By Billy O’Keefe, McClatchy-Tribune (MCT)
From its core out to the fringes, “Prototype 2” has a lot — arguably too much — in common with “Prototype.”
But the one significant change — outside of a new main character, and more on that in a bit — is a good one. This time, all that’s good and fun about “Prototype 2” isn’t completely torn down by the horrifying A.I. and difficulty balancing meltdowns that made its predecessor one of 2009’s most obnoxious games.
Conceptually, it’s business as usual. As James Heller, you’re still taking on both military and mutant forces. And despite filling a new set of shoes, you’re still a super-powered one-man army who can jump 50 feet per bound, sprint up the side of a New York City skyscraper, throw a car like a baseball and fully consume other people to shapeshift into them and acquire their memories and abilities.
This time, you actually get to enjoy these and other abilities. Raising the ire of a single mutant or soldier won’t result in insane waves of reinforcements instantly appearing in such thick numbers that your only recourse is to react and eventually just flee. Enemies still attack in packs, but they’re manageable enough that you can creatively take on a wave or two without a dozen other enemies constantly running interference at the slightest hint of player proactivity.
If anything, “Prototype 2” is too polite. Countering and evading enemy attacks is extremely easy even when outnumbered, and you’ll quickly gain access to some money moves that let you formulate devastating attacks from safe distances without fear of penalty if you miss. Recovering significant chunks of health on cue is as easy as dodging and countering, and if you take on some side missions and tack on the strength and well-being upgrades they pay out upon completion, you can inhale a battalion’s worth of military firepower without even paying that health bar any mind.
The kid gloves hold on for dear life during “Prototype 2’s” stealth segments, which task you with consuming enemies and posing as them to infiltrate restricted areas and shapeshift all the way up the food chain.
In the annals of stealth game enemies, none may be more gullible than this lot. Slowly clearing out a room by literally swallowing people who are standing two feet behind other people raises no alarm. Running up the side of a building and performing other superhuman feats may raise an eyebrow, but as long as you walk away casually, they’ll just shrug and dismiss it. In the rare instance you attempt to swallow a live person in his allies’ unbelievably dim line of sight, the game flashes an alert letting you know as much, and the action is canceled. And the guy whom you just grabbed and nearly swallowed before swiftly recanting the move? He thinks nothing of it. Carry on.
Still, if the difficulty balancing had to lean in one direction, this is preferable by far. Heller’s repertoire is fun to unleash, and “Prototype 2” lets you do exactly that in a big world that’s packed nicely with elective missions to complement the main storyline.
The only real step backward is Heller himself. “Prototype 2’s” storyline is one centered on revenge, and as Heller, you’re actually hunting the first game’s protagonist, whose actions in the first game indirectly resulted in the death of your wife and child.
But noble cause or not, Heller is just wretchedly unlikable — an f-bombing meathead whose character development is about as nuanced as the game’s stealth detection systems. That goes as well for writing in general: It isn’t so bad that you want to skip the cutscenes entirely, but it’s grating enough to turn on subtitles, mute the sound and play some music for a much more tolerable atmosphere.
Platform: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
Publisher: Radical Entertainment/Activision
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore, drug reference, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language)