I’m beginning to feel quite sorry for videogame developers these days, regardless of how much effort you pour into your latest creation, it only takes one or two distinct aspects for it to end up being shoved into a particular pigeonhole with similar (and sometimes less entertaining) videogames. The term ‘sandbox’ has been thrown around quite a bit over the last few years, probably before Grand Theft Auto III came out and essentially solidified the genre – now any game with a non-linier geographic is tarred with it and I feel that something has been lost in the translation.
To me, Sandbox means the ability to literally do whatever you want with the game world, you can go off and make your own fun with mechanics that the developers have given you. And Radical Entertainments Prototype series is the absolute representation of this term. You are literally able to spend hours creating your own fun in Prototype II, which is good – seeing as the game seems to fall short when it comes to characters and story.
Prototype II takes place one year after the original Prototype, a new outbreak of the ‘Mercer Virus’ has begun spreading through the seemingly doomed New York City (renamed New York Zero after the outbreak) and our protagonist – James Heller, a US Soldier stationed in Afghanistan – comes home to find his wife and child have been killed by infected civilians. Heller blames the entire situation on Alex Mercer (the original Prototype’s protagonist) – which is understandable considering that the virus is named after him – Heller then develops a sociopathic fixation with Mercer and vows to kill him. I personally think this was a very intriguing set up for Prototype II, turning the previous protagonist into the antagonist was a good choice and I felt this had great potential when the details first came out.
Unfortunately, the story begins to fall apart soon after this point as Heller, having caught up with The Mutated Wonder, Mercer – finds himself infected with said Mercer Virus. The virus essentially turning Heller into another version of Alex Mercer with all of the powers and abilities which Mercer had at the end of the original Prototype. This is unfortunately coupled with Mercers brief explanation of the virus’ origins which was created by the pharmaceutical company Gentec and dispersed by the military group Blackwatch which Heller seems to blindly accept without question, forming an uneasy alliance with the man he was “Unhealthily Obsessed” with.
Turning from the storyline for a moment, actually playing Prototype you can instantly see that the graphics have received the usual upgrade we would come to expect from a sequel three years in the making. The gameplay only appears to have two speeds; full throttle and stationary. There are occasions whilst traversing over the rooftops of the city when it becomes very difficult to control Heller if you’re doing anything other than a full sprint, seemingly gentle movements become accidental leaps off of scenery and a slight nudge of the analogue stick can send you careering into a Blackwatch trooper but this doesn’t feel like the reason Prototype II was made.
Prototype II (and Prototype I for that matter) were seemingly created to offer the player unlimited destructive capabilities. These games give you the ultimate grown-up gamers playground – the proverbial sandbox I mentioned earlier) You can eviscerate people in different and increasingly cringe worthy ways, you have near-limitless manoeuvrability through an open-world city and you are as powerful as any comic book super hero. All of these aspects come together nicely for this genre of games, the ‘Chaos-em-up’ if you will.
Unfortunately with these increased character speeds, something is often lost in the dexterity of the character you are playing as, for example: one of the first boss encounters in Prototype II is set in a medium sized circular military warehouse where (don’t worry – this isn’t a spoiler) an infected tentacle is being kept, during this battle with this large tentacle my targeting reticule had an infuriatingly schizophrenic time deciphering whether I should look at the large bladed tentacle which was trying to forcibly give me full body reconstructive surgery or the research assistants which were cowering behind barrels and canisters like walking health packs for my later consumption in the battle – this sometimes made gameplay very frustrating.
I feel like I have used the word ‘unfortunate’ of derivatives of that nature quite a lot in this review and that’s probably the most dominant impression that Prototype II has left me with. Radical Entertainment have created a wonderful sandbox game but they have fallen short in regards to the characters physiological progression through the story. I find myself needing a reason to carry on playing through the campaign because the ethos of ‘blowing stuff up to look cool’ can only take you so far as a gamer – sometimes you need to be lead through a story with tangible and interesting characters in order to really become absorbed in the game.
I can’t help it, I’m a sucker for a good story and the frankly inconsistent character development and distinct lack of real meaning to any of the side missions means that I find myself quickly losing interest in the actual game and end up running wild through the streets, blowing stuff up and mercilessly eating every pedestrian I can see. And I guess, in hindsight, this is where the game excels, perhaps the developers realised that if they had to give you the same selection of Follow, Consume and Infiltration quests as the original Prototype then they should place them on the opposite side of the game world and let you cause merry hell on your way to them.
I also cannot seem to shake the feeling that Radical Entertainment have missed a fairly obvious opportunity with Prototype II for the inclusion of any co-op mode. Granted with Heller and Mercers ‘on again – off again’ friendship it would have been difficult to tie into the main story but I’m certain that given Prototype II’s affinity for sandbox destruction that the two protagonists could have rampaged through the streets of New York playing a scoring game akin to Legolas and Gimli from the Lord of The Rings.
It’s unfortunate (there I go again) that a game cannot sustain itself on its core ‘sandbox’ value without being supported by other aspects like an involving story and credible characters – if it could – Prototype II would probably be one of my games of the year.
So in conclusion, if you enjoyed the original Prototype, then you’ll love this because it’s essentially the same game, same amount of distain and angst in our protagonist, same repertoire of moves besides a few new tentacle tricks which Heller picks up along the way. Same almost seamless free-running through the city that we all loved and admire about the first game.
If you are looking for a game which lets you run into a city centre and throw busses at tanks and vice versa – then Prototype II will offer you more of what you loved in Prototype 1. Sadly, if you are looking for characters you can invest in and a storyline you can lose yourself in. You will find yourself wanting more from this sandbox destruction derby.
Review Score : [starreview tpl=16]
Title : Prototype II
Format : XBox 360
Developer : Radical Entertainment
Publisher : Activision
Release Date : Out Now
Activision provided SlimGamer.com with a review copy of Prototype II on XBox 360