Radical Entertainment knows exactly where things went wrong with its shape-shifting, open-world action adventure, Prototype. And the good news is the Vancouver-based developer has done everything in its power to put it right in Prototype 2.
Though we didn’t go hands-on at Gamescom with Prototype 2, which is in the early stages of development, we did get treated to a large section of gameplay, which showcased new protagonist, Sergeant James Heller who aims to destroy the Blacklight virus once and for all and get his hands on Alex Mercer who he blames for the death of his family.
“Prototype 2 has come a long way since its E3 showing”, says Ken Rosman, the studio head at Radical Entertainment, who informs us that we’re just about to get treated to the first look at the Yellow Zone. Prototype 2 is split up into three zones, and the Yellow Zone is known as the quarantine zone where everyone who escapes the red zone (where the virus runs wild) ends up. The Yellow Zone is a slum, a shanty town and it’s totally over crowded. Though we can’t smell it ourselves, we’re also told “it stinks”.
The demo begins as Prototype 2's new protagonist, Heller shape-shifts into a BlackWatch commander and the general population timidly back away from him as he struts through the streets - Blackwatch rule this area with an iron fist. There are people lying sick on the streets all around him suffering from the effects of the virus. Meanwhile, we spot a preacher putting the world to rights about how terrible it is to live in the Yellow Zone as he screams obscenities about BlackWatch. It's an impressive first introduction to the game, and the Yellow Zone feels like it has a real edge to it - the calm before the storm, almost.
At this point, we're told that if you picked a character in Prototype 2 you can now put them down too. In the first game, you could throw them or consume them, but here - along with cars and objects - you can kill them, throw them, put them down, or even run to the top of the building and drop them off the edge. Radical tells us that the ability to pick up and put down objects will tie in with some trophies, such as stacking a certain amount of cars on top of each other. "Prototype 2 has lots of side objectives and fun things to do," we're told.
Heller walks behind two scientists, who are examining dead bodies on the ground. We're about to get a look at Prototype 2's new awareness system. "Combat is in the player's hands to play how they want to play," says Rosman. In this instance, Heller can either grab a scientist and consume him - but he'll alert the guards and all hell will break loose - or take the guard out before attacking the scientists. The new hunting mechanic lights up NPCs all around you and shows you which ones you can consume and which people have their eye on you. In this case, you can see that you can consume the scientists, but the guards, who show up in red, will be alerted. This is simple puzzle in Prototype 2 that you can take on if you don't want to steam in. Here, you simply watch the guard's movement carefully, sneak up behind him when his back his turn and snap his neck. Heller is now free to consume the scientists.
So, it's clear that Prototype 2 really does give you more choice than before. However, its trademark, manic and intense fight sequences are still in abundance if you seek them. Heller immediately demonstrates this by jumping on a guard across the street, and in typical Prototype style it all kicks off. Noise levels rise, guards descend on your position and a helicopter searches for you in the skies above. Heller grapples onto the helicopter and brings it crashing to the ground and the shows of the new ability to hot-swap between any two active powers. This new feature is far better than the power wheel in the previous game - it means you can switch between claws to take out soldiers and then intuitively switch to the hammer fist to take out a tank - without interrupting the action in any way. All vehicles in the game have finishing and super finishing moves, and Heller demonstrates this spectacularly by pulling the cannon off a tank and then pummelling the tank into the ground to destroy it.
Like the first game, when things kick off in Prototype 2 they really do kick off, but Radical has tried to balance that intensity by giving us a more diverse range of weapons and ways to counter and get out of any given situation. Indeed, it feels more like you can control the pace in Prototype 2 without getting too overwhelmed. The likes of offensive, defensive and motion-related perks help ease the burden of the battle and Heller demonstrates his power perfectly by ramming a spiked shield into the ground to deflect rockets back into the faces of his aggressors.
The last thing Radical shows us is how the Blacknet secure data network works. Via radar trucks, the BlackWatch share information with scientists and agents about operations in the area, and these units act as a gateway to access side objectives and 'B' story content. By tapping into a control panel on the trucks you're set missions. In this case, Heller is asked to hunt down a corporal and then proceeds to use his hunting mechanic, which Radical compares to the "way a submarine uses a sonar pulse" to track him down. Consume the target and you get access to their memory. The benefit of carrying out these objectives is access to mutations, or perks. Prototype 2 will give you the choice of perks split across a variety of categories, so you can build up your character based on your playing style. Perhaps you're the destructive type, or maybe you'd prefer to be able to whizz across the city in the fastest possible time.
After the demo finished, Radical told us that it has listened intently to community feedback from Prototype and has sought to fix everything that needed fixing. We've got to agree. We've seen and played over 40 games at Gamescom, and there's only a handful of games that have really excited us - Prototype 2 is one of them.