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Prototype 2 review

AT A GLANCE
  • Cutting bloody swaths through mobs is hugely fun
  • So is freely tearing ass through the ruined city
  • You can still jump-kick helicopters out of the sky
  • Heller acts like Kratos without the damaged complexity
  • Missions are repetitive and simple
  • Looks ugly, and not just because of the monsters

Before jumping into Prototype 2, there’s something you need to know: its opening moments are kind of awful. Where the first game started us off with a fully powered-up Alex Mercer wreaking havoc in Times Square, the second begins with Sgt. James Heller, a revenge-obsessed but otherwise unremarkable soldier on Mercer’s trail, slowly stalking the virus-powered force of mass destruction in an improbable attempt to kill him with a knife.

Acting as a glorified tutorial, the game’s first hour or so holds your hand to an embarrassing degree, forcing players through linear tasks designed to teach them about the new powers Mercer gives Heller. This while the starting area (possibly based on Jersey City) is socked in with thick fog. It’s a disappointing, cheap-looking opener, but it’s worth powering through for the freedom and immense potential for fun that comes when the game finally opens up.

Like the first game, Prototype 2 sets players loose in New York as a near-indestructible superhero/genetically altered horror, where you fight zombies, hulking mutants and a sinister private army called Blackwatch. Blackwatch patrols the city under orders from the even-more-sinister Gentek corporation, which Mercer identifies to Heller as the real bad guys, thereby redirecting Heller’s revenge mission toward them and making most of the game about dismantling their monster-creating operations.

Really, though, it’s all an excuse for tearing all around New York City – now expanded from Manhattan (which is now a monster-infested “red zone” and isn’t explored until the game’s final act) to two new, less interesting islands that geographically correspond to Jersey City and Brooklyn – and wreaking as much high-speed havoc as possible against pretty much everyone and everything you see. To make this more interesting, Heller evolves an assortment of powers over the course of the game, most of which involve transforming his arms into really gross-looking weapons.

These include a pair of giant claws; a huge, armor-piercing blade; a whiplike tentacle called the Whipfist; a pair of shields that can parry enemy blows and briefly stun them; the Hammerfist, which unleashes devastating blunt-force attacks and can raise spikes out of the ground; and the Tendrils, which – with a charged-up attack – will send tentacles shooting out of enemies in all directions, grab onto whatever’s nearby and then rapidly contract, smashing them with cars, chunks of rubble and other enemies. There’s a similar move called the “Bio-Bomb” that Heller earns later on, which turns humans into tendril grenades, sucking anything nearby into themselves before exploding messily. Throwing one of these into a civilian-crowded sidewalk and witnessing the resultant explosion is nothing short of hilarious, and as much as we’ve used it, it still hasn’t gotten old.

As wild and gory as the combat is, though, it comes with its share of problems, mostly related to the somewhat shaky lock-on system. The game can get pretty crowded and chaotic as the action heats up, and it’s sometimes hard to stay focused on the targets you want to hit, thanks to lock-on's tendency to prioritize bigger enemies. This makes it hard to aim at inanimate objects, or to consume humans when your health is dangerously low during boss fights. Heller himself is part of the problem, too, as his powers can be hard to control at high speeds, causing you to overshoot targets, run up walls when you meant to run around them, and tackle distant non-threats instead of, say, the tank you were trying to hijack.

There’s more to the game than combat, though, and Heller has a few new, less destructive powers that play a significant role in the sequel. In addition to getting some of Mercer’s best abilities (like gliding and throwing cars) almost right off the bat, he can send out a radar pulse to hunt down certain targets. Using it correctly means getting to high ground, sending out a pulse and watching for where it bounces back from. It’s clumsy at first, but with a little practice, it’s a much more interesting way to track your prey than just following a blip on your map.

Like Mercer before him, Heller can “consume” any creatures he defeats, absorbing them for health and (in the case of humans) wearing their form as a disguise after gruesomely tearing them apart with a wide variety of increasingly horrific finishers. (The game doesn’t hold back on the gore, either, as enemies and civilians are routinely and instantly shredded by Heller’s attacks.) Absorbing military personnel lets him sneak into bases and other sensitive places undetected, and in fact Prototype 2 puts a pretty big emphasis on stealth and disguise. Many missions can only be started if you’re disguised as a soldier, and you’ll often need to slip into someone else’s shape when nobody’s looking in order to stop alerts at the end of missions.

A handful of missions even call on you to consume a target without being seen, which you can accomplish by sending out a radar pulse to see who’s being watched and who isn’t (and is therefore safe to eat). It’s oddly satisfying to eliminate the entire population of a military base this way, although maybe not quite as satisfying as smashing into your target, pulping him with your fist and then carving everyone else to ribbons while they plink away at you with their assault rifles and bazookas.

