You run into some pretty interesting characters in the video games medium. Speedy hedgehogs, portly plumbers, Lombax tinkerers and lollygagging Rabbids are just some of the creatures that front titles and franchises. Let's also not forget the army of shaven-headed, gravelly voiced antiheroes whose numbers seem to increase every year.
Prototype 2's central character stands out easily in this crowd, which is interesting when you consider it has no voice, no values and no general aims apart from growing, expanding and consuming. This is because, according to the Prototype 2's Design Director, Matt Armstrong, the game's - and indeed the franchise's - main protagonist is a virus.
"From an IP standpoint I was always of the opinion that it wasn't Alex Mercer (from the first Prototype) or James Heller (from Prototype 2) who were the star of our game. It was always the Blacklight Virus, because it's instigator of everything in the world we've created," says Armstrong.
"It also allows us to keep the IP fresh moving forward. We can take it to brand new locations, give it a brand new protagonist and we can express it in different ways. We could even move it into different genres of games very easily, if we wanted. "
Anyone who played Radical Entertainment's Prototype from 2009, will remember that the host of the Blacklight Virus was a hoodie-wearing ex-soldier called Alex Mercer. Upon discovering he was the recipient of amazing and brutal powers, Mercer decided to rip apart New York and hunt down those responsible for turning him into a freak. Along the way, he encountered shadowy military types and mutated monsters and, naturally, he racked up a healthy amount of collateral damage.
While all this translated into a lot of fun for the player, who guided this super-powered wrecking ball through an urban sandbox, it didn't make for a compelling story. After all, it was kind of hard to get behind Mercer, because he was an out and out sociopath. Armstrong says this also influenced Radical's decision to create a new protagonist for Protoype's sequel - James Heller.
"When we looked back on Prototype, we looked at what had worked about Mercer as a protagonist and what hadn't," he says, "and we created a list of things we wanted to do differently. At the top was the fact we wanted a more focused character than Mercer had been."
"Around the same time, we started tossing ideas onto the table, which at first seemed insane, but gradually gained traction. One of these was the idea that Mercer could be the bad guy this time around. He would go from being the hero to the antagonist and none of us had ever seen that in a video game before."
"It came down to: what would happen if you played someone who was effectively a victim of your own actions in the previous game? And that's where Heller came in."
The set up for Heller plays out over the first ten minutes of gameplay we were allowed with Prototype 2. Heller is a soldier who has returned from a war overseas to find that his wife and child were two of the many civilians Mercer killed while on his quest for revenge in the first game. After burying his family, Heller learns that Mercer is at large somewhere in New York, and he volunteers to head into the broken city to find him and kill him.
His first encounter with Mercer doesn't go very well; not only does Mercer kick the stuffing out of him, he infects Heller with the Blacklight Virus and leaves him for dead. This prompts Heller's military bosses to bring him in and conduct tests on him to find out why the Blacklight Virus didn't kill Heller outright or turn him into a mutant. Heller isn't fond of the idea of being sliced open, so, after a brief and brutal battle, he escapes into New York to plan his next move.