Previews

Prototype 2: Leaps and bounds better than the first?

Mercer turns villain, NY gets a makeover - and the blood flows in (Hudson) rivers...

Spider-Man meets Just Cause meets sick, blood-splattered carnage. It's our enduring memory after a hardcore session with Prototype 2 on the rammed show floor of New York's sweaty celebration of nerd that is Comic-Con.

We weren't personally madly keen on the original Proto, but we simply couldn't be more pumped for the juiced-up sequel that's evidently learned so many lessons it should be Activision's star pupil. Arf.

Set in a quarantined, multi-zoned 'New York Zero' that's a world apart from the dull, grey cut 'n' paste Big Apple of the original, Proto 2 retains the insanely overpowered protagonist and keeps the gore-o-meter ramped fully up to 11, but marries these boons to more considered missions, diversity of environments... and a hero who's thankfully not such a hoodie-wearing jackass.

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Mercer is out - or rather reborn as pantomime villain - and Heller is in, an African-American former US Marine with an unquenched thirst for revenge after the viral murder of his cherished family. And beast claws for arms. Two modes were on offer to show attendees: a burst of story mission and the aptly-named Rampage, a sandbox minigame where players attempt to rack up high scores via carnage combos.

The first was great fun; Heller's holed up in the Yellow Zone of NYZ and must protect his pal Father Garrett's church from Blackwatch forces. Cue wave upon wave of suited and booted military types attacking our mutant hero/house of God with all kinds of rocket launchers, 'roided-up tanks and attack choppers.

It's obvious Proto's appeal won't depend upon mission variety, but rather the fun derived from going to town on your enemies - and in terms of sheer violence devs Radical have succeeded in not only grabbing us by the throat but virtually ripping it out.

TO HELLER AND BACK

Heller might be a former family man, but his rage knows few bounds. Whether he's consuming enemies or wrenching them limb from limb, the explosive carnage on show is eyeball-popping in its comic book intensity. Our favourite: the Tendril Black Hole, in which Serge impales a victim on a bloody stalk, which then offshoots into the surrounding environs before spring-loading its prey back into one bleeding explosion of eviscerated flesh and jagged metal.

It's sick, but it's also a hugely impressive physics demo. Less sandbox, more painbox. You can now also rip weapons from any enemy or vehicle - whether it's a bazooka from a downed Blackwatch op or giant LAW launcher 'acquired' from an unfortunate tank.

Rampage combines the Blackwatch massive with mutated beasties such as the skinless, muscle-packed Brawlers, but Heller's powers - specially ramped up for maximum show-floor fun - saw them present little challenge. That lay in strategic murder, racking up maximum pointage within a fiendishly tight time limit that kept the queues moving.

The action - set in NY Zero's populacepacked Yellow Zone - looked visually arresting, with Radical's decision to slice their gameworld into three distinct areas paying dividends in terms of artistic direction. Trees swayed as the blood spilled, blue skies permeated the splash of claret, character models crammed the streets... it's hardly a stretch to label Prototype as the most technicallyimpressive sandboxer ever.

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Thanks to the sterling efforts of a developer refreshingly honest about their acclaimed original's few flaws, we're all kinds of excited about Prototype 2. It's a sequel that marries gross-out action with a refreshing new direction and scintillating tech, making it far more than your usual cash cow. All roads point to glorious, gore-ous success with this one.

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