Friday, 18 January 2013

Prototype 2: Character Assassination

When it comes to gameplay, Prototype 2 is simply better then the first. It is more streamlined with a more limited arsenal and less convoluted upgrade system. Infiltrating bases is simpler and missions repeat themselves less frequently. There's also a lot less of them. There are less optional missions, but their rewards are much grater. The campaign itself is shorter then the first's. It is also a lot more cohesive. Your goals are clear and the characters around you have clear and simpler motivations, rather then the vague and blurred goals of Prototype 1. It also means that as soon as you get full accesses to your arsenal, the game rushes to an ending. Leaving you precious few opportunities to use the abilities gained in the final act of the game.
The city is smaller compared to the original as well, but it's design is a lot more defined. Although transition between infected and uninfected areas is done through waypoints and a loading screen. So the subtle change of environment that I liked in the first game is nowhere to be seen. The city also doesn't change as the story progresses. Which is a shame since it was part of what made the setting come to life in the original. To conclude: it is a less ambitious design but a much more streamlined design as well.


Character and Plot

This is where Prototype 2 fails even more then the original did.
It start out promisingly enough with a distraught Protagonist, James Heller. Having lost his Wife and Daughter to a second outbreak of the virus, he joins the military in the heavily infected Red Zone. The first few minutes are sublime. Heller, chasing Mercer through the ruined streets. Despite witnessing his squad's horrific death and Mercer's god-like power, he pursues him with murderous rage. When he finally managed to catch up with Mercer, the latter easily subdues him and then infects him with his strain of the virus. Heller is convinced by Mercer's claim: that Blackwatch is responsible for this second outbreak. He teams up with a local priest to fight the morally bankrupt materialistic organization, but quickly finds out that Mercer is the real source of the virus and again pursues him for revenge.


A World of Evil Evil Men

While Heller seems at first to be a more flashed out character as a protagonist then Mercer, this quickly revealed as false. He has absolutely no character arc or interesting characteristics. And the game seems to think that the only way to make him a hero is depict his enemies as inhuman monsters.
Heller's ability to absorb the memories of his victims is totally wasted on this endeavor. Unlike their role in the first game, these memories rarely provide background story or flash out characters. Rather they serve to show the player that he is justified in killing every single human in his path, since they are all revealed to be callous, murderous and racists bastards who are not above raping the infected and the dead.
Yes, really. All subtlety that might have been directed at the fact Heller is fighting against an organization that tries to stop the plague is rendered mute as only one of them is not painted as an inhuman monster. And still it is hard to swallow Heller as a lesser evil since he seems completely oblivious and apathetic in his actions against his enemies and seems to treat his allies with only a symbolic amount of sympathy. Even going so far as to display unprovoked hostility towards another risking herself to aid him, to the point he demands she sacrifices herself for his benefit.
In this unflattering light, even his vengeance over his family's demise seems hypocritical. Since while he is quick to sabotage and condemn Blacklight's use of civilians in their experiments, he resorts to the same tactics when it advances his goals. He releases uncontrollable monstrosities on the populace, a few scant missions after trying to stop his enemies from doing the same. And releases a potentially deadly virus on the streets as he fights Mercer and Blacklight for those same sins.
Painting Heller as a single minded vengeance seeking lunatic, serves the gameplay's freedom as it allows you to embark on joyous atrocities without much guilt. But at the same time it undermines everything that could make him a good protagonist.
At the end, Mercer reveals himself as a cliche' Final Fantasy villain. You know the type: "The world is full of suffering, people are evil. So it is best to kill everyone to eliminate suffering and death and evil". This bare-bones nihilism is really insufferable as far as credible motivations go. But this time I found my self agreeing with the villain, since everyone I met in the game was a psychotic fuck. Including the protagonist himself.
All the while it seemed that the game's only defense was saying: Yes, but at least he is not a racist or a necrophile.
Yes, Heller is not a racist and he does not desecrate the dead with sexual acts. He does however murder thousand, eats people and absorbs their memories in service of his own personal goals. Color me morally dubious, but I think even the most depraved white supremacist dead-fucker would find it hard to compete in a race to the the bottom of the morality barrel.


Squandered Potential

 At the end it is frustrating because Prototype 2 could have been so much better. Casting Mercer as a villain could have been a fascinating exploration of a man who thought his enemies turned him into a monster, only to realize that what makes him a monster was there even before he got his terrible powers. Heller could be a good protagonist, who starts with his humanity stripped away and redeems himself through a rebellion against his creator.
Instead Prototype is a game with even less personality then it's predecessor. The setting that was relatively strong in the first game is pushed aside. And the protagonist seems undeserving of the good ending he eventually gets. The antagonist seem to be the most interesting character in the whole sordid affair, but he plays a very minor role in the story.
The gameplay is wonderful, but there's less reason and room to roam and enjoy what it offers to the fullest.

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