Activision Blizzard recently held a closed media event to showcase the latest build of its upcoming open world super hero game, Prototype 2. PC World was one of the selected publications invited to cover the event and I got a chance to try Prototype 2 ahead of its official release.
The first hour
The preview build of Prototype 2 was running on the Xbox 360 and I had the opportunity to start the game from the very beginning. The opening cinematic serves as a thorough introduction to the game and its story, as well as its new protagonist, Sergeant James Heller. Even from the opening cinematic, the game's stronger focus on narrative over the original Prototype is evident, with a player receiving a thorough introduction to Heller's past as well as his motivations to not only enter a plague-infested New York, but also to hunt down the protagonist from the first game, Alex Mercer.
After the lengthy cinematic, the player immediately assumed control of Heller after his less-than-ideal arrival to New York. Players who were accustomed to jumping straight into the open world action might be either surprised or disappointed to find out that Prototype 2's stronger cinematic approach means it takes a while before the action begins. The opening sequence essentially consists of Heller following Mercer after a chance encounter with him.
This sequence, and the accompanying dialogue, further sets up Heller's back story and motives from the opening cutscene, but interactivity is limited at this point. While it's well set up, this section of the game took me longer to progress through than it should have. There was no tutorial explaining what the run button was, so I ended up walking through the level instead of running.
Opportunity for mayhem
The next section of the game consists of Heller being caught by Blackwatch, the enemy organisation in the game, after he gets infected with the Blacklight Virus. Heller's power is awakened while he is held captive by Blackwatch and this is the first opportunity the player gets to roam around and start interacting with the game's world, though in a limited fashion.
The closed test lab where Heller is held captive acts as a training ground where the player familiarises themselves with the game's controls, and the waves of enemies act as good target practice. After a certain point, Heller finally escapes from the facility and into outside world. After a few more cut scenes and sequences, the player finally gets placed in the open game world and can start participating in the missions that litter New York City.
The biggest changes in Prototype 2 are the new protagonist and the stronger cinematic presentation of the game. Both of these changes over the original Prototype can either be viewed as strengths or drawbacks depending on what kind of experience the player is expecting from the game. Initially, I was hoping and expecting Prototype 2 to be the same as the original Prototype, so it took me a short while to get accustomed to the changes.
A new face
Like many people, I had some misgivings about the sequel eschewing Alex Mercer, whom I obviously became familiar with when playing Prototype, for a new and unknown protagonist. However, after playing Prototype 2 I was able to appreciate the move, as I was able to engage in the levelling up process in a more believable fashion. The problem I always had with the God of War games was that the protagonist was always forcefully stripped of his powers at the beginning of the game, forcing the player to reacquire the powers from scratch again.
Prototype 2 overcomes this by presenting the player with another "everyman" to start levelling up from the beginning. The game also wisely does not disregard Alex Mercer either, as he forms a critical part of the game's story and often appears in cutscenes.
The story driven presentation makes Prototype 2 feel different from Prototype, and it's a change I immediately grew to like. I mainly play games for their narrative and storytelling, the more cinematic presentation of Prototype 2 makes the story easy to follow, and the protagonist's motives and goals are easier to understand. The only potential downside is that it takes quite some time from starting up the game to actually get into the unrestricted open world gameplay.
Variety at the core
Players hoping to start the story missions and simply create destruction will be itching to get into the gameplay quicker, but patience will be rewarded with an arguably stronger and ultimately satisfying story than in Prototype, at least this is what I gleaned from the content I managed to play.
After playing the opening of the game, the staff at the event reset the copy of Prototype 2 that I was playing and placed me somewhere much later into the game so that I could experience the open world with Heller's abilities levelled up. This is the part of the game where the action really hits off, as the entire Blackwatch outfit is aware to your presence in the city and you are able to take part in the story missions. The few missions I played were well balanced and enjoyable, and I found the fighting engine to be intuitive and as responsive as Prototype.
Overall, I found myself less frustrated with the combat in Prototype 2 than I did in the later missions of Prototype, as it is easier to keep track of the surrounding enemies and their attacks. Destroying and occupying tanks, which was often an exercise in frustration in Prototype as you had to repeatedly tap buttons to initiate the action, has been fixed by Heller automatically pulling off the action with a single button press.
Added level of polish
The graphics have been improved over the first game, but it is more of an incremental leap. However, considering that Prototype was a nice looking game when it came out, this is not such a bad thing. As I only managed to try the Xbox 360 version, I do not know how the PlayStation 3 version stacks up visually, though I can assume that it won't be that much different this late in the console cycle. The audio and soundtrack was good and matched the onscreen action, while the controls were responsive and I did not experience any trouble controlling Heller and his actions.
The only issue that I encountered while playing this part of the game was what appeared to be a broken time-based mission. I was supposed to go from point to point under a time limit, but I kept failing it as the time limit was too tight. However, since I was stopped by one of the event staff while playing the level, I realise that it was still unfished and will probably get tweaked for playability before the game’s commercial release.
Despite the hubbub surrounding the simultaneous release of Prototype and Sony's Infamous in 2009, I found them to be drastically different games even through their shared genre. Prototype was fast paced and heavily focused on action, while Infamous was a bit slower and more strategic. Having already completed Infamous 2 last year and getting hands-on with Prototype 2, I found the separation to be still true this time around.
I enjoyed the original Prototype for its open world gameplay and frantic action, and both of those aspects are back in the sequel. The issues I had with the first game, such as the sometimes unmanageable on-screen action and resulting difficulty curve, seem to be ironed out in Prototype 2. The tighter story narrative focusing on Heller was the biggest surprise during the hands-on with the game, and I look forward to seeing how the overall story will play out in the finished game.