Prototype 2 Hands-on Preview

The original Prototype was deemed the ugly duckling of a group of three open-world releases. Red Faction: Guerrilla, Infamous, and Prototype all came out in the same summer, and in that comparison, the ugly duckling title is probably apt. That said, I found the game's particular brand of open-world madness extremely satisfying.

I dare you to find a game that empowers you more than Prototype. The game basked in the ridiculous, allowing you to run up the sides of buildings, soar across Manhattan like a flying squirrel, jump kick helicopters, and elbow drop tanks. When I reached the height of my power in the original game, I had protagonist Alex Mercer soccer punt an innocent civilian across Central Park, just because I could. How does one improve such a thing?
From my time playing Prototype 2 at New York Comic Con, I'm not so sure you do. The game seemed to be largely identical to the first one, adding a few new abilities and giving the graphics a much needed fresh coat of paint. It's still not a show-stopper, most likely due to the unfinished game's unstable framerate, but it's a huge improvement over the original–visually, at least.
Prototype 2 screenshot
Prototype 2 stars Sergeant James Heller, a superhuman like Alex Mercer, on a quest to avenge the death of his family by Mercer, and put a stop to the virus that's made them this way. If the demo is anything to go by, this is one aspect of Prototype that's far from improved, as Heller can easily go on a murderous rampage at will. This was one of the major disconnects in the original Prototype, as Alex Mercer would say he had to save the city, and then you'd proceed to run over 400 random pedestrians in a tank.
If you simply played as a sociopath or villain from the start, things like the new ability to force the virus into random people and toss them into enemies like a meat grenade would make a bit more sense. That said, it's actually a pretty handy skill to have when armed soldiers and helicopters are trying to kill you.
In the demo, Heller had a dedicated block button. Pressing it turned his arms into stone shields capable of deflecting rockets back at unsuspecting enemies. This will hopefully open up more opportunities to remain in the action, as challenges toward the end of the original game often forced you to continually run for cover and recharge your health.
prototype 2 screenshot
The booth at Comic Con prominently featured a helicopter, allowing fans to step up on stage and do their best Alex Mercer-style helicopter-kicking impression. The man running the booth continually bragged about how Prototype 2 lets you take out a helicopter with your bare fists, but I found this much more difficult than in the original Prototype. In fact, I ended up taking down vehicles using Heller's new tendril power, which grabs on to whatever enemy you're targeting and attracts random debris their way, crushing them from all sides.
Another new way of taking out vehicles was to rip off their weapons and use them against them. This was one of the focal points of the demo, as it brought up a tutorial to make sure I hopped on a tank and ripped off its missile launcher. What I didn't seem to be able to do was take control of the tank itself, though hopefully that was just because, like the original game, I needed to steal the knowledge from a tank pilot.
prototype 2 screenshot
I still felt like an ultra-powered badass, but the changes Radical has made with Heller will take some getting used to. He's every bit as mobile, better at defending himself, but strangely less capable in combat. The flow that made the original game feel like an open-world character action game wasn't quite there yet.
Another issue I found was with the game's lock-on targeting. It seemed to target more or less exactly what you're looking at, which isn't helpful in a world where there's just as many innocent bystanders as enemies. The final game will have to add some prioritizing to the lock-on, otherwise it will be very difficult to follow all the action and remain mobile.
I'm not sure what to make of Prototype 2. The demo I played seemed to improve on the original just as much as it fell short. Of course it's a work in progress, and it's always possible I wasn't quite grasping Heller's controls, but sequels should be improving in every way, not making unfortunate trade-offs. I loved the original game, and so I remain hopeful that Prototype 2 will shape up. For now, this demo simply made me more worried than impressed.