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Prototype 2’s hypocritical protagonist almost gets in the way of our bloody, murderous fun

Though Prototype 2 explains why its main character gains the ability to shoot tendrils from his arms, it never touches on why the virus that gives him super powers also turns him into an unrelatable hypocrite, while removing all semblance of morality. All of it. Just wrings it on out. Every drop.

It made more sense in the original game. Beyond being the scapegoat for a massive chemical weapon cover-up, Alex Mercer was also sort of a jerk. He amorally killed thousands of civilians on his rampaging quest for the truth, becoming the monster the government made him out to be. It made sense and happened somewhat organically, as he felt like the entire world had turned against him. It also makes sense that, at least for the opening minutes of Prototype 2, he would be the villain – he sort of already was.

Above: Flying between buildings is always fun

James Heller, the protagonist of the sequel, starts off with the best of intentions: to kill Alex Mercer. He believes Mercer responsible for the virus that destroyed New York City (now called New York Zero for some reason), among the casualties being his daughter and wife.

But it didn’t take long for the new hero to find out the truth about the virus and its origins, and within a few minutes of the game’s opening, he’d already tried to kill Mercer, failed, been injected with the virus, transformed into a powerful super-mutant, and dropped his vendetta almost entirely. In under an hour, Heller had gone from trying to kill Mercer to joining him in an uneasy alliance against the mercenary group responsible for the outbreak.

Above: He could cut Wolverine clean in half with those

And when we say he was given powers, boy do we mean it. Your character in Prototype 2 starts off 10 times stronger than your character ends up in nearly any other game. Right away, we were running up walls, throwing dumpsters at helicopters and slashing apart waves of enemies. Seriously. Spider-Man? Hulk? They’ve got nothing on Heller. Even Infamous's Cole MacGrath looks weak next to Heller an hour into the game.

In fact, we were so powerful right out of the gate that we had problems picking out which skills were new and which ones Mercer flaunted around in the original.  Some stood out – like being able to infect an enemy with the virus and throw him like a grenade (called the bio bomb), and the addition of deadly tendrils, which work like Spider-Man’s webs to let us zip to locations – but it’s hard to figure out what is and isn’t new when you’re so damn powerful. Could we flying kick a helicopter to death in the original game? Could Alex Mercer slam the ground and destroy everything around him with powerful spikes? We just couldn't remember.

Above: We could turn him into a bio-bomb and throw him for hilarious effect

While that might sound negative, it’s actually a compliment to how well the developers weaved the new powers and abilities into the already successful Prototype mold. Controlling Heller is an absolute blast. The sense of power is damn near unparalleled, and the abilities the game threw our way made for a tremendously fun time. He might not feel all that different from Mercer right away, but he feels different enough to make things feel fresh. It even makes sense within the game’s canon. Both characters are infected with the same virus, and viruses mutate. That explains why Mercer’s powers manifested the way they did, while Heller’s gave him tendrils and “viral sonar,” which… well, lets him send out a sonar pulse that points him in the direction of guys he needs to kill.

One thing that confuses us, however, is that shortly after the game began, we felt like Heller had become an insane killer. In Mercer’s case we bought it, as he was sort of an enemy of the state, so we didn’t mind when we were able to slaughter civilians. With Heller… we just don’t get it. He’s a father, a husband, and once he finds out who is responsible for the death of his loved ones ,he sets off on a quest to avenge his wife and daughter by… killing thousands of wives, daughters, sons, and husbands? 

Above: If you don't feel like using powers you can just punch dudes in the jaw

Sure, the game doesn’t “make” you do it, but it’s impossible to fight a battle in Prototype 2 without insane collateral damage. Throwing a car at a helicopter will usually end with that helicopter landing on a pile of meaty humans. In the hour we played we really couldn’t identify with him because his actions didn’t make much sense to us. Maybe the finished product will fix this by providing additional context, or explaining why he doesn't see this as being an issue.

Or maybe the Prototype formula dictates that the hero needs to be a jerk. We don't know. We didn't really think we'd end up liking Mercer all that much, and here we are pining over him.

Then again, as long as we’re still playing a super-human mutant with the ability to slaughter thousands of people at a time ,we doubt we’ll be complaining. Not so long as we’re having fun, at least.

15 comments

  • McAwesome11 - February 16, 2012 2:49 p.m.

    Im totally getting this after I beat the first one I spent hours just murdering the civilians for fun nothing beats throwing a helpless victim into a wall at high speeds and watching him pop
  • yasmarc - February 16, 2012 1:29 p.m.

    I can see this one being $30-40 really soon after release just because it doesn't have a large following (that I know of). I missed the first one so I will be picking this up after it drops a bit so they can still get some of my money.
  • FOZ - February 16, 2012 12:17 p.m.

