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Prototype 2 review: Stalkin' New York


For the sake of fun, we're willing to put up with a lot a ham-fisted plots, characters, settings and whatever else isn't directly related to gameplay. I'm not exactly sure how much I'm willing to put up with, but it's a line that Prototype 2 crossed very quickly.

Like its predecessor, Prototype 2 features some of the best free-form locomotion of this generation. Combat is easy control and allows for a variety of tactical options, so long as you're willing to stick it out long enough to earn them. If only the rest of the experience weren't wrapped up in a mucusy, repugnant membrane of inane plot, forgettable characters and terrible dialogue, Prototype 2 would be much, much better off.

Gallery: Prototype 2 (2/16/12) | 15 Photos

Prototype 2 tells the story of one James Heller, a military man whose only defining characteristics are a penchant for profanity and the fact that his wife and daughter were killed by a super virus. If he goes any deeper than that, the plot makes no attempt to reveal it. The super virus is the same biological weapon from the first Prototype, which took place a year prior. The new outbreak has been pinned on Alex Mercer, Prototype's protagonist, and Heller sets off to take him out. After a brief confrontation, Mercer infects Heller with the virus, only (surprise!) instead of turning him into a hideous zombie, it transforms him into an all-powerful super mutant. Thus, Heller takes his new-found abilities on a quest to claim vengeance against Mercer for his family's death.

Along the way, Heller takes on GenTek and Blackwatch, the evil entities responsible for the first outbreak. The groups are back to study and contain the second outbreak, and to provide Heller with plenty of faceless villains to slaughter. By faceless, I don't mean that that most enemies wear masks – they do – but that nearly every villain is as bland as soggy toast. Not only did GenTek and Blackwatch manage to recruit an army of people who have no compunction about killing other human beings, they also managed to bag recruits who are giddy at the thought of it. Seemingly every line of enemy dialogue centers on the prospect of gleefully killing civilians – and making sure that no opportunity to use the word "fuck" ever goes to waste. Sure, all the bad guys are "evil," but they sure as hell aren't interesting.

But hey, we're not here for a riveting story. We're here to run up the sides of buildings, murder bad guys and blow shit up, right? That is a trick that Prototype 2 gets right, thanks to Heller's mutant abilities. Movement is easily the best part of the entire game, offering a sense of freedom rarely found even in open-world titles. Running across buildings, leaping from roof to roof and sailing through the sky – with the wind always whipping at Heller's back – is as exhilarating as it should be.

Combat is similarly satisfying, with Heller able to transform his arms into blades, claws, tendrils or massive hammers. Two abilities can be equipped at any time, offering different moves and finishers, and lending a bit of diversity to each battle. Unfortunately, it takes quite some time to unlock all of Heller's abilities and, even when you do, enemy variety is woeful at best. There are several types of enemies, but really only a few ways to deal with them. Heller can slice through basic enemies with impunity, while more advanced fodder (super soldiers, larger mutants) require blocking and counterattacking. Finishing off a foe with a brutal special attack or destroying an entire horde of enemies with a screen-filling Devestator is deeply satisfying, though it can grow tiresome with enough repetition.

Vehicles are among the more annoying things to deal with, as they intially require Heller to find some explosive ordinance to take out – because nothing is more fun than forcing a super-powered mega mutant to use a rocket launcher on a helicopter. Eventually, Heller acquires the ability to hijack or instantly destroy vehicles, which is much more entertaining.

The "stealth" mechanic from the original Prototype returns, allowing Heller to consume any human and take their shape. I put stealth in quotes for the simple reason that the soldiers and scientists Heller comes across are about as situationally aware as your average stapler. A short play:

Soldier 1: We have to stop the hostile!

Soldier 2: How will I recognize him?

Soldier 1: He's some sort of insane mutant. He can fly and shoot out tentacles and run up walls!

Soldier 2: How about that guy? He's running up a wall. Is that him?

Soldier 1: No, no, no, you idiot. Look at him. He's wearing a uniform. He's clearly one of us.

Soldier 2: But ... he just leapt to the top of a seven-story building.

Soldier 1: Must be a captain.

Soldier 2: Oh yeah.

I can understand simplifying stealth for the sake of expedience, but it's a little weird that Heller can leap from a skyscraper into an enemy base, shattering the pavement as he lands, without raising suspicion. Still, it's plenty of fun to slowly consume every soldier in a base without being seen, though I imagine it must be nerve-racking for the last grunt standing.

As fluid and functional as Prototype 2's mechanics are, however, they can only stretch so far (not unlike Heller's mutant limbs, really). New York is full of various challenges and missions for Heller to accept, all of which become very similar, very quickly. Countless military bases are infiltrated, mutant hives are invaded, collectibles are collected and numerous crates of whatever are salvaged. Some tasks are more enjoyable than others, but it doesn't take long for things to become tedious. Short play sessions are definitely recommended.

In the original Prototype, Alex Mercer could absorb an enemy's consciousness to uncover the mystery behind his past and the viral outbreak, adding some context to his actions and dangling a tantalizing carrot for players to chase. The feature makes a return in the sequel, though the snatches of story are really just tiny vignettes that have little bearing on the plot and try very hard to remind you just how "evil" Blackwatch and GenTek are. And don't forget the word "fuck." Don't ever forget that.

How much you get out of Prototype 2 depends on how much you enjoy its wonderful mobility and its particular brand of mass destruction, and how much you're willing to forgive its more brain-dead moments – both in terms of repetition and witless dialogue. In the end, perhaps Prototype 2 is best encapsulated with a quote from Heller himself: "Now that's some motherfuckin' gratuitous violence, right there."

Yes, it is.

This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of Prototype 2, provided by Activision.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

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