Activision had unfortunate timing with the original Prototype coming out about a week after the original inFamous. It felt like people were only talking about Cole McGrath and his electrical powers and totally ignoring Alex Mercer and his infected abilities. But Prototype still represents a fun and challenging gameplay experience with a unique dynamic that let you explore New York City as a superhuman, drawing a lot from Radical Entertainment’s own experience with The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction.
When Prototype 2 was announced with the focus shifting to a new protagonist, James Heller, the game promised to pit Heller against Mercer, as Heller blames him for the death of his wife and daughter. If you played the original Prototype through to the end, you would have been wondering if Mercer had gone entirely off the rails and decided to target innocents (which you can totally do in the game, by the way) so that he could become the bad guy.
But Radical recently let us play through the entire first hour of the game, and it seems like Mercer and Heller will be buddies throughout the game, fighting off Blackwatch while trying to find out what Gentek was up to and exactly what the Blacklight Virus is. So while I’m a bit disappointed that there isn’t a titanic slugfest with two super-powered guys going at it (aside from the preliminary bout to set the story in motion), Radical again delivers a compelling game with enjoyable combat physics and mechanics.
The game opens with a multitude of footage from different sources, documenting a second outbreak of the Blacklight Virus 14 months after the outbreak of the original, and the response that comes with it. James Heller, a sergeant in the military, is away on assignment while the infection spreads throughout New York. Increasingly frantic phone calls from his wife along with news reports document the growing panic in the city, and she expresses her unease with Blackwatch, but he tells her to trust them.
Big mistake, right? Obviously as both she and their daughter end up as corpses on a burning pile of other infected civilians. Heller, just returned from a tour of duty, snaps, and is originally classified as too unstable to return to active duty. But as activity increases in the Red Zone (the center of Manhattan where the virus spreads unchecked), he is returned to duty and assigned smack dab in the middle of that area; which is perfect for him, as he has a death wish, and a definite desire to hunt down and kill Alex Mercer.
When his squad is killed, apparently by Mercer himself, Heller takes off after him, armed only with a combat knife and telling his superiors on the radio “I’m not in f*ckin’ Blackwatch anymore.” This is where you first step into the driver’s seat, learning how the controls work and driving Heller through destroyed NYC while chasing Mercer and avoiding some of the infected monstrosities that are spread out throughout the city. Eventually, Heller manages to confront Mercer himself, stabbing him multiple times. Mercer only flinches, however, and then infects Heller with the Blacklight Virus before taking off.
Heller is then taken into custody by Blackwatch, and after initially believed to be dead, he is tossed into a test chamber and run through a battery of tests, but after he shows signs of abilities like Mercer, the order is given to burn him, with someone mentioning, “I don’t need another Mercer running around.” Heller doesn’t take well to being torched, and he also learns that he can string combos together, as well as consume other infected humans to gain health.
After freeing himself from the lab, Heller has another run in with Mercer, where Mercer tells him that he chose him for a reason. Mercer also reasons with Heller, telling him “Think about it. The same virus, two years in a row, the same Blackwatch.” When Heller continues to resist, Mercer shares memories with him, via a sort of Spock-like mind-meld empowered by his viral abilities. Heller becomes a believer without even a single blow between the two of them, and then he’s let loose in the city.
This is where you finally get to use Heller to the full extent of his fledgling abilities, climbing buildings, using the Blackight Virus abilities, and learning how to expand them. Heller and Mercer share some abilities, but Heller also has some of his unique powers, one of which is Viral Sonar that allows him to hunt a lot easier than Mercer had it in the original game. Clicking the left thumbstick sends out a viral pulse, and Heller can follow the ripples back to their source, allowing him to pinpoint targets fairly quickly, especially if he’s using it at altitude or from on top of a building.
He begins hunting down military officers at test sites around the city, consuming them to learn more about the virus, and upping his abilities in the process. By the end of the first hour, you will have learned how to consume others, use disguises, and you’ll level up and gain access to claws as well. You won’t gain access to Heller’s unique Bio-Bomb ability until later in the game, but we did have a chance to take a fully amped-up Red Zone Heller for a drive, and you’ll see how fully tricked-out he can get as you progress through the game.
During the opening hour, you’ll also link up with a Father Guerra who operates out of a large church, and he provides Heller with a moral voice and director. He also aids him in finding Blackwatch targets, much like Mercer’s sister Dana did in the original game. According to Matt Armstrong, the design director on the game, Guerra is just one of many different people Heller will link up with through the course of Prototype 2.
The good news is that Radical took everything that was wrong with the original game and have streamlined it. Gone is the lengthy and tedious abilities menu where you had to upgrade your powers by spending XP. Instead, a simple leveling up mechanic has been put in place, making it easier to understand and use your powers, rather than fighting with a huge radial wheel full of abilities.
The game also looks a lot sharper, and Heller handles a lot better than Mercer did in the original. From gliding to running up the sides of buildings to jumping, the game just looks and feels a lot cleaner. Cleaner menus, a better interface, and a much better powers system all combine to put the story in front of the game, putting you inside Heller’s head as much as possible.
With both Radnet and Blackwatch editions of the game announced for its arrival in late April of this year, there should be enough Prototype 2 coming to make you ask, "inFamous who?"