Radical Entertainment did some fine work on Prototype, the 2009 open-world game that filled New York City with slobbering mutants and a super-powered protagonist in Alex Mercer. April 2012's Prototype 2 returns us to the shattered Big Apple streets with a similar suite of powers to play with, only this time they'll be wielded by James Heller. He has a bone to pick with the previous game's hero over the death of his family, which apparently came at Mercer's hands.
Things most likely aren't as they first seem, but none of that, or really anything else involving the story, was in evidence when Activision offered up a first-time hands-on with next year's release at New York Comic-Con over the weekend. I played through two small chunks of game on the crowded show floor, one of them specifically designed for the 'Con and the other pulled from one of the game's story missions. The focus in both of these offerings was combat. Sweet, deliciously brutal, and bloody combat.
First up was something called "Rampage" mode, which I'm told was prepped specifically for the NYCC crowd. Heller is dropped onto a random New York street in the midst of a gang of soldier-type bad guys. The idea was for me to rack up as many kills as possible in a handful of minutes, with new and more challenging enemies spawning in as each group fell. I eventually took on a mutant and managed to bring it down--they're much tougher than your standard humans--as the counter ticked down to zero.
The most immediately obvious change in Prototype 2 is the graphics. A new visual filter gives everything a much grittier look, but even the basic level of quality in the world's textures has been improved. This is a prettier game than its predecessor was, no question, making better use of the hardware to deliver a well-detailed 3D world.
The second big difference I noticed was Heller himself, or rather the powers he wields. Mercer's mutations equipped him with weaponized exo-skeleton-like extrusions. Heller's abilities find common ground with what you'd expect to see from Marvel Comics villains Venom or Carnage; he attacks with long, rope-like tendrils that seem to take on a life of their own. He can transform limbs into various weapons--such as the Wolverine-like claws and Hammerfist seen at NYCC--just like Mercer could, but his signature seems to be these tendrils. Once you have the controller in hand, it's clear that Radical put a lot of effort into tweaking what was already a solid set of controls from the first game. You have weapon and tendril attacks, both of which can be charged up, as well as a button for grabbing things, from hand weapon-sized on up to wrecked cars.
Grabbing a living human of any kind allows you to turn that person into a "Bio-Bomb" with the press of a button. You'll need to throw it before it explodes, but detonating a Bio-Bomb sprouts tendrils of its own that pull in surrounding people and objects to crush them all together into a gooey ball of gore and compressed metal. Speaking of goo, it's all over the place in Prototype 2. As Heller puts his powers to use, particularly the tendril-oriented ones, the environment around you starts to fill up with dangling strands of these blood-colored bio-ropes. It's gross, but awesomely so.
The second part of the NYCC demo was pulled from a story mission in the game. It's a pretty familiar setup, especially if you played the previous game: a church housing some of Heller's allies is under threat, and it's up to our hero to keep enemy forces at bay. Enemies in this case are soldiers, and they come armed with firearms, rocket launches, rocket launcher-mounted APCs, and soldier-spewing helicopters. There's no on-screen timer as there was in the Rampage mode, but Heller has to act quickly all the same to take out the enemies before the church is brought down. This mission serves to highlight Heller's considerable power. Much like Mercer, this new protagonist is pretty unstoppable in even-odds combat situations.
Even a lone APC or chopper is no match. The latter can be taken care of with a few well-placed thrown cars or tendril strikes and the former can be mounted and "weaponized," meaning Heller yanks off its rocket launcher and uses it as a carried weapon. Again, all of this is familiar if you played the first game. The challenge comes in when the enemies get organized enough to focus fire on you from multiple sources. The urban battlefield then becomes a place in which the biggest threats must fall first. APCs with their rockets are the most potentially mission-threatening; weaponizing one then also gives you the added bonus of a ranged weapon that is very effective against other armored vehicles on the land and in the sky.
The enemies are all human during this stretch of play, but they come in large numbers and from all directions. This is apparently an early-ish moment from the game, however, so the challenge is pretty light overall once I get back into the swing of watching the minimap for each new group of attackers, as they have a tendency to appear on different sides of the church.
Overall, Activision and Radical delivered a promising showing for Prototype 2 at NYCC. There's still plenty to be revealed about the story and Heller's full range of powers--hopefully including a few more things to differentiate him from Mercer--but the core gameplay offers a definite improvement on the groundwork that was laid in the original game. Look for Prototype 2 in April 2012.