Wot I Think: Prototype 2

By Alec Meer on July 31st, 2012 at 9:00 pm.

Several months after its console debut – the so-so sales of which lead to Activision closing its developer – open-world superhero game Prototype 2 is now out on PC. I’ve been hulking out, wall-running up tall buildings and eating people alive for the last few days, and then I played some Prototype 2. Allow me to foist the following words about it upon your monitor.

You shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, they say. And with Activision having recently sent Prototype developer Radical Entertainment off to their unsettlingly large boneyard (in the company of Bizarre, Octane, Luxoflux, Budcat, 7 Studios, Underground Development, Shaba, Sierra Entertainment, Gray Matter and Infocom), criticising what becomes a posthumous sequel on PC does feel cruel. Then again, praising it to the highest heavens wouldn’t result in any more cash or security for the people who made it. The whole business gets me down, I must say – and that isn’t what a Hulk-inspired game about rampaging around an open-world New York should do.

If you played 2009′s Prototype, you’re not going to be enormously surprised by Prototype 2. Like its predecessor, it’s an uneven blend of superheroic excess and grimdark moping, where the surly tone is distractingly at odds with the gleeful carnage. It’s like hiring a clown for your child’s birthday party, but then he just sits in the corner muttering and swearing to himself. (Prototype 2 does love to swear, and in its constant, look-at-me-ma-I’m-mature stream of f-bombs the word it’s so very fond of loses all force and meaning, instead coming off contrived and irritating).

The sequel outwardly seemed to do the right thing by ditching unloveable former protagnoist Alex Mercer in favour of a new, similarly mutated anti-hero, but autocue-reading megagrump James Heller is even harder to sympathise with. He swears and he moans and he swears and he never smiles and he swears and he doesn’t like anyone or anything and he swears, and while he’s got just, tragic cause for being such a bad-tempered miseriguts, that doesn’t make wearing his shoes any more comfortable.

There are occasional, jarring bursts of humour, such as when Heller inexplicably goes crazy apeshit because a computer he needs to access doesn’t have an alt-key, or the parodic big brother PA messages from the cartoon villain military who control this infection-besieged New York. It’s foolish to What If or If Only when discussing a released game, but it feels so lacking in definable character of its own. More actively pursuing the tongue-in-cheek could have given it so much more of a voice.

I could not bring myself to care about the despondent story, Heller’s vengeance quest against Mercer and the boo-hiss scientists responsible for his newly-mutated state and the death of his family. In practice, this entails repeatedly finding and ‘absorbing’ a series of baddies, interspersed with big huge fights against soldiers, tanks, helicopters and genetically-modified monsters. That stuff I could and did care about, because it’s a festival of absurdist violence set in enormous grounds.

The key pillars of the first game remain. Smashing stuff and people up with big ugly claws; power-leaping and gliding around the rooftops; consuming whoever you like in order to adopt their appearance, thus achieving disguise for either stealth or access to new areas. It’s tightened and refined, generally being both easier to control and more excessive more quickly. While Heller gains a series of new powers as the game goes on – for instance, having a pack of huge mutants to order around, or ripping the weapons from tanks to then use against their original owners – he has access to the base set of Mercer’s abilities not long into proceedings.

The upside of this is having plenty of ways to kill people and plenty of space to do it in, with the jump’n'glide mechanic especially retaining its high-velocity joy. The downside is that matters get familiar fast, and the escalation of threat can’t quite keep up with the escalation of Heller’s abilities and the player’s acclimatisation to controlling them. I found myself tending towards stealth more and more, simply because the threat of being detected is higher than the risk of being defeated.

It’s reasonably tricky to be beaten in a straight fight, other than during particular scripted moments and boss fights, because you’re the Hulk. Hulk is the strongest one there is, even when he’s miserable baldy guy in a hoody with giant pink claws instead of giant green fists.

So, instead I inclined towards the self-set challenge of trying to absorb all the guards in my next target zone undetected, until there was just one guy patrolling and curiously unconcerned that all his mates had simply vanished. You can’t absorb someone safely if anyone else can see them, so I found myself waiting patiently for patrol routes to leave someone exposed, or causing distraction (throwing a car, blowing up a radar) to make everyone run in one direction, then slipping into disguise and entering the base from the other side so I could silently chow down on anyone left straggling.

