Prototype 2 Preview: Shape-shifting has never been this fun, gross

Remember Prototype? It was that superhero game that came out around the same time as inFamous back in 2009. For some reason, a lot of you chose to side with either one or the other, in an attempt to swear your allegiance to only one open-world superhero game. Either way, whether you loved it or hated it, you should keep your eyes peeled for Prototype 2; it just might grab a hold of you with its bloody, pulsating tentacles.

Prototype 2 carries on where the first game left off; Alex Mercer—former protagonist—is still out there, and the virus that flows within his bloodstream has made its way to the streets of New York. You play as newcomer Sgt. James Heller, a tough, African American U.S. marine that is hell-bent on exacting revenge against Alex Mercer for supposedly releasing the Blacklight virus on the world, which, in turn ruined not only Heller’s life, but the rest of New York’s—or NYZ (New York Zero) as it’s now referred to.

At the start of the game, Heller finds himself in the warzone that is NYZ, and eventually encounters Mercer. Impressed by the fact that Heller has been fending off against an onslaught of infected enemies, Mercer chooses to infect Heller with the same virus that gave him all of his corpse-devouring abilities in the first place. This sets a “Frankenstein” tone for the rest of the game since Heller is turned into a monster determined on destroying his maker.

The first breath-taking moment in Prototype 2, believe it or not, occurred during the intro tutorial sequence of the game. Upon learning how to move Heller around the environment, you find yourself stalking Mercer through the streets of NYZ. Eventually, you are spotted by the Goliath—a creature the size of a building, demolishing everything in its path. Unfortunately for Heller, he ends up being in the Goliath’s way when this happens. Queue the first blockbuster moment in Prototype 2, as you’re running for your life towards the camera, jumping over cars and obstacles with procedurally-generated animations that just look great. Later, I literally told a developer that this felt like something out of Uncharted, which, believe you me, is a compliment when addressing action set-pieces like this one.

Without going too into the opening story sequences, after waking up in a lab, fighting your way out, and making your way back onto the street, you finally have control of Heller in the open world. Right off the bat, you’re able to pull off super jumps, scale buildings with ease, and even perform that ever-so-gnarly “I’m ingesting you via tentacles protruding from my body” move that you may remember from the first Prototype. Upon “absorbing” someone, you can take their shape/appearance at any time, which helps when you want to remain stealthy, or fool your enemies in a chase.

Fast-forward about an hour into the game, and the demo ended (or rather, we were instructed to stop playing). This happened right after getting the claw upgrade that allowed Heller to, well you guessed it, turn his arms into giant claws that do very bad things to his opponents.

Here’s what I took away from Prototype 2: the game looks to improve upon the original by leaps and bounds. Gameplay aside, if you can sympathize with Heller—a father who lost it all—then you might be in for a ride with the story. Cut-scenes are stylized to a grainy black-and-white theme, with reds standing out (think Sin City). Voice-acting and dialogue are a cut above the first game, however, you’ll still hear a butt-load of swearing and profanities that come with that “M” rating, which sometimes feel a little forced, or unnecessary.

Now let’s talk gameplay; combat is way more fluent—and gory, believe it or not—as Heller finds ease in slicing and dicing everything in his path. You can quickly tap the attack button to initiate quick combos against enemies, or hold the attack button to perform a special move unique to each and every power/ability you use—and there’s a lot of them. Blade-arms, shield-arms, stretchy tentacle-arms, hammer-arms, and claws are just a few of the body modifications that Heller can acquire without so much as lifting a… tentacle. Shape-shifting looks better than ever as the team over at Radical Entertainment seem to have continued developing that visceral, bloody tech that makes absorbing or transforming into people look fantastic, albeit totally gross.

From what I was able to see of the late-game segments in Prototype 2, you’ll be using your arsenal of transformations and abilities to take out hordes (a surprising number of on-screen enemies) of the “infected,” tanks, helicopters, and whatever else the city has to throw at you—that you can totally throw back. Navigating the city is quick, as you can jump extremely high and glide around just like in the first game; a skill you’ll be using often to find the many collectibles scattered across the city.

From visuals to sound, and combat to exploration, Prototype 2 just seems way more engaging than the first game. While the graphics are nothing to write home about, the visuals are stylized and gruesome enough that the game is always fun to watch and say “oh, that must have hurt.”

We’re not about to compare the game to inFamous 2, either; it’s a whole different bag of tricks. Nothing against Cole MacGrath, but the team at Radical has mastered how to give players the ability to enact sheer destruction in their respective open-world games since they released the rather aptly named Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction on the PS2, Xbox, and GameCube last generation. If this sounds like your cup of bloody tea, then you should look for more coverage on Prototype 2 here at leading up to the game’s release. Activision will be bringing Prototype 2 to store shelves on April 24, for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC.

Activision hosted a preview event in Las Vegas last week for Prototype 2, and invited PSU to come check it out. We did just that, and got some quality hands-on time with the first hour or so of the game, as well as some time with a fully powered-up profile to see some of those late-game upgrades.