Activision released the Biohazard Bundle for the Prototype games almost as if it was hoping no one would notice, like it was a digital baby left on everyone’s front stoop. After spending some time with the bundle, it’s easier to see why they aren’t the proudest of parents.
The remastering effort here is, without mincing words, an embarrassment. While we’re currently drowning in a glut of remasters, graphical spitshines, and definitive editions--a mild problem in and of itself--nobody can deny that the vast majority of them have been made current-gen worthy. At best, you get The Last of Us or Tomb Raider remasters. At worst, you get this bundle. Yes, both Prototype games run at 1080p. Yes, a few of the textures have been replaced. Yes, a few sounds come from the controller speaker now. But if Prototype didn’t start with a line of text telling you it was released in 2015, the difference between this re-release and its 360/PS3 brethren would be strangely indistinguishable. Draw distances, effects, character models, and most of the textures are are utterly primitive in Prototype. The second game fares much better--in that regard and in others to be addressed--but, bafflingly, runs often at a low frame rate with a constant stutter the busier the screen gets. These are the same games you could play a few years ago, and, really, can play now for the cost of lunch at Wendy’s, if you didn’t sell your previous gen consoles. If you do pick up the Biohazard Bundle, you'll pay full price for the privilege of playing one game graphically crumbling under the weight of time, and another that somehow runs more poorly on better technology.
Yet, there are those who may never have played either game, and this is the only way they will experience them. For them, the story is marginally brighter. The bad news is that the first Prototype has aged poorly, even as a game. It has a plum set up: A man named Alex Mercer wakes up in a New York City morgue with no memory, but finds out he has a virus that, instead of killing him, has made him into a terrifying bioweapon. He has the ability to manipulate his own flesh into varying shapes and configurations, even allowing him to completely assimilate other human beings and copy their forms. It’s the hellish amalgam of the alien life form from John Carpenter’s The Thing, and the terrifying evolution Tetsuo undergoes in Akira, bolstered further in fun factor by virtue of the game running off Radical Entertainment’s Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. The military seems to know more about things than he does, of course, and while they try to contain the walking biohazard, Alex seeks out any connection to his past to just find out what’s happened to him.
From these promising beginnings, however, comes a sinking feeling that despite an impressive, huge, open world, the game is unsure of how best to make use of its setup. And so, much of Alex Mercer’s time is spent being told to go to various places around the city, and kill various people and things until he’s told to run away and get in disguise to escape, thus unlocking another uninspired cutscene where his hacker sister tells him who to kill next, and Mercer growls about his lack of memory.
The powers themselves do give you a nice range of approaches to any problem, from straight-up brawling, to slicing enemies into mozzarella with hideous claws, to hijacking military vehicles and drowning the driver in a fountain of his own blood--but most end up being for show, once the ability to use the tentacle whip unlocks. It’s the game’s most fun weapon, allowing Alex to split enemies in half from across a city street, and it just so happens to be the most useful and versatile one. Despite this, there are still too many sections where the game’s overly twitchy camera and controls work against you, making the simple act of targeting and following a large opponent and attacking only that one enemy a chore. An early set piece, with virus infected animals being set loose in a chemical factory where Mercer is forced to run around the cluttered floor like a madman, stealing rocket launchers off the army to attack, brings back the PTSD of trying to get Sonic to cooperate in any of his 3D games. What’s more, the game's tension doesn't escalate in any meaningful way. You are never enticed to discover Mercer's past, since the game does very little to make you care about him in the first place. The result is a game that feels, ironically, like a prototype: a collection of mechanics that a better game might be able to utilize fully in some later incarnation.
That better game, as it turns out, is Prototype 2.
Prototype 2 follows James Heller, a soldier sent into a New York City still recovering from the events of the first game, who holds a major grudge against Alex Mercer for releasing the virus that killed his wife and child. After an ill-fated run-in with Mercer where Heller becomes infected with the same virus that gave Mercer his powers, he is taken in by the evil military scumbags who tried to bring Alex Mercer down the first time, and is exposed to another version of the truth. Hesitantly, he joins forces with Mercer to get to the bottom of why the government is still messing around with this particularly gruesome bioweapon.
Right off the bat, the game fixes Prototype’s biggest problem: Heller is a great protagonist. His motivations aren’t particularly original, but there’s a forcefulness to his characterization makes you feel that need for retribution in spite of the relatively weak script. Even better, Heller’s baleful aggression never comes at the expense of his humor. Probably one of the best moments in either game is that Heller screws up a hot pursuit about halfway through Prototype 2 because he’s watching one of the other infected humans make a grisly, viral biological bomb out of some hapless military chump and had himself a chuckle. That’s the kind of guy Heller is, and he’s a far more affable character than Mercer, certainly worth spending 20 hours with.
You'll pay full price for the privilege of playing one game graphically crumbling under the weight of time, and another that somehow runs more poorly on better technology.
And thank goodness, because otherwise, the game’s wanton disregard for physics, the human body, or human life in general might strike a wrong chord, like it does in Prototype. Instead, every action Heller takes has a clear motive and logic. Many of Heller’s quests involve violence and destruction, but the monotony is broken by a set of new, macabre powers. The once all-powerful tentacle from the first game now has wilder mechanics at play, where grabbing someone with the diseased tendril might cause the infected victim to explode in new tentacles that grab nearby objects in five directions, and crush the victim inside. The new mechanics for Heller’s claw attacks steal liberally from Activision’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and