The first Prototype followed Alex Mercer as he battled his way through a virus-ridden New York City. There he confronted hostile tanks, helicopters and infected citizens. This would have been rather fatal had he not possessed the handy ability to change his body into various shapes to serve as weapons. He could also clamber up skyscrapers, glide through the air and absorb other character’s memories and abilities. The result? A gameplay experience as visually dazzling as it was action packed. Nevertheless Prototype aimed to be more than just a mindless action game and this premise has been honoured with the sequel.
After a play through session with Prototype 2, I concluded that the story, characterisation and dark setting were dramatic enough to encourage empathy from the audience and add a layer of depth to the game. It was hard not to care about the plight of newly introduced protagonist, James Heller, as he tore through the city with a reckless vengeance. Once my hands-on time was done, producer Jonathan Lim was nice enough to shed some light on some of the decisions made during development.
The first question that came to my mind was an obvious one. After spending the majority of the first Prototype as Alex Mercer, why start over with a completely new main character? Lim explained, “We kind of figured out that the most interesting part of Prototype is the virus and how it affects different people. In the first game it was about how it affected Alex Mercer and in this game we said let’s find someone new. Let’s figure out what this is all about.”
Heller’s back story (a military man determined to kill Mercer) came across as cliché, but perhaps appropriate to the tone of the game. Lim was confident that the choice to focus on a new character would encourage newcomers to pick up the sequel. “We wanted to make sure with Prototype 2 that we get a whole bunch of new users and in doing so we needed to break that barrier of entry. That is part of the reason why we chose a new character, so players didn’t feel like they were obligated to play the first game to understand what was going on.”
There was an abundance of gore as enemies were literally torn apart and consumed. Prototype 2 showcased over-the-top combat and was not ashamed to flaunt it, something Lim reflected was a bit of a struggle to balance out. “The scale of the action was over the top. I mean you’re fighting tanks, you’re fighting helicopters, guys with rocket launchers… it was overwhelming at times. So there was a big focus for us on this game, at least from a combat perspective, to make sure that the players have the tools to be able to deal with the situations we throw at them.”
It certainly felt like Heller possessed the tools to deal with each situation. Fighting an entire army (tanks, helicopters and all) was initially daunting but once a pattern had been established it was completely enjoyable chaos. The control system contained customisable abilities that could be ‘hot keyed’ to certain buttons and this made fights a lot easier. It wasn’t long before I had nearly decimated the entire zone, much to my amusement. It probably helped that the file I played featured a buffed up end-game version of Heller.
So what about multiplayer options? At my mention of this, Lim smiled. “It’s funny. We had a seriously long discussion about multiplayer and what we want to do, but in terms of where our strength was and where we wanted to take the game it just didn’t make sense. It’s just too big of a risk. I think multiplayer definitely has a place in some games, but for us it just wasn’t the right thing to do.”
If this build of Prototype 2 was anything to go by, the decision to focus efforts on the single-player component was the right one. Whilst the combat mechanics and large array of ‘weapons’ on offer were enjoyable, the clichéd gruffness of the characters was a little less appealing. Even in its unfinished state, Prototype 2 sported impressive visuals and fun gameplay. Coupled with an interesting back story, the sequel could prove to be an experience worth investing in.
Prototype 2 is scheduled for release on consoles in April, with the PC version to follow in July.