This was a strangely satisfying way to approach the game, and even if it was not making full use of Heller’s inreasingly deadly and grotesque superpowers, it did feel more in keeping with the concept that he was a wanted man in a city under military lockdown. That concept is not something Prototype 2 seems to get entirely right, as soldiers seem unbothered by seeing a man fly right over them or having their mutant detection devices mysteriously blow up just a few feet from where they’re standing. The soldiers are very forgiving of seeing someone with superpowers run by, given they’ve told you’re public enemy number one and must be taken out at all costs.

As my powers slowly grew, I did thrill to wigging out in spectacular fashion. The power that leaves giant, sticky, red tendrils, adorned with bits of dismember soldier, hanging between walls like nightmarish spiderwebs was a particular treat. It can go big, it can go gruesome and it doesn’t stand in the way of letting you achieve it. Given quite how many games artificially prolong themselves by simply dangling their biggest and best tools of destruction out of reach, I’m grateful for P2′s near-instant bombast.

Trouble is there are only so many ways to skin a cat, even when you’ve got a draw brim-full of intriguingly-shaped knives, so galumphing freely around the city runs out of road before too long. Smashing things and eating people are the order of the day, and there are no real alternative distractions to warrant doing this outside of the missions. There are collectibles, of course, and side-missions, but the latter are marked on the map and the former as routine as it sounds. So, I found myself consistently carving my way through the missions rather than than my usual open-world tendency of wandering and experimenting.

As with Orcs Must Die! 2, we’re essentially looking at a tweaked, expanded version of the first game rather than a true rebuild or new exploration of the ideas. That’s fine, and aside from the truly remarkable feat of coming up with an even less likeable protagonist than Prototype 1′s, this is comfortably the superior of the two games. Without an addition as big as co-op though, I’m harder pushed to say quite why you need this in your life if you’ve already played the original.

The closest thing it has to Mutation With Friends is the RADNET scoreboard-based challenges, but those are meanly ringfenced into the RADNET pre-order DLC. It looks a bit better than its predecessor (and doesn’t feature loads of magazine shops called Magazine Shop, which is a relief), there are more powers and the sense of wanton destruction is heightened, but… Oh, I can’t be bothered to put anything after that dotdotdot, I’m only repeating myself now.

Maybe if Prototype had more charisma, maybe if someone in it cracked a smile, maybe if you couldn’t almost hear the actors turning the pages of the scripts they’re reading aloud for the first time, maybe if it wasn’t entirely set within a rather routine cityscape, maybe if it had surprised rather than simply continued it would have been a smash hit and Radical would still be with us today.

Such moralising, despite my very real sympathy for those who lost their jobs because of a hugely profitable corporation’s merciless fixation on its bottom line, is academic to the issue of the now though – should you buy Prototype 2? “Maybe.” Stick that in yer bloody Metacritic pipe and smoke it.

Edit – some have reported performance issues with the PC port. I didn’t encounter anything that stood out in that regard, but maybe I’m either lucky or stupid.

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59 Comments »

  1. Dominic White says:

    Prototype 2, as with Prototype 1, made me second-guess myself. I find myself underwhelmed, and wondered ‘Was Hulk: Ultimate Destruction on the Xbox 1 really that good?’

    And then I play Hulk: UD. And it *is* that good. How they failed to recapture that magic, and lost the fantastically superheroic grapple-centric brawling is beyond me.

    • caddyB says:

      Similar reasons to why Lucas couldn’t get recent Star Wars movies right, I suppose.

    • Jesse L says:

      Second that. Hulk! SO GOOD.

      I think I’ll go play it again tonight.

      • Dominic White says:

        If you have a US (or modded UK, as Microsoft saw fit to remove that feature at the OS level) Xbox, it even supports resolutions up to 720p. Granted, the framerate suffers there. 480p is ideal. Looks really sharp.

