What would you do if you stumbled upon superpowers? Would you channel them into something positive to build a better world and fight for justice, or would you seethe, ball up your fist at fate, and tear humanity apart like a hot chicken? It's a well-trodden path in film and games, and one that Prototype 2 uses to transport you from the previous boots of Alex Mercer, the original game's amnesia-stricken protagonist, to focus on Sergeant James Heller. The new lead role is a husband left alone in a cruel place after his family is taken by the outbreak slowly strangling New York City.
Our demo began with a flashback sequence of Heller's past. He was serving a tour of duty overseas, and the voices of his wife and daughter called lovingly for him to return home soon. Shortly after, the pair were killed, and this act became the driving force behind the revenge that he seeks on Alex Mercer, who is singled out as the cause of the biological situation and is the namesake of the Mercer Virus.
The scene skipped forwards, and we rejoined the present day, with Heller riding in the back of an armoured personnel carrier. Surrounded by young recruits mouthing off, he sat silently, sharpening the blade of a menacing-looking hunting knife. Moments later, the convoy was attacked, and, as consciousness returned, the squad lay dead around us. Alex arrived and requested that we follow. For a man fuelled by murderous rage, Heller was surprisingly cooperative, accepting the request and renouncing his Blackwatch allegiance to step gingerly across the destroyed roadways and pursue the departing Mercer seeking payback.
Eventually, we caught up, and the duo finally tussled, with Heller plunging his blade into Alex with little effect. Mercer's Force-like push knocked Heller back against a wall--and while the mind was willing, the flesh was weak. Once finished playing with him like a toy, Alex eventually grabbed and infected Heller with a viral tendril, disappearing into a nearby building to watch as Blackwatch helicopters swooped in and took the now-infected deserting soldier as a prisoner of the shady organisation Gentek.
Snippets of fever-dream-like conversations gave us titbits to start building the web of deceit at the centre of the story, and--like in the original game--will be expanded on as you consume unwilling human participants and suckle on their memories. When we awoke, we were bound inside an underground lab. Small groups of infected humans were periodically released from behind roller doors to test our reflexes, acting as a basic tutorial that got us up to speed on melee attacks. Button presses caused us to lash out with quick fist strikes, while holding the button winds up sliding high kicks to the face--useful for knocking down multiple targets at once.
Like any good science project gone wrong, Heller immediately got in touch with his new-found brute force, busting out of the compound and again coming face-to-face with Alex. Though sworn to revenge, Heller was again surprisingly patient as Mercer attempted to tell his side of the story, using a nearby soldier as a conduit to show (through visual memories) why he was merely a scapegoat in Gentek's larger biological experiment.
Confronted with this new, conflicting information, Heller sought out an old friend for guidance. His go-to guy was Father Guerra, a local priest with a shady background, who looked like the love child of Ron Jeremy and Vito Corleone from The Godfather. He suggested that while Mercer's motivations were questionable, they ultimately shared the same goal of wiping out the virus and making Gentek pay, so it couldn't hurt for the two to combine forces. Right?
Story setup out of the way, the rest of our demo focused on the same subterfuge, consumption, and shape-shifting mechanics seen in the first game. Each situation could be approached in either disguise to covertly infiltrate without drawing attention, or more verbosely, if you'd rather fight off the hordes of military men who come to the aide of injured compatriots.
One new addition to Heller's utility belt is Sonar ability for finding specific quest individuals across the city. Clicking the thumbstick sends out a wave of energy that selectively recolours the screen in the direction that the target is located on its return pulse. Much less useful at ground level, it appeared to be more effective when done from the height and safety of the city's tall rooftops.
Eventually, we located and consumed the memories of a commanding officer and used the information gained to arrive at what we thought was a safe meeting point. The name should have been a giveaway; Operation Flytrap snared us in a fenced-off area as trucks backed up and let loose some nasty mutated creatures. Late evasion dives were crucial to staying alive, and we ducked and weaved out of their melee strike range. Heller felt speedy and agile, and movements were fluid as we chained together fatal blows on multiple attackers. Killing them rewarded us with our own set of claws: long steel talons that shredded humanoid enemies.
Weapon effectiveness will vary in Prototype 2, depending on what you're attacking. This has been designed to help avoid the trap of learning and then exploiting a single weapon strategy for all enemy types during the campaign. Later in the game, you'll unlock the ability to equip multiple weapons and map them to the face buttons using an easily accessed radial menu system. This will give you the chance to team differing combinations together, such as softening up targets with fist hammers before knocking them into the air and using sword arms to cleave them in two. A little more interesting than simply swiping at them until they die.
While the start of our demo gave us a look at the very early part of the game and Heller getting to grips with some new toys, the conclusion dropped us into New York's Red Zone as a fully fledged super human. Besides being able to use the full suite of arm attachments, we had access to a mutated personal army that--not unlike the Assassin's Recruits in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood--when summoned, swooped in and helped control large crowds and dealt with enemies that you don't want to. Basic commands, such as focused fire, can be given and can keep you on the ground shaking down the army, while they pelt attack choppers with bits of torn-up road on your behalf.
Prototype 2 adds a new main character, extra combat abilities, and the chance to choose the path you follow to exact your revenge, but it remains very much in the vein of its predecessor. If you haven't yet had your fix of superhuman strength, nasty genetic abominations, and making the city your playground, then look for more on Prototype 2 before it ships in the coming months.