Viral infections are incredible things, according to Radical Entertainment's Dave Fracchia. “If you look at viruses when they get into the body, they disguise themselves so they can get into different cells. They explode, they eviscerate.”
This process, he says, is the inspiration for the pathological violence of Prototype 2's Blacklight virus – but the analogy only stretches so far. That is, unless the common cold ever figures out how to pull the guns off an attack helicopter.
Thanks to the Blacklight virus, I'm currently running up the side of a skyscraper, 'disguised' – if that's the right word – as a member of Blackwatch, the ruthless military force that oversees postdisaster New York. Rockets and tracer fire impact the building from three pursuing helicopters. At the press of a button my uniform folds back into my body, transforming into a highcollared black and red leather jacket. Disguise seems a bit superfluous at this point.
Pushing myself away from the building, I begin to glide, the virus now granting me the ability to fly short distances. I grab hold of the cockpit of the lead helicopter, then leap to its wing, tearing off a missile pod before entering freefall. As I tumble backwards I open fire, taking out the chopper with its own armament. It explodes in a shower of debris that plummets streetwards alongside me, crashing into the infected hordes in a shower of glass as my impact sends eviscerating spines of bone erupting from the ground in all directions.
The virus transforms my arm into a massive blade with which I carve myself a clearing. I grab a zombie and inject him with a volatile strain before chucking him a hundred feet in the air. As he reaches the helicopters he explodes in a web of elasticated tendrils that latch onto buildings, debris and even street-level infected, before contracting violently inwards, crushing both remaining copters in an implosion of rubble, rotors and flesh.
The Blacklight virus can, it seems, do pretty much whatever Radical want it to do. Fracchia claims that it's this “over-thetop- ness” that sets Prototype 2 apart from other Manhattan-bound superhero adventures. “I really don't think you can find any other game that is quite as overthe- top as this one is, that has quite the same level of choice as this one gives you.”
Prototype 2 is about taking on monsters and the military however you please, its open world offering you a range of options from predatory stealth to beating a tank to death with its own turret. All of this is true of the late-game section that I played, and all of it was true of the original Prototype. So what's changed?
First off, that collar-popped leather jacket isn't being worn by the original protagonist, Alex Mercer. In Prototype 2 you are James Heller, a US Marine who blames Mercer for the death of his family. In a stylish black-white-and-red opening sequence Heller takes on Mercer in futile one-on-one combat, before a scrap with an infected creature prompts Alex to inject Heller with his own strain of the virus.
The reason for moving Mercer into an arch-villain role, Fracchia says, was to avoid the problems endemic to sequels in general. “We thought we could take Alex's powers away, but that's so clichéd, and almost unfair to his memory. The idea of Alex creating the new prototype was really intriguing for us because it was ironic as well – giving powers to the guy who is looking to kill you.”
Heller will explore Mercer's motivations across a campaign that is attempting, for all its violent excess, to tell a more human story than its predecessor. “We want a character that we could get the player to feel emotionally engaged with,” Fracchia says. “Things many didn't feel with Alex.”
Heller is out for blood, but is conscious of the impact the virus is having on the suffering citizens of New York. His first mission handler is his old pastor, a priest attempting to protect quarantined civilians from Blackwatch's uncompromising form of martial law. Despite this new moral dimension, Radical haven't placed any restrictions on what Heller can do. If you want to indiscriminately throw civilians into the sea, you can do so without penalty.
“All we can do is try to influence players to play like Heller would play,” Fracchia explains. “If they want to screw around and do something different because they really enjoy it, we don't want to stop them.”
Screwing around remains Prototype's greatest pleasure. Stand-out new mechanics such as ripping weapons from vehicles and turning organic enemies into bombs fold naturally into a combat system that feels like a refinement, rather than an overhaul, of the original game. It's betterlooking, with more detailed lighting and particle effects, but fundamentally still Prototype with all of the tentacle-whipping, helicopter-punching absurdity that entails. Moving new narrative or not, that's by no means a bad thing.