If close-quarters superpowers aren’t cutting it, you can also pick up and wield those assault rifles and bazookas, using a simple lock-on feature to methodically mow down anything in front of you. And once you’ve eaten the right soldiers at certain points in the game, you’ll also be able to jack their APCs, tanks and helicopters (although cars, strangely, can only ever be thrown), yank off their huge armaments to use yourself, or just smash them into scrap with a badass-looking finisher.

Once you’re in full command of Heller’s powers (which takes a while), the game becomes enormously fun, as you run up the sides of skyscrapers, glide through the city and treat the heavily populated streets as a huge, bloody, experimentation-friendly playground. Like Alex Mercer, Heller’s basically a murderous Incredible Hulk with knives for arms, and if you want to go on a crazy, gory, civilian-murdering power-trip rampage, no game does it better than this.

However, there are plenty of games that do other things better than Prototype 2. Story, for example, is among them. For all his cool powers, Heller isn’t a very likeable or fascinating protagonist, crashing through life with exactly one goal: get revenge for his murdered wife and daughter. And while other games (like God of War) found interesting ways to handle this premise, Prototype 2 handles it by making Heller relentlessly grumpy, scowling at his allies in distrust while still going off and doing everything they tell him to.

He is, however, a more noble protagonist than Mercer was; while Heller’s a remorseless killer (and there’s no penalty for killing indiscriminately), he does seem to care that the bad guys are hurting innocent people, and he goes out of his way to stop them. And there is a note of complexity to him, although it doesn’t surface until close to the end of the game.

The mission design isn’t great, either, usually revolving around simple, repetitive tasks that boil down to “eat those guys,” “destroy those things” or “go here before someone else does.” And while that stuff is fun, even relentless destruction can get tedious after a while. Especially in the earlier areas of the game, which – while we applaud the move away from Manhattan, which has been overused as an open-world setting – aren’t as much fun to explore as the borough that gives you a chance to swan-dive off the Empire State Building and leave an impact crater on the street below.

Prototype 2 starts out weak but ends much, much stronger, although its missions and storyline never really rise to a level beyond “enjoyable.” Even so, it’s enormously fun as an open-world playground, especially once all of Heller’s powers are at your disposal; there are always fun ways to experiment, to cause horrific violence and to watch the hapless pedestrians scatter. If you’re looking for an epic, hugely varied adventure, look elsewhere, but if you want a game that lets you run amok in creative, bloody ways, Prototype 2 is pretty incredible. 

This game was reviewed on PlayStation 3 as the lead platform.

More Info

Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Genre: Action
Published by: Activision
Developed by: Radical Entertainment
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language

44 comments

  • bchildress - January 20, 2013 10:58 a.m.

    Don't know about the game but have to say that trying to look at the Prototype 2 review on an iPhone is very painful! It took me about 5 minutes with Safari and Dolphin browser just trying to read the first sentence of the review to find out what was awful. Pictures and ads jumping all around, no obvious way to close any of it - review pushed off the screen. Mobile adware gone wild. Had to go to my PC, maybe that is whole purpose, get people off the mobile view by making it unusable. I think I would prefer it not being available to unusable. My 2 cents
  • Odogx44x - September 2, 2012 11:06 a.m.

    I just finished the game om the "hard" level which is not that hard... so like every PC game I play I will play it all over again on insane. The game can be repetitive with missions, but it is still fun smashing things all around the city. The only thing that pissed me off was that the PC version came out much later then everyone else, that to me is Bull**** but whatever. Okay going to play Borderlands again before 2 comes out soon!
  • DualWieldingIsNotFeasible - May 1, 2012 9:50 p.m.

    Having now beat the game, I can emphatically state this: if you own the first Prototype, DON'T BOTHER WITH THIS. They made a few tiny gameplay improvements, then made the main character an irritating black stereotype, cut out several fun and useful powers, and massively restricted the sandbox environment. Truly a disappointment, especially considering how long this game was in development and how much I liked Prototype 1.
  • renemcarthur - April 27, 2012 9:39 a.m.

    may pick this one up today got a broken xbox damage is camoflauged though so gonna take it into electronics botique bad for business but wtf right theyre a multi billion dollar company thatve gotten enough of this baeaners hard earned pesos u frickin gabroni
  • lazer59882 - April 24, 2012 12:20 a.m.

    for someone who's actually from new york city...how in the world do they include brooklyn jersey and manhattan, but don't allow you to explore manhattan until the end? theres 2 rivers between brooklyn and jersey, with manhattan between the two. it's impossible to go from one to the other without passing through manhattan. i don't understand why if game companies are going to mangle geography, they can't just call their locations something else
  • jivecom - May 7, 2012 1:23 p.m.

