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E3 2011: Prototype 2

by Xav de Matos, Jun 17, 2011 1:15pm PDT

QUICKTAKE: Radical Entertainment gets the band back together for a new entry in the Prototype series. Prototype 2 is a different beast though, as this time, players take on the role of a new character whose mission is to hunt and kill the man responsible for the outbreak in New York City featured in the original game. This time, the game's "big bad" is none other than the original game's playable character, Alex Mercer. (And no, Mercer is not playable.) Radical is adamant that changes have been made to Prototype 2 in response to criticisms people had with the first game, while peppering in new and interesting ideas to make the new hero a different breed of monster.

THE DEMO: My behind-closed-doors demo of Prototype 2 was introduced with a caveat: what I was about to be shown was a "proof of concept" created for publisher Activision specifically E3. The demo shows off a few immediate changes to the game, primarily, its new engine. The first section of the demo features the new protagonist, an ex-soldier named James Heller, standing on a rooftop across a guarded off alleyway in a rebuilding New York. After the devastation the city saw in the first game, New York is beginning to come back to life and has been dubbed New York Zero. The city is broken into three sections: a Blackwatch military-group controlled area known as the "green zone"; a quarantine and triage area dubbed the "yellow zone"; and the skyscraper filled, urban jungle called the "red zone." After discovering a lifeless monster in the greenzone, Blackwatch scientists begin to investigate as soldiers wall off the area. As citizens approach, the city guards push them back before firing into the crowd to keep the civilians away.

Here, Heller is tasked with extracting DNA from a scientist to learn more about the situation. Once again, the main character is able to shape-shift into other characters he has extracted DNA from to move through the city undetected. Masking himself a Blackwatch soldier, Heller drops down to the patrolling guards below and uses a new ability, the BioBomb, to take out the soldiers and scientists with one move. Heller grabs a soldier and pushes a mass of infected tissue into him, turning him into a time bomb. Upon exploding, a sea of tendrils spill out of the character, grabbing onto nearby enemies and pieces of the environment before exploding. It's both brutal and impressive.

The demo continued to show off how the game handles upgrades and mutation "perks." Abilities aren't freely purchasable in Prototype 2. Instead, they become available to unlock after players complete non-story Blackwatch missions. When players find and complete a Blackwatch mission, they will be able to select a new perk to add to their arsenal. In the demo, the perk selection was equated to the perk system in Fallout 3, giving players a number of options to customize their own James Heller. "At the end of the game, your Heller will be very different from mine," a rep said during the presentation. The final stages of the demo showed off infected lairs that will be scattered throughout the world. These look like pustules emerging from the city, which players can enter to tackle a wide array of enemies to clear them out and 'seal' the lair off. There was also a tease of a slick (and sick) looking giant boss character the team affectionately (and ironically) referred to as "Tiny" during the demo (though the in-game health bar more aptly called the creature 'Behemoth.') This creature was as tall as a skyscraper and used a shielded arm to push an entire city street of vehicles out of his path in one fell swoop. Like many demos at E3, the presentation ended upon the giant creature's introductory attack, a familiar cliffhanger.

DETAILS: At its core, Prototype 2 is a revenge drama. Due to the infestation caused by Mercer in the first game, Heller lost his wife and child. Now the former Sergeant wants to "kill his maker" while attempting to eradicate the virus that has brought New York to its knees. To tell the tale, Prototype 2 brings players back to the city 14 months after the original game.

What I've seen is only a vertical slice from the planned 2012 release. Prototype 2 takes some of the ideas from the first game and looks to build on top of it, adding more options to what the team calls "the Swiss Army knife" of protagonists. Heller's bag of tricks is similar to Mercer's--all the traversal abilities from the first return, for example. But, he's learned a few new things along the way. A lot of what was shown was tendril based. Heller can fire horrific strings of infected mass at enemies and objects in the world, string them up like Spider-man, and clear the area. In one instance I saw Heller take on two tanks, destroying them and stringing up nearby enemies in a matter of seconds. The new power screams inspiration from comic characters like Carnage and Venom.

Radical reps told me they wanted to tackle a different kind of character. Mercer was "emo" and "passive" they say, referencing Mercer's uncanny and unfortunate ability to be both the most powerful being in the city and everyone's errand boy. Heller is different. He seeks out missions to gain information for himself. They want Heller to be driven and to use people as a "tool to get what he wants." It's an ambitious goal for a genre that usually resorts to giving heroes nonsensical quests to pad game time.

According to Radical, the original game lost focus, throwing too much at the player without a good sense of pace. There was no middle road. Prototype 2 has been approached with a stronger focus on creating a balanced experience, I was told. My hope is that, while Radical attempts to pace the game more fluidly, it still offers the same level of action and power players felt in the original adventure.

[Note: Shacknews had previously posted impressions of Prototype 2; however, the preview included story element errors. Shacknews revisited the game on the floor for the purposes of delivering a new, more accurate preview.]

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