    Mercer isn't exactly a villain, because he saved New York at the end of the first game and seemed kind of surprised that he survived the nuke. But he's still completely nuts and has no regard for anybody else. Most of the time. Depends on when the plot needs him to or not.
  • GwaR - February 16, 2012 11:44 a.m.

    Well, even if you can kinda give Mercer a pass for his actions in the first game (you can't, he murdered everyone... EVERYONE), it doesn't change the fact that he's still a fairly unlikeable dickhead. He's so unlikeable and such a dick, in fact, that you kind of have to divorce yourself from the fact that you're playing as him. You end up having to say to yourself 'this is Mercer's story, not mine, so I'm just going to enjoy it for being HIS story.' Looks like the 2nd one will be the same. Looks like it will also be just as much silly fun and just as big of a guilty pleasure as the 1st (Carrying people up to high places, and dive bombing with them in hand FTW!!!).
  • Spiderman - February 16, 2012 10:59 a.m.

    In the first game, I actually liked transforming into a soldier, going to a contested zone, and clearing out all the infected while keeping human casualties low. You could even sorta pretend the other soldiers around you were helping. It was super challenging, and made a good break from the main game. The end result though, is I now I think of Mercer as a good guy. Which, I suppose, is not correct.
  • Darkwun - February 16, 2012 11:19 a.m.

    Good point. Having said what I said, in most of my playthroughs, I play it like it's a war. I always run out of battles and avoid consuming civvies unless I'm dying and hve a"greater good" mentality. When dying I use a patsy and go and run and absorb a soldier instead of a ivilian, even taking Blackwatch instead of military soldiers (as they're technically innocent pawns) it does add a certain extra level to the game, as well as make more sense to the characters. GR is right, they don't MAKE you consume civilians, and it's basically war. sure civilians are going toget killed when you destroy a helicopter over a ityscap, but if you werean invading force fighting the US military, the scenario would be the same
  • MyCoolWhiteLies - February 16, 2012 9:13 a.m.

    Ha yeah, I was wondering about this issue when they first announced the premise for this game. I really liked the idea of Alex Mercer becoming the antagonist, but given the way these games play, there's no way for this character to ever be a hero. As you mention, it's simply impossible to play this game without insane collateral damage, which is of course, part of the appeal and personality of the series.
  • asspills - February 16, 2012 9:09 a.m.

    My problem with sequels like this is always "If I played the last one to the point of being absolutely sick of it, will I still enjoy this one?"
  • FlyinHawaiian13 - February 16, 2012 9:02 a.m.

    I think when someone loses their family it's not too uncommon for them to be stuck in their own mind and not care about others. I mean how many villains in movies and comics started out from something similar? You'd be unstable enough just losing your family but losing them and receiving viral god powers may unhinge you a little.
  • Darkwun - February 16, 2012 8:31 a.m.

    I found this annoying in the first game. Imade up my own sub-text about the virus itself forcing an unconscious desire to reproduce over the human mentality to satiate my need for (obviously missing) exposition!
  • Darkhawk - February 16, 2012 8:05 a.m.

    When the Super Heroes need help, they call... DAMAGE CONTROL! (R.I.P. Dwayne McDuffie)
  • potpan0 - February 16, 2012 5:47 a.m.

    To be fair, in a sequel, your character needs to be as powerful as the one in the first game. There is nothing more annoying than having loads of cool powers and abilities, then having to gain them back in the next game (a bit like Ratchet and Clank, but those games were awesome anyway).
  • inkyspot - February 16, 2012 5:08 a.m.

    I still enjoy playing the first one, and this one looks so much better, so it will be a day one purchase for me.
  • KaMi - February 16, 2012 4:17 a.m.

    I'd love to see some kind of specialization in this game. Like specialize in some sort of sneak/sniper/high precision skills that let you shoot enemies with tendrils right between the eyes from afar, as opposed to the typical 'Mercer-kill-the-whole-street-with-one-blow' approach. That would leave it up to the player if he wants Heller to be a murderous sociopath or not. That's pretty much the one thing I didn't like about the first game. The inability to choose whether you wanted to obliterate a whole block or be the hero and kill only the enemy and NOTHING ELSE.
  • Shinn - February 16, 2012 12:17 a.m.

    I'm really on the fence about this. I enjoyed the first game, but I played on pc and had to put up with constant stuttering despite my rig being far above the recommended system requirements. Considering the lack of support from the developer in their refusal to patch this issue despite almost every high end user encountering it, and activision continuing to sell the game in its near unplayable state, I think there are probably a lot of people besides myself who aren't sure about whether or not getting this would be a good idea.

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