    The game doesn't refer to any actual geographical location, ever, simply using the generic "Red/Yellow/Green Zone" to describe the various islands. Plus, I don't think it actually matters, since obviously in real life, Brooklyn and Jersey are not, in fact, tiny islands, separated from the rest of the mainland by additional rivers that appear to be several miles across. What's more, any realistic depiction of New York went out the window then they decided that Manhattan island actually pointed perfectly north-south and that both Jersey and Brooklyn are right below it. Finally, even if it was realistic, the player moves throughout the islands on helicopters making the order one travels through them totally irrelevant What I don't understand is why people like you complained that it's impossible for Jersey City to be about 200 feet from Brooklyn but ignore the fact that Jersey City and Brooklyn are both depicted as being surrounded by water and aren't near any landmass other than each other and Manhattan, or how they put Yankee Stadium in the southernmost part of "Jersey Island," or any of the other things that they had to do to get all of this stuff in such a small area... but no, it's always the fact that you can't drive from Brooklyn to Jersey without going through Manhattan first. Well you can't drive that way in the game either, so cheer up and care less
  • lazer59882 - May 7, 2012 6:12 p.m.

    here's why, dumb motherfucker: cause i haven't played this stupid fucking game, so i have no clue where they put stadiums or what they do with helicopters or in what order you visit the locations or whether or not the landmasses are surrounded by water. i got all the information upon which i based my comment solely from this review, so the reason i dont give a fuck about those things if the review didn't mention them. understand? are you grasping that? the review mentions an absolute mangling of geography, so i commented on it. what does your comment do? respond to a week old comment giving be a bunch of random useless information on a game i couldn't possibly care less about? fuck off asshole, nobody asked you.
  • lazer59882 - May 7, 2012 6:14 p.m.

    *...about those things if the review... i mean IS, not IF, for those who care. not for you though jivecom, cuz i dont give a fuck.
  • marc-lee-de-hugar - August 1, 2013 6:06 a.m.

    Hahahaha
  • CurryIsGood - April 23, 2012 8:21 p.m.

    I would get this if the added tons of new stuff, which the didnt
  • talleyXIV - April 23, 2012 6:39 p.m.

    So they took the first one, made the map bigger and made the guy black. Then they made a deal with Gamestop to make an exclusive move "Bio-Bomb Butt Kicker?" Oh boy, developers these days.
  • ultimatepunchrod - April 23, 2012 3:52 p.m.

    Really liked the video. Straightforward and informative. I also liked the score rack up at the end. Good job guys.
  • ViolentLee - April 23, 2012 3:17 p.m.

    Loved dev Radical's Incredible Hulk game, but was beyond disappointed by Prototype 1. Interesting the similarities this shares with another Activision property, True Crime. - Both had disappointing, derivative first outings that didn't need a sequel. - Both had Caucasian protagonists in the first outing (okay, True Crime's was half Asian), then switched to an African American for the sequel.
  • EwoksTasteLikeChicken - April 23, 2012 3:04 p.m.

    They don't have co-op? Jesus christ, that's all my friends and I thought was missing from the first game. Definitly won't be getting this.
  • DualWieldingIsNotFeasible - April 23, 2012 3:04 p.m.

    All I want is a sandbox full of squishy mortals to take my daily frustrations out on, so I think I'm gonna be satisfied with this. Especially because all the other big spring/summer games seem to have been delayed, and there's an unlockable Mercer skin so I can play as everyone's favorite psychotic amnesiac. Also...CHRIS?!
  • IceBlueKirby - April 23, 2012 1:23 p.m.

    I had more fun than I probably should have had just running around killing everything in the first one, so I'll definitely pick up where I left off by getting this. Doubt I'll buy it new though, I'll wait until I find it cheaper.
  • tareq - April 23, 2012 12:45 p.m.

    GAMESRADAR IS TEH BIAS
  • NotSteve - April 23, 2012 12:32 p.m.

    Great review, awesome video. Do more of this.
  • Nate0124 - April 23, 2012 12:30 p.m.

    I'd been wondering what Mikel's thoughts would be on 2. Nice review and sweet video with mighty Mr. Antista.
  • XanderGC - April 23, 2012 12:11 p.m.

    Is anyone else really liking the direction that GR has been heading in for the last little while? I really enjoyed the first Prototype and it is still not a cheap game to buy compared to other games that have come out and dropped in price. Love the read in the video review and teh Antista surprise. Props to Mikel's written review as well. :)

Showing 1-20 of 44 comments

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