        • Jesse L says:

          Interesting! I don’t think I’ve played it on my HD TV yet. I wish it was on PC so someone could mod in increased texture detail at long distances. But graphics don’t really detract from that sweet, sweet Hulk smashing high.

    • malkav11 says:

      I don’t know. I thought Hulk: UD was spectacular, but I liked Prototype even better and expect from this WIT to like Prototype 2 better still. I will grant that the Hulk game had a significantly better main story (though I liked the little Web of Intrigue snippets of story you could get if you cared to), but none of these games are story games. They’re games about running amok and wreaking havoc with over the top superpowers. And, for me, Prototype makes that process more satisfying because the superpowers are crazier, the consequences more impactful (Hulk had zero blood, and while I’m no gorehound, I don’t feel like it’s right to depict the consequences of unleashing these sorts of powers on human bodies as “oh, they lie down now”), and there’s more toys to work with. I did wish they did more with the consuming and replicating of other people the way the previews talked about doing, but it was still a fun toy to play with (watch granny run up the side of this building and throw a car at you!).

    • Jakkar says:

      It truly was that good. I’m glad I’m not the only one who can’t click with these bland repetitions of what was an excellent game. Half the moveset is so ‘Hulk’ it doesn’t even suit these characters.

      Beyond that though, what truly kills it is the sheer emptiness of the world. All these tricks and no actual interactivity. No intelligence or long term simulation. Nothing reacts, nothing changes. Prototype should have been a Fable-esque action-RPG in a GTA city, with a strong dose of Pathologic in the way the infection spreads dynamically and alters the way the world works.

  2. povu says:

    Is the PC port as bad as Totalbiscuit makes it out to be in his video? He said there were some crazy framerate dependant mouse acceleration issues, and general performance issues.

    I suppose we don’t have to expect a patch from a dead company. Hell, they never patched the first game either.

    • Alec Meer says:

      Seemed fine to me, but it’s often been the case that I’m not as finely-tuned to noticing such things as others are.

      • Wodge says:

        TB covers a lot of those pretend computer sports, where everyone needs 1.27 bazillion fps etc.

        For normal people, the game is fine, should be played with a pad though

        • Vorphalack says:

          Because no normal PC gamer uses a mouse, right?

          • HothMonster says:

            “Though” is a qualifier and in this case lets you know that the part of the sentence it is qualifying “it should be played with a controller” is at odds with the part before. He could have lost that first comma for clarity though.

          • Squirrelfanatic says:

            @Hoth: I see what you did there.

        • Vandelay says:

          I generally like TB’s reviews and he does often talk a lot of sense, but I was quite mystified by some of his complaining about this game. Having not played it, I can’t comment on the controls, but he kept complaining about low res textures and I really couldn’t see what he was talking about. Maybe it was because I was lying back watching the video on the TV, but I was blind to his whining about how bad that wall texture looked or the shoulder pads of that armour clad soldier.

          I don’t see any mention of it here, so I’m guessing I’m not alone in not being able to see it from screens and videos of the game.

          • Salt says:

            Yeah, I too was mystified by his “WTF is..” of this game.

            He seemed obsessed by low resolution textures. Including a genuinely laugh out loud section saying that it’s hard to notice them because it’s a third person game, then taking a few minutes to awkwardly jam the camera into corners, stare at insignificant background walls, and clip the camera through enemy character models.
            Maybe I was just frustrated as he seemed to be talking about low resolution textures as poor “texture work”, as if the artists had chosen to draw pixelated textures.

        • lijenstina says:

          For normal people watching a Let’s play on Youtube the game runs fine. :P

          Because Special Pleading was raised I’ll respond with a Reductio ad Absurdum. :)

      • Alec Meer says:

        I also played on keyboard and mouse throughout. ‘Twas fine. Because there’s not really much shooting – there can be if you want, but it’s the least interesting way to fight in the game – it could be that mouse acceleration issues simply didn’t raise their head.

    • lhw says:

      I just got the game today and I haven’t encountered any frame drops so far. One crash though.
      For anyone interested: The UK version activates fine on Steam in Germany, no proxy or required.

