those around them, to the government scientist that revel in their own manic power and even the myriad of infected enemies provide precisely what you would expect to hear from mindless minions hell bent on your destruction. The effects are well layered and add to the overall drama rather than take you out of the moment and the background soundtrack helps to maintain a sense of urgency while still allowing you to pick up on the sounds around you.

Early in this review I identified how the lack of originality is so quickly used to critic a game. And I won?t lie to you; Prototype 2 is rife with all kinds of pilfering. From Radical?s own titles like the Hulk and Scarface to other familiar elements, you will find similarities abound. Unlike, many other nameless titles however, Radical actual uses these familiar elements in ways that we would expect and in most cases goes to great lengths to improve upon the original. From its open world, destructive environment, to its covert operations, to the hoards of infected zombies you?ll find yourself wishing you could go back to the original titles and play them out as Radical has developed Prototype.

It may just be the incredibly high expectations we put on game developers today but the game suffers from enough faults to keep it just outside of my top 10 list. But, with just the right amount of game play time, some challenging achievements, tons of ways to create chaos and an outstanding cast, Prototype 2 delivers an enjoyable game and has created a great opportunity to bring together various elements into a cohesive environment.

Overall: 8.3 / 10
Gameplay: 8.2 / 10
Visuals: 8.5 / 10
Sound: 8.5 / 10


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