Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
Prototype's Story Holes

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 15 May 2012 16:00
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As I've mentioned in the past, I tend to avoid reading other people's opinions of games I intend to review, professional or otherwise (which is why you should really stop emailing reviews to me, email them to Steve or Susan or someone, they always appreciate the attention). So the first time I heard about the popular opinion of Prototype 2 was while going over some of the comments on my ZP video. Apparently it's generally reviewed kinda badly. I mean, some reviewers gave it, like, 6 out of 10. In professional reviewing circles that's the equivalent of burning it to the ground and salting the earth. My critique was a comparatively gentle pricking.

This did surprise me a little. I review based on how much fun I'm having, and I had fun with Prototype 2, so yeah. It's true that it could have done more to differentiate itself from its predecessor, but my feeling was that it could have done a hell of a lot less, too. I guess if I had a big problem it was with the story, and how I had a prediction for how it would turn out that didn't prove correct because I was apparently giving the writers way, way too much credit.

Spoilers from here on out, for both Prototype and Prototype 2, so be ready to slam your laptop lid closed and scream if you're planning to give them a chance anytime soon.

I guess the new protagonist wasn't particularly inspired, and the attempts to make him more sympathetic were severely misguided when held against the average behavior of a player in such a casually murderous sandbox game. Plus he was black, and all the other reviewers are probably a bunch of big racists. Alex Mercer, protagonist of game one and antagonist of game two, made for a much more interesting player character because his moral lapses were considerably more appropriate, and gave him a depth beyond some stubborn bloody-minded adherence to what we personally consider "right and wrong". Are there any of us who can say we wouldn't start surfing on housewives if we acquired powers like Mercer? At that point, should we even still allow ourselves to be bound by human ethics?

There was a twist at the end of Prototype that Prototype 2 doesn't seem to acknowledge at all. Which is good, because it means you can play Prototype after Prototype 2 and it'll still surprise you, but at the same time, it's a waste of a really quite intriguing premise. You see, it's revealed at the end of Prototype after Mercer completely rebuilds himself from the greasy stain left behind by a nuclear blast that the entity we thought we were controlling was not actually Alex Mercer, strictly speaking. It's established (and it's a gameplay mechanic, in a pleasant show of story and gameplay consistency) that when he consumes a human being he also takes their memories and appearances. Alex Mercer is not the superpowered entity itself, Alex Mercer was simply the first person the entity consumed, and then it got confused and assumed that it was Alex Mercer.

So you're not actually Mercer, you're the virus itself. That's why you can shapeshift and regenerate to an infinite degree - there is not a shred of human being in your physical make up, you're just a big lump of viral play-dough temporarily adopting the faces of humans. All your memories, intelligence and motivations are merely copy pasted from Mercer's mind. It's a rather intriguing, existential situation to play around with.

But as I said, that whole business kind of gets ignored in Prototype 2, which is disappointing. The plot deals with Alex Mercer hand-picking humans to turn into shapeshifting superbeings like himself, in order to build an entire army loyal to his cause, acting as hidden guerrilla operatives within the enemy. James Heller, the new protagonist, is one of those. But factoring in the Prototype plot, Mercer is not transforming humans into superhumans, he's creating more viral entities based on the templates - and retaining the memories - of existing humans.

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