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When the first Prototype was released in 2009, it did a lot of things right: Traversing the towering skyscrapers of New York City, stealing the identity of anyone you see and forming weapons out of your character's grotesquely morphed appendages. It fell short in many ways as well, but Prototype 2 feels like a well-heard response to fan feedback, addressing nearly every issue from the original.
For: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
From: Activision/Radical Entertainment
More than a year after the events of Prototype, New York is overrun yet again by the Blacklight virus. New hero James Heller is out for revenge against former protagonist Alex Mercer for causing the outbreak that killed his family. Before long, Mercer grants his viral powers to Heller, seeing potential in the experienced soldier and hoping to win him as an ally.
Mercer slides easily into the antagonist role, since he was always more of an antihero. Heller reminds me of God of War's Kratos, focused entirely on revenge with his emotions set constantly on angry. With him, Radical essentially traded in one story cliche (amnesia) for another (dead wife and kid).
Bouncing through the city and pounding the hell out of everything is Prototype 2's main focus. The city traversal is some of the best I've seen. Like Mercer before him, Heller can sprint up a skyscraper in seconds, dash and glide through the air, and commandeer tanks and helicopters, but now the controls feel more natural. I love how I can zip across the whole city to a mission in no time and still land on a dime.
New defensive options make Heller feel like a complete combat package. His shield is easily accessible at all times, and it doesn't ever break. Time it right and you can even reflect rockets or counter melee attacks with a shield bash covered in long spikes.
You can also easily flip over enemies when they attack and start slashing from behind.
The difficulty remains relatively mild, with a challenging flare-up here and there, but it never gets cheap. Players track targets to consume, put down infected monstrosities, bust/sneak into bases, and pose as a soldier.
Some stretches feel repetitive, but things always pick back up soon enough, especially at the end. The final boss puts all of your powers to the test, and is much more narratively significant than the previous one. Unfortunately, the by-the-numbers, post-battle wrap-up doesn't leave much of an impact.
You could just stick to the core objectives, but it's wise to keep up with the extra Blacknet missions as well. They provide unique tasks, more evolution points, and unique mutation upgrades. These mutations work outside the standard levelling system, offering boosts to damage, hijack speed and more. They can also be obtained by grabbing collectables.
Don't worry, there are far fewer than the hundreds of floating orbs in the original, and the brilliant in-game hint system ensures that you can find everything yourself.
Prototype 2 has officially redeemed this franchise. The mechanics feel the way you wished they would have in the first instalment, and it's a rush to abuse your incredible powers any way you see fit.
If you've stayed away from the first game because of the lacklustre word-of-mouth, don't hesitate to jump right into the sequel. A slick video catches you up on everything right out of the gate, so there's no excuse to miss this taste of ultimate viral power.