The deeper toolbox and more varied rogue's gallery are welcome additions, but the stronger story and improved sense of character that New York Zero has been imbued with are the big saving graces in Prototype 2.
- Extremely well-realized vision of a post-viral outbreak New York City
- Improved assortment of powers in your toolbox
- Streamlined mission structure cuts down on the grind
- The basic template that made the first game fun remains, and has been improved upon
- Blackwatch side missions can feel somewhat repetitive
- Finicky targeting system leaves you grasping at the air
- RADNET challenges are unremarkable, non-essential
Prototype 2 Review:
When our future alien conquerers set foot on Earth a few years from now and start cataloguing the course of human entertainment in the early 21st century, they're going to quickly discover that creative minds everywhere had it in for New York City. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Prototype 2's return to NYZ, in which you get to follow the trail of destruction that Alex Mercer got the ball rolling on in the 2009 original.
Both games are the work of Radical Entertainment, though this newer one demonstrates a sizable evolution of the basic principles laid out in the first game. Is it enough though? Is this second round in NYZ filled with enough character and variety to carry you effortlessly through the 15-or-so hour experience?
For the most part, yes, and you can thank the crumbling Big Apple for it.
...And Heller's Coming With Me
For round two in a post-viral outbreak New York City you get to step into the shoes of James Heller, a military man who's returned to action on the homefront after the viral outbreak of the previous game claims the lives of his wife and child. Our first glimpse is of an angry, bitter man. He blames Mercer for the fate of his family, but he's also unsettled at the idea of the country's armed forces ceding control to the now-public black ops organization, Blackwatch.
In the opening half hour you'll watch as Heller chases down Mercer on the broken streets of the city, only to catch up with his target and end up infected. This leaves Heller on the run and falling in with the same man that he blames for his family's death. Questions are raised concerning Mercer's culpability on that count and Prototype 2's story quickly evolves into one of a man working out how and where to direct his anger. With DNA-consuming superpowers, naturally.
Critics of the previous game's convoluted narrative will find a much more straightforward and -- dare I say it? -- well-told told in this sequel. The themes are largely universal and while the fine details sometimes take you by surprise, it all makes sense and adds up in the final analysis.
Heller feels in some ways like God of War's Kratos, with his lack of allies and overabundance of vengeance-fueled anger. He's a tad one-dimensional in this regard, but we're not talking about Shakespeare here. This is high-concept storytelling at its finest, with just the right touches of twist here and there to keep things from becoming completely predictable.
NYZ: What A Town!
New York Zero is perhaps the most well-developed character in all of Prototype 2. It's a far cry from the bustling real-life city or even the satirized version that Rockstar Games delivered in Grand Theft Auto IV, but that's to be expected. This is a city that has been overrun by a viral outbreak and heavy combat in the streets. The best that can be said is that NYZ has a personality this time around, a refreshing change after the somewhat lifeless realization that characterized the previous game's open world.
You actually only spend the final third of the game running around the ruins of Manhattan Island. New York is now divided into three distinct zones: Green, Yellow, and Red. The Green and Yellow Zones, where the game's first two acts play out, are outerborough locations, likely Queens and Brooklyn.
The colors, from Green to Yellow to Red, indicate the deteriorating state of the city in those locations. By the time you reach Manhattan, there is open fighting wherever you look, crumbled skyscrapers that are only still standing because they've fallen into other skyscrapers, and a whole chunk of the city north of 42nd Street that you flat-out cannot access, the so-called Dead Zone.
You get a real sense of the scope of the disaster that's occurred as you move from location to location. The game doesn't penalize you for collateral damage, but there was a twinge of regret from me every time I grabbed a human pedestrian in the Green and Yellow Zones to consume for a health boost. By the time you get to the Red Zone, everyone's infected and it's all just fodder for you to use.
Advancing Stages Of Infection
Heller's infection manifests in a slightly different manner than Mercer's did, which, in gameplay terms, means that you're working with a whole new toolbox of superpowers. A newly added radial selection wheel, which you can pull up while pausing the action with a press of LB (on an Xbox 360 gamepad), allows you to assign different direct attack powers to the X and Y buttons. This build-your-own combo approach is constantly toyed with too, as different enemies are more or less susceptible to different attacks.