    • Wolfox says:

      I had no problems whatsoever (though I can’t really say anything about the mouse controls, as I’ve played with a Xbox360 controller). Performance was great, no crashes of any kind… it ran very well indeed, better than I expected, and I personally thought it looked great – a lot better than Prototype 1.

    • Dominic White says:

      If you play with a gamepad (the controller the game was designed around – ever notice that nobody rages against flight sims playing badly with mouse/keyboard?), it’s fine.

      • PUKED says:

        That’s just all part of TB’s grand review tradition of bitching about option menus 10 minutes and using keyboard controls in games designed for a gamepad.

        • Suits says:

          If keyboard controls don’t work properly for him, it would be something to point out. Even though he played with gamepad afterwards, it is still worth it to warn people.

    • WhiteLung says:

      I’ve only had one problem with the game. To get it to start I have to unplug my keyboard (Corsair K90) and plug it back in once the game has stated, otherwise it crashes…which is weird.

    • woodsey says:

      I’d recommend enduring the mouse acceleration in AC2 if it’s that much of a concern. Once you’ve dealt with that crap, the only way is up.

  3. MaXimillion says:

    No mention of how atrocious the PC port is?

    • Tom De Roeck says:

      Its a good port. Only a few control spazzes, but very very seldom, and not gameplay destroying.

      Also, it was very Hulky, in a good way.

      Though, you are never “the good guy”, and it feels a bit like a Saints Row: Serious Grumpy Meat Monster Edition.

      • Jesse L says:

        Prototype could really use some Volition-style rainbow-farting unicorn DLC.

        • Tom De Roeck says:

          No, it really couldnt. The ending of P2 is pretty definitive. If they add on to that, they will destroy the good thing about it.

  4. mouton says:

    It all sounds quite depressing and bitter. Hope you are all right, Alec.

  5. Tom De Roeck says:

    The end does make up for the rest of the game’s story being.. well.. nothing special.

  6. benjamin says:

    I played three hours of Prototype 1 before leaving it with the grand feeling of: meh. It was just…well, meh. This one doesn’t look any different.

  7. Jesse L says:

    The real reason I’ll never buy this, even for a discount, in one word: “Yuck.” It looks gross. Maybe particularly horrible 12 year-old boys could actively like this kind of thing, but I’m not sure why someone thought this would be a big hit with well-adjusted members of the general public. If the double-whammy of grotesque visual styling and emo grump protagonist did this title in (not necessarily the case), I’m sorry to say I think that’s fair. And I REALLY liked Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. But I’m just not going to touch this.

    I prefer my creepy gross stuff to have some classy weirdness in it. Let’s hope Icepick Lodge will pick up the rights for Prototype 3.

    In response to the trend of relentlessly downbeat protagonists frowning and cursing their way through escapist fiction, I like to paraphrase a movie reviewer, I don’t remember who, responding to, I think, grumpy guts Perseus in the new Clash of the Titans: Man, try working the 9 to 5 shift every damn day. You’re a fictional half god out on an adventure to save the world. Don’t give me this crap about “I never asked for this.” I didn’t ask to sit behind a damn desk all day every day editing numbers in a spreadsheet. Entertain me, damn it!

    See also “Cursed with Awesome”: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/CursedWithAwesome

    • YourMessageHere says:

      Are you sure you didn’t ask for it? Cast your mind back; was there an advert? An interview, perhaps? Some sort of form, or maybe you wrote a letter? I’ve never heard of people being coerced into skilled, full-time jobs against their will before (outside of conscription, but that doesn’t generally result in spreadsheets).

      But really, life is hard whoever you are, office worker or viral supermutant. Art mirroring life IS it trying to entertain you; for myself, I’d rather have a story about someone else’s problems, which I can take as credible after some disbelief suspension, than a story about someone with no problems, which I can’t, because that’s never credible.

    • ElvisNeedsBoats says:

      Agreed. Watching innocents impaled by tentacles and such turned me off to Prototype. I bought inFamous instead.

  8. Kaira- says:

    I see there’s nothing said on the review, but apparently the port is so sloppily done that those with ATI/AMD-cards don’t even have shadows in the game.

