Fun’s a funny thing. Sometimes, nothing beats sitting down with a snifter of finest brandy and reading the Times Literary Supplement while Jenkins, your loyal butler, brings you Haribo Starmix on a silvered platter. On another day, however, you might want to get stuck into a complex and engrossing game of Civilization or a noodle-baking foreign art-house movie, if you’re so inclined. Other times, all you want to do is destroy New York City by blasting sticky tendrils of mystery meat at helicopters.
Yes, in terms of high culture, Prototype 2 has a long way to go. Let’s start with the story. Or, rather, let’s not. Because the story is really just a flimsy excuse for you to rampage around the city unleashing an escalating series of stomach-churning super powers on armies of villains. There’s this virus, see, that makes innocent people into conveniently expendable zombies, and the people who are trying to control the virus for their own ends are pure evil, completely irredeemable brutes who you can feel fully justified in splaying across two city blocks, absorbing into your own body, shooting with their own rocket launchers, thrusting forcefully into passing helicopters...
You play the role of… look, it doesn’t matter. You’re just some guy, cut from the ‘angry black army guy’ stereotype that seems to crop up in every action movie since Aliens. You’re cross because some bit-part characters have been killed, and you’ve been made into a massive killing machine against your will. You’re aided by a good-hearted priest who is inexplicably also a computer hacker and guerrilla warfare expert who helps you massacre a hundredweight of scientists and is then outraged when the military try to arrest him from his church. Basically, he’s your standard questgiver, with a side-order of tiresome religious imagery.
Now then. I’m not going to mention the H-word, because it’s a pretty well-documented observation that the Prototype games ‘riffed off’ a certain older game featuring a certain green superhero. This isn’t a criticism – playing with established concepts and developing them in new directions, particularly when you're the developer of the original game in the first place, is fair game in my book. The city looks great, with each of the three main zones having a look and feel of its own while all sharing the oppressive feeling of a city under quarantine and martial law. None of the shops ever appears to be open, and the masses of innocent citizens seem to be either milling around in confusion or sprinting away in mind-shredding terror. Much of the traffic, particularly in the first zone, is military, and soldiers, checkpoints and prefabricated bases choke the streets.
All of which gives you a great playground to exercise your powers. A well-thought-out experience system trickles new powers and buffed abilities at a manageable rate and you always seem to have just the right amount of time to get to grips with everything. There are a couple of new bits and bobs to play with that weren’t in the first game, and dodging in combat has been overhauled, but essentially the way you play the game and the way you enjoy it are very similar: Incredible mobility, near-invulnerability and the ability to use the enemy’s weapons against them (or to use the enemy as weapons themselves).
As open-world games go, I would have liked to have had more to do. There are a couple of side missions and a few ranked challenges (many of which consist of you hurtling down from on high, smashing into an array of carefully positioned soldiers like some kind of morbid vertical bowling), and of course there’s always the option to just go buck wild, wig out and unleash high-yield mayhem on all and sundry. But this eventually grows boring, or at least pointless, as experience points for just going nuts is scant. I would have liked to have seen more ‘ad-hoc’ side missions, little everyday dramas you could escalate beyond what could ever be considered reasonable, for the sheer joy of it, like Arkham City or, back in the mists of time,the Playstation game Spider-Man 2. A gang of ruffians is bothering an old lady? Commandeer a tank and run them over. A little boy has lost his balloon? Grab it with a gory tendril of biomass and stick it back to the boy’s hand with a pustulent, virus-ridden gobbet of slime. All that stuff would have been a great addition. As it is, there’s not a whole lot to do between main missions.
Most of the action takes place outdoors, which is a blessing actually, because in the cases where you do have to go inside I found myself grappling with the controls and camera as much as with the forty-foot tall mutant slimeballs. That said, when the action does calm down for a minute there’s a surprisingly effective stealth mechanic in there. You can creep up on anyone you want, usually while shapechanged into the guise of an enemy goon, and surreptitiously consume an enemy who is unobserved by his mates. If it turns out your chosen victim is being watched, you’ll abort your attempt, just sidling off innocently, and the observers will be marked for you. This allows you to trial-and-error it without the usual frustrations (and reloads) that traditionally accompany stealth games.
Graphically it’s nice, if a little consoley. The Chillaxe, Game Debate’s trusty test machine, handled everything gloriously, even when the screen was filled with tanks, mutants and blood (which was actually most of the time). No crashes, no glitches, no problems at all, really. I had a pretty good experience overall, on the technical side.
But is it fun? Well, yes it is. But fun in a very similar way to Prototype 1. And fun in a mentally undemanding, dare-I-say consoley sort of a way. Bounding over a fence into the midst of a platoon of enemy soldiers then using a myriad of ridiculous, over-the-top abilities to cause spikes, slime and blood to shoot out of everything in sight is definitely amusing, but burns out quickly. That said, it’s the kind of quick-fix joyviolence that you could well find yourself coming back to time and again.