As a result, combat feels considerably more tuned in Prototype 2 than it did in the original game. You facing off a more diverse assortment of attackers and they're drawing their tactics from a deeper pool. There are several different flavors of hulking infected brutes, oversized human Blackwatch enforcers with enhanced strength, and, later on, more than a few infected humans with powers that match what Heller and Mercer can bring to bear. You'll need to employ different strategies for each one, with things becoming much more complex once you start facing off against various different types of these new foes in the same battle.
It's still not perfect, however. Prototype 2 throws some insanely massive confrontations at Heller. It's not uncommon to find yourself facing off against dozens of enemies. The problem is the targeting system. It's automatic, and it doesn't always work very well. When general disarray and destruction are the order of the day for Heller, that's fine. Just punch your problems into oblivion, whatever form those problems may take.
Unfortunately, a fair cross-section of missions ask you to zero in on specific targets. Sometimes it's an enemy that needs to be consumed, either for a mission or for a Mutation boost. Other times, you'll be throwing objects at specific targets. While the auto-targeting is somewhat intelligent, it has a tendency to break down when things get too chaotic. This can lead to moments of frustration where you end up having to reload a checkpoint because of a mission failure that isn't entirely your fault.
Alongside the powers you earn at fixed story moments are Mutations, which are broken up into categories like Offensive, Defensive, Locomotion, and the like. They're basically what we've come as gamers to call Perks, enhancing your existing abilities in one way or another. You'll get them for consuming specially marked street walkers, gathering collectibles -- some of which, like Lairs, are full-blown side missions -- and for completing Blackwatch dossiers, Prototype 2's suite of side missions.
The Blackwatch missions fill in more of the story surrounding what's happened in New York Zero since Mercer's adventures and what's going on in the game's fictional here and now outside of Heller's quest for revenge. Each individual dossier is filled out by a set of missions, many of them pulled from a rotating stock of objectives. Sometimes you'll have to destroy a thing or a person/people, sometimes you'll have to locate and consume someone. Even checkpoint races return, in a way, with Heller jumping from rooftop to rooftop as he "recovers" (runs past) dropped crates against a clock.
These Blackwatch outings do start to feel repetitive when some of the more commonly seen mission types start popping up again and again, but the changing scenery -- and the dynamic gameplay the increasing number of street battles introduces -- definitely helps prevent Prototype 2 from feeling like a grind. In my own 15 hour playthrough, I completed all Blackwatch missions, found all collectibles, and finished the main story, and only rarely did I find myself glancing at the clock or sighing in frustration.
RADNET Ain't So Rad
There's one other major component at play in Prototype 2, and it ties in with the game's Online Pass-like content. Those who pre-order the game or buy it at (or close to) launch will receive a RADNET Edition access code. What this boils down to is a set of weekly challenges that players can participate in in exchange for a total of 55 pieces of DLC. The rewards you can earn are anything from behind-the-scenes videos to Avatar items and console themes to in-game content like bonus Mutations.
Only a handful of challenges are available to play at the moment, though new ones will be unlocking every day. Each challenge is a medal-based affair (Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum) which involves doing anything from completing a specific type of mission -- early examples include a box-opening checkpoint race and a "kill everything you can in three air attacks" challenge -- to performing specific actions in the open world, such as taking down a certain number of Brawler enemy types.
It's a neat idea conceptually, but it feels at this early stage like the RADNET challenges may just be a catch-all where the more grind-y side missions of the previous game continue to live on. Unlocking new content on a weekly basis is cool and there's certainly nothing bad about RADNET, but it's also rather unremarkable in that it doesn't add much to the overall experience. If you end up with a RADNET Edition version of the game, by all means have some fun with it, but it's definitely not a selling point nor is it an essential part of the experience.
The deeper toolbox and more varied rogue's gallery are welcome additions, but the stronger story and improved sense of character that New York Zero has been imbued with are the big saving graces in Prototype 2. Radical really nails its vision of a post-viral outbreak New York City here; it's a shattered urban landscape that you'll find yourself wanting to explore, especially laid out against Heller's quest for revenge. The basic concepts that made the first game entertaining are still there, but they've been improved upon considerably to make this sequel a better game.
Prototype 2 is far from perfect, but it's a lot better -- and more importantly, a lot more fun to play -- than its predecessor. Fans of open world mayhem can't go wrong with this one.