Prototype 2 review

Our Verdict

It could have been great, but this gruesome and ridiculous power fantasy is spoilt by a disgracefully shabby port to PC.

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In the intro, your wife and child are killed when you unaccountably tell them to stay in New York City after a virus outbreak starts killing everyone. If you set out to hunt down the monster responsible for this tragedy – yourself – it would be a short game. So you hunt down the protagonist from Prototype 1 instead, who has just given you superpowers and awesome claw arms.

Even if Prototype 2 didn't start out by establishing you as a tremendous asshole, it would be difficult not to become one immediately. It's an open-world game full of innocent bystanders, and foot-long steel claws are the safety scissors of your toolset. The next thing you get is the ability to turn your arms into elastic tendrils that violate human bodies, erupt through their skin, latch onto heavy objects, then contract to yank these objects into the victim with lethal force. Sometimes, the tendrils attach to buildings and just pull until your victim is quartered, his head and limbs suspended in a spider's web of stringy red meat. You're not man of the year.

It's a power-drunk perversion of a superhero game, and its attempts to cast you as sympathetic are just funny. Once your character has told people “I'm gonna eat your fucking brains”, “wear your face”, or “skullfuck you and suck your memories out through the hole,” that ship has pretty much sailed.

It's a supervillain game. And it would have been an amazing one, if they'd managed to get it working properly on PC.

I've tried it on three PCs. On one, the game did not start. The Steam forums reveal this happens if you have certain USB devices plugged in, so I unplugged everything. It then started, but crashed whenever it loaded a new mission.

On PC number two, it ran, but got slower and slower as I played, until it was entirely unresponsive and crashed, losing all progress in the current mission. Some missions last longer than the time it took this PC to slow to a crawl, and you can't save mid-mission.

Other players found one early mission was uncompletable unless they told Windows to use only one CPU core. Mouse acceleration varies with your framerate. Windowed mode is more stable, but hidden, and stuck at 1280x720. Some button presses didn't register.

On PC number three, it's fine. No major issues, runs beautifully, and it's surprisingly pretty. So if you own three very different gaming PCs, you'll be fine. If you don't, the sheer shoddiness of this port condemns you to a technical lottery.

I don't know who, but someone in management seems to be stuck in the self-justifying cycle of PC port failure. “No one buys stuff on PC, no sense spending money or time doing that well. Hey look! Our shitty PC port sold badly! I was right!”

I'll come back to this at the end to remind you how stupid and frustrating this situation is, as if you don't already know. For now, I'll get back to the game.

It's realistic looking, but somehow the horrific things that happen in it aren't as disturbing as they probably should be. It's so gross, so absurd and so openly silly that it's tonally more like a slapstick cartoon.

Even the tendrils become weirdly satisfying – and technically fascinating – in worryingly short order. They feel like sticky rubber bands, or the gelatinous handpads on those toys that climb down windows. I walked through the aftermath of one fight captivated by the surreal scene I'd created: the whole street a lattice of flesh strands, two buckled tank husks hanging in the web.

Your other powers feel good too: tactile, crunchy, heavy, sharp. The eruptive feedback from every impact is a constant catharsis. In lots of ways, it's a sleeker version of the overloaded original: your arms can turn into more different horrible things, but fewer awkward key combinations are needed to pull off specific moves. Instead, you can combine modes of attack, stringing up an enemy with tendrils and then cutting their arms off with the claws.

Again, not man of the year.

When you're not being openly horrible to people, there are lots of new ways to be secretly horrible to them. The stealth system is simple but intriguing: if you're disguised as a soldier, you can get close to any other soldier and 'stealth consume' them. To be clear, that means you secretly eat them.

But rather than having to guess whether you'll get away with it, you automatically abort the operation with a hilariously suspicious shoulder-brush if it turns out someone is watching. Handily, the potential witnesses are also picked out with big icons above their heads, so you know who to secretly eat next.

It's a generous system – guards are absurdly relaxed about the labcoated scientist running up the barrack walls, backflipping off them, flying like superman to the mutant cages and opening them for no reason. For the same reason, you can also get into some awkward situations.

On a mission that wanted me to take out two supersoldiers, I used a disguise to release mutants into the compound to soften them up. Nice idea, but mutants can always sniff you out. I had to sprint around the compound pretending not to know why they'd singled me out, or how to fight back: my superhuman combat moves would reveal me to everyone. Eventually I slipped behind a tent to beat one of my pursuers to death, and emerged as casually as I could.

The missions often give you refreshingly free rein on how to tackle targets or get into a facility, but occasionally still fail if you step outside an arbitrary range or zone. The best missions have you fight something big and powerful wherever you happen to find it in the city, and happily, that's most of them.

In one, a mutant commander fled through traffic at night. I ran up a building and launched myself into the air, gliding above him to keep him in view. He picked up a car and threw it at me just as I started to lose altitude. I veered just enough to avoid the brunt of the impact, but my feet brushed its underside as it span. On some kind of automated animation logic, my character ran across the car before it flew harmlessly past. I turned it into a diving tackle on the target, and felt incredibly cool.

My favourite place to fight is rooftops: if the target's on the offensive, I'll run up a skyscraper and wait on the roof. You can rip up truck-sized ventilation units to hurl at foes when they arrive, and if that knocks them off, they scramble back up. If they knock me off, I try to turn it into a glide and circle back for another round.

Once, my target climbed a different building to leap across the street at me. I saw it coming, and charged my horrible tendril attack. Both my arms stretched out to hit him mid-air, making sub-tentacles erupt from him in all directions. They snatched up everything from the street – cars, people, chunks of building –and brought it all smashing into him.

At its best, Prototype 2 is a spectacular clash of horrific titans, their mutant limbs ripping through the city as they pound each other. The fights spill out into traffic, sending cars flying as they smash each other into whatever is unlucky enough to get in the way.

Both Prototype games have terrible stories, unlikeable protagonists and hammy voice acting. But what's exciting about this one is that it seems to understand how to sideline that stuff: the plot is just a framing device for why you've got to kill and eat the next guy you've got to kill and eat. It lets the game take centre stage, and refines it to show off its most ridiculous and horrific pleasures.

That's why it crushes me that I can't recommend this game. It's just in a terrible state, and there's no way for you to know if your £30 will get you a fantastic game, a chugging mess, or something that simply doesn't work at all.

I don't know how many towering PC successes it's going to take to convince publishers and developers to invest in their own games properly, or how dismal the console games market has got to get before we start to look appealing to them

in comparison. But I hope it happens soon, because I hate seeing something as good as this ruined

by neglect.

The Verdict
Prototype 2

It could have been great, but this gruesome and ridiculous power fantasy is spoilt by a disgracefully shabby port to PC.