In the open-world sandbox superhero subgenre, the inFamous and Prototype franchises seem determined to tread the same terrain in slightly different ways, putting you in control of ultra-powered do-gooders in a sprawling metropolis overrun by villains who you annihilate via a variety of wild mutant abilities. In this race to utilize the same basic template, inFamous 2 remains the pack leader, but Prototype 2 proves such an improvement over its predecessor that the competition isn’t as far apart as one might have expected, with Activision’s sequel proving to be a well-built machine in virtually all respects. The problem, however, is that it also feels like some sort of inFamous 2 remix, so closely mirroring that game’s fundamental elements—as well as boasting fighting mechanics reminiscent of Arkham City, The Darkness 2, and any X-Men game—that what’s lacking from this otherwise sturdy title is originality. As Sgt. James Heller, a soldier who loses his family and is then infected by villain Alex Mercer with bioweapon capabilities that turn him into a freaky force of nature whose hands can morph into different weapons, you get to scale skyscrapers, leap tall buildings in a single bound, glide through the air, and use environmental objects and your insane powers in enormous scuffles with special-ops armies and mutant monsters. In other words: inFamous 2.
Okay, so maybe it’s not an exact replica of Sucker Punch’s stellar 2011 effort, but it’s close—and regardless of the differences in the games’ stories, which in both cases turn out to be mere excuses to cause unfettered mayhem throughout the primary narrative and standard race-fetch-destroy side missions. Heller’s goal is to exact revenge against Mercer and Blackwatch, the military private contractors who roam the city using the populace as bioweapon experiments. Yet with chitchatty cutscenes tying together its collection of generic tasks, Activision’s sequel is rather conventionally structured, from its stash of hidden collectibles (black boxes) and its splintered game area (the city is split into three differing districts in varying states of disarray) that’s not completely accessible at the outset, to the general combat and upgrade features, which are sturdy but simplistic. The game’s defining, and sole thrilling, twist is that Mercer can absorb and take the shape of anyone he encounters—an ability that’s not only useful when trying to infiltrate heavily guarded areas, but necessary for escaping detection when your presence is spotted by enemies and subsequent alarms (bringing hordes of enemies) are sounded.
As you progress through Prototype 2, Mercer’s abilities become so over the top that the game takes on an amazingly frenzied, carnage-beyond-carnage intensity. Still, while there’s nothing substantially wrong with the action, there’s a nagging sense that one has created such destruction before, and in similar and equally adept ways. And that familiarity is made more grating by the fact that there’s little actual interaction with the city itself; slaughtering or absorbing civilians has no negative ramifications, and despite the environmental differences of the metropolis’s three zones, there’s little personality to the landscapes Mercer traverses. Similarly, while being able to run up walls makes travel quicker than inFamous 2’s cable-sliding and ledge-hopping, it furthers the general impression (also fostered by scuffles that are sometimes so hectic that it’s hard to make Mercer do exactly what you want him to) that the hero operates on a slightly different spatial plane than everyone and everything else in Prototype 2. Sharp-clawed Wolverine-ish skills and The Darkness-style tentacle attacks definitely make Mercer an entertainingly badass protagonist, but his saga remains one that plays less like a prototype than a tweaked photocopy.