    • malkav11 says:

      It’s entirely possible that issue is the developer’s fault, but…I don’t know. I see game after game where ATI cards don’t work properly and nVidia cards do, and call me crazy, but it seems to be suggesting a pattern.

      (Which is not to say that nVidia never fucks up. Their 301 WHQL drivers caused massive systemwide framerate issues for me, regardless of program or settings.)

      • Xocrates says:

        Considering the amount of Nvidia logos on games, I would say it’s more because Nvidia is more likely to have helped on the development of the game than ATI sucking at their job.

        • Ragnar says:

          Indeed. Every “The Way It’s Meant to be Played” title would run better on Nvidia cards upon launch, since Nvidia had partnered with the dev to have exclusive access prior to release. AMD/ATI would get the performance up to comparable levels after release, but it took time since they didn’t have Nvidia’s head start.

          AMD/ATI make good cards with stable drivers (and that’s coming from a current Nvidia owner). Don’t let the occasional shoddy port cloud your judgement of AMD/ATI.

          • RakeShark says:

            The problem isn’t so much the tech behind AMD/ATI. The problem is their driver support is slow or non-exsistant. JAW (developers of the Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD) have been trying for months to get ATI to correct their drivers so people with ATI cards can actually play the game, and ATI has done nothing but say “Nope.” That is one example, but I’ve heard a few other murmors from my developer friends that AMD/ATI is a pain in the ass to work with, and nVidia’s support seems divine by comparison.

  9. d00d3n says:

    Prototype 2 is great. The core gameplay is largely borrowed from the first game, but spruced up with a more refined upgrade system (constant rewards for general progression, completing subsets of missions and for consuming special enemies, actual upgrade path is easy to understand and gives some interesting options, similar to the infamous design), improved world design (division of game space in three distinct islands, a sense of progression as you travel to the next, similar to the infamous design) and better missions (big improvement compared to the first game which had generic sidemissions and over difficult and repetitive campaign missions). The only thing that is missing compared to the first game is the moody atmosphere, which made playing the game a downer, but at the same time brought something original to the table.

    Great PC conversion also. With intel i5-2500k, geforce 580 gtx, 8 gig ram, win 7 64 bit, latest nvidia drivers it was running without frame rate issues and looked great overall, maybe a bit low res on the texture side of things. I was playing with a 360 controller, but playing this game in any other way seems weird anyway … It is unfair to call the pc conversion shit just because of standard mouse look issues. Compared to the worst pc conversions in recent memory such as Arkham City, which truly deserved to be called shit, this is a masterpiece.

  10. StressBall says:

    If you think Heller’s dialogue is f-bomb heavy now, you should have heard it earlier in development. At one point one of the writers went through and cut or altered a huge number of lines to remove f-bombs. My memory could be faulty, as this had to be around a year ago, but I recall the edits affecting nearly a third of Heller’s lines (of which there are a lot. A lot! I spent the better part of a day listening to every single one of those lines back-to-back to make sure the subtitles were correct. That was a f**king long day). She then out a team-wide e-mail about it, including a handful of choice selections that remained in the game. The only one that stuck in my mind involved Heller threatening to skull-f**k someone or other; that Heller, always a classy guy.

    • Sire says:

      Thanks for a f-ing great game! Ended badly for the team but you should all be proud.

  11. rockman29 says:

    Infamous 2 is better. MUCH better, imo.

    • Screamer says:

      What is this “Infamous 2″ you are speaking of? Can’t be that PS3 game can it?

  12. TheFool says:

    I saw Prototype’s narrative as incredibly flawed but with glimpses of promise. The Web of Intrigue in particular was a brilliant idea that could have been reworked on in a sequel to provide a nonlinear storytelling device. The villains had motivations that weren’t just EVIL LAUGH (Elizabeth Greene: completely insane after all the experiments and the virus’s need to reproduce; Gentech and the science generally: experimenting with a virus so versatile that it could do pretty much anything, starting with curing pretty much all diseases; Blackwatch is dealing with controlling the most dangerous biological entity ever, and letting anything escape the quarantine dooms everything to NYZ’s fate), and the tone was consistent ( the anarchic fun that Mercer could get up to doesn’t contrast with his need to understand what happened to him and survive).

    Mercer, especially, was an interesting choice for a protagonist, as he’s clearly the villain. As a human, he was a sociopath who realized he was never getting out without leverage and tried to use Blacklight as a hostage; upon failing to escape, he felt no compunction about releasing it instead of surrendering or dying without potentially dooming humanity. The Mercer you play as is a virus that originally thinks it’s human, but doesn’t really understand how to act it, leading to the flat voice acting, the weirdly plastic animations in cutscenes, etc (alright, that last bit is completely unintentional). At the end, embracing what it is, it seeks to escape its confinement.

    In the sequel, we get rank stupidity and cartoon villainy on all fronts, alongside a somber (yet still stupid as hell) story about a father who wants to find his child and his even-more-magic-than-the-first-game sidekicks (a priest who is also a super-connected hacker? Athena as an even more awesome hacker?). Gentech is a company that is so evil, that a sidequest reveals they’re working on a way to sterilize the lower classes and immigrants so that they don’t contaminate the gene pool. Blackwatch is just an army of straight-up psychopaths, and both of them have the sole personality type of Whiny, Arrogant Nerd and Dumb, Crass Jock, respectively.

    Mercer is Ernst freakin’ Blofeld blended with utopian dreamer, and picks Heller as a super-mutant because…um…reasons. Good reasons, like…he liked Heller’s scar…and…yeah.

    At least the core gameplay was still fun, but it’s like they tried to make an aggressively, insultingly stupid game.

  13. rafaelsanti says:

    Alec Meer may i ask what are your system specs you use to review the game?

  14. Chaz says:

    Well it looks rather pretty and entertaining. I like that 3rd shot down, looks good.

    As for the main protagonist being a bit of a prick, well that doesn’t bother me so much. Your character is really just a cipher to shunt around the screen at your whim in these types of games anyway. It’s not as if his back story is going to have any influence on the way you play the game, so why does it matter.

  15. The Sombrero Kid says:

    Just Cause 2 with the joy sucked out if the first one’s anything to go by

  16. Xan says:

    They managed to make Heller less likable than Mercer, I guess that’s achievement worthy?

  17. Zarunil says:

    I don’t have issues with the controls, but the game looks ugly as hell. It basically looks like a 2006/07 game, both in textures and details. It might run on a calculator.

    It is also pretty dull, to be honest. I gave an effort at following the story, but eventually started skipping it in favor of throwing cars at helicopters.

    • Kill_The_Drive says:

      Hello, TotalBiscuit.

    • Gnoupi says:

      “It might run on a calculator.”

      Your bloody CPU is a calculator. What does that even mean, that it might run on a calculator? Pull that old TI-89 from the box it’s hidden in, and see how it looks like. It doesn’t even know what a texture is.

      • lijenstina says:

        It’s called a hyperbole calculator. It is used to calculate the odds of provoking a reaction on the internet. Usually, it’s rate of success approaches 100 % .

      • Zarunil says:

        My CPU is not covered in blood.

        See what happens when one takes things literally?

  18. Fearzone says:

    If you live in San Francisco and eat at restaurants there, then you travel to Sacramento and go out to dinner, you just can’t go by the same standards. You have to expect that the food will not be as good. Or substitute any major metropolitan city with notable food, and a more common city in its hinterlands about 150 miles away. Once in awhile you’ll find a good place that can make it in the big city, but those are few and far between. I guess Prototype 2 is not one of those places. But that’s yesterdays news.

  19. johnbanji says:

    FANTASTIC game!!!!!!!!
    oNE OF MY FAVOURITES!!!!!
    Already playing for 2 weeks!)
    By the way my friend send my free download full version link http://prototype2new.tumblr.com/

  20. Josh W says:

    Prototype is in this funny place, where it sort of wants to add justification to your romp of destruction, so it can add serious plot elements. Having your character seem “wronged” in some way, and then never enjoy any of the destruction you are obviously enjoying, is supposed to put them in the anti-hero rather than villain category. Doesn’t work, your character is still an idiot who focuses on his own felt injustices to the exclusion of anyone else, he’s still an archetypal villain.