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Prototype 2 preview: To Heller and back


We're just going to throw this out there, harsh as it may be: Does Prototype, 2009's open world New York-based superhero fantasy title, really need a sequel? Sure, there was some fun to be had in Alex Mercer's shoes, pulling off some over-the-top (and often just overwhelming) proto-moves, navigating a New York under alien and military siege. But by the end of the first game, we'd taken out tank after tank after tank, gutted Supreme Hunter after Supreme Hunter, and learned everything we needed to know about Blackwatch and the Blacklight virus, didn't we? There was a lot of game in Prototype -- repeated, some might say, more than even its fans wanted.

Ken Rossman, the studio head at Radical Entertainment, obviously believes we do. He and his studio are hard at work on Prototype 2, and when we spoke with him at a pre-E3 event a little while ago, he made his case as to why we want to return to this world. The main problem with Prototype, he told us, was that "it had two volumes: 1 and 11. And really there was nothing in that middle range, so either you were in disguise and the world ignored you, sometimes, or all of a sudden you kicked the hornet's nest and the world's on fire. So that was something that we acknowledged and we were like, 'That's something that we need to figure out in a better way.'"

Gallery: Prototype 2 (6/5/2011) | 8 Photos

The biggest change in the second game is that original protagonist Alex Mercer has flipped sides, and instead (apparently) plays villian. The new hero is one Sargeant James Heller, a military man who's lost his wife and child and blames Mercer for their deaths.

Because his motivations in the first game weren't always clear, Mercer was a little wishy-washy. But Radical hopes Heller's aims are front and center in the sequel. "Alex was doing it for scientific reasons, possibly at one point, whereas James Heller is doing it purely for the ability to take back what he once was," says Rossman. "So really it is about the two characters and how they are opposite each other. And there is a clarity of why you're doing these things, why you make the choices you make, and how you approach problems."

This time around, the game's also split up into three different sections of what Radical is calling "New York Zero," a war-ravaged New York City. In the Red Zone (formerly Manhattan), fighting is a constant. The Yellow Zone is a Quarantined area that's a little better (and more populous), while the Green Zone is a Blackwatch-ruled military compound, safe for nearly everyone except Heller. That should also help fix that volume issue -- Radical is planning each area to have its own feel, and build some gradients in tone that the last game didn't really hit.

The upgrade system has also been ... upgraded. "One of the things we wanted to move away from in Prototype 1 was the idea of the move store," says Rossman. "An hour into Prototype 1, you get a message that says, '21 new unlocks available!' You're a player going, '21? I just got here.' And so one of the things we wanted to do was keep the EP system of Prototype 1, thus allowing the player to make choices about how to upgrade their character, but at the same time, using the Blacknet system to go after awards that are player-driven." In the short pre-alpha demo shown off, Heller can upgrade his skills not just by buying them, but by clearing out certain areas, and being rewarded with new moves and abilities during the course of gameplay.

Because Heller is so focused, he won't be attacking the populace randomly as much as Mercer did. "In Prototype 2," Rossman adds, "we're trying to find ways to appreciate the players' choice not to consume civilians for health by using things like bonus objectives." The option to eat innocent people for health in the first game didn't play with everyone, so Radical is toning it down a bit. Heller does have some new moves, however -- we saw one that allows him to secretly plant an infection in an unsuspecting guard, leaving just enough time to run away and hide before the guard exploded and killed everything in the surrounding area.

Heller's moves in general are a little more gory than Mercer's were, and Mercer's, you'll remember, were already pretty gross. Heller's embracing his infection rather than fighting it, and that leads to lots of limb-cutting and arterial sprays. Rossman says, however, that the gore is still a work in progress: "We're not shying away from it, but we're not trying to overdo it either. At this point, it's still a knob that's being dialed in."

One thing that hasn't changed is the franchise's lack of multiplayer. "We took it off the table at the very beginning," says Rossman, citing both Radical's own thinking on the subject, and Activision's research. "Multiplayer in a third-person action game, it can be successful, but it's not required." We will, however, see some DLC, which the first game never actually implemented. "We're making sure that there's a longterm strategy with the Prototype universe," Rossman tells us, though he declines to say what extra content might entail just yet.

Prototype 2 certainly seems targeted at fixing some of the problems players had with the first game, and it will be interesting to see how someone other than Alex Mercer deals with being infected with Blacklight, and all of the power and trouble that brings. But given that Prototype, as Rossman said, already went to 11, it remains to be seen why we'd want to dial things back down again.

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