Released earlier this year on console but only now makings its visually-improved way to PC, open-world action game Prototype 2 sadly carries the whiff of failure even despite the many things it gets right. Sales were underwhelming enough that the development studio behind it was closed down, and there seems little hope of there ever being a Prototype 3.
That decision appears more to do with the bottom line than the quality of the game itself, although there's no escpaing that Prototype 2 could have been an awful lot better. The prime problem is deep similarity to its 2009 predecessor - although sytems and improved and features expanded, no risks are taken. As before, you play as a surly guy in a hoodie, blessed/cursed with genetic modification that enables him to perform superhuman feats of agility and violence. He may be red and spiky rather than green and muscly, but it doesn't take much squinting to see that really he's the Incredible Hulk. Prototype's late developer Radical Entertainment previously worked on a well-received open world Hulk game, and this is pretty self-evidently a continued exploration of what they got up with ol' mean'n'green.
Which leads us to the second disappointing aspect of Prototype 2. While Hulk: Ultimate Destruction had bags of charisma, Prototype 2 (like Prototype before it) fails to offer anywhere near as compelling, likeable or even symapthetic a protoganist. With Prototype 1's navel-gazing, unsmiling star Alex Mercer relegated to supporting character/potential nemesis status for the sequel, this time around we play as the perpetually furious, endlessly swearing, thoroughly unloveable James Heller.
You wouldn't like him when he's angry. Unfortunately, he's always angry. His quest for vengeance (his family was apparently killed by Mercer, then he was infected with the mutation virus by a collection of pantomime villains) is extremely difficult to care about, because this is a man no-one in their right mind would ever want so much as a conversation with.
Fortunately, he does sport a raft of impressively brutal powers. He can 'consume' people to assume their identities (ideal for getaways or stealthing into military bases), he can summon a pack of bestial mutants to fight for him, he can clobber, smash and slash soldiers, tanks and helicopters alike with assorted transformations of his hands,he can run up walls and he can glide across vast swathes of the military-ruled New York the game is set within.
There's a decent variety of bombastic ways to take down Heller's innumerable foes, and a generous upgrade tree ensures a steady stream of new ones. Trouble is the open world is a bit of a damp squib, as endlessy mowing down hordes of helpless civilians runs out of steam pretty fast, while the military men and their heavy armour rarely offer much of a challenge. On paper, it's a player wish-dream to be so over-powered and godlike, but in practice keeping this invigorating is problematic.
Prototype 2's tonal tendency towards blandness and obnoxiousness means indulging in Heller's unchecked abilities rarely feels celebratory despite often being spectacular in the sheer scale of destruction possible. Instead, it becomes a matter of bouncing directly from mission to mission, meeting and murdering a series of unengaging characters engaged in a conspiracy it's difficult to care about. New York city should have been a perfect superhero's playground, but here it just winds up being space that needs crossing.
This is not to say that there aren't moments when the game feels glorious. Wrenching a helicopter from the skies with Heller's monstrous tendrils, tearing the missile launcher off a tank then destroying said tank with its own weapon, wiping out a good dozen soldiers simultaneously with a shockwave attack or, rather more quietly, sneaking into a locked-down base by silenty consuming all it guards one by one... Prototype 2 offers remarkable, explosive vignettes without a doubt, and in that regard puts all those many games about running down a corridor with a machinegun to shame. Trouble is that the structure around those vignettes feels so throwaway or, often, actively unappealing.
It's a shame that the people behind Prototype won't ever have a third crack at getting it right, but at the same time there's nothing here that would ever need presevering in any museum of gaming. If only its outlandish abilities had been given to a character and a setting with even an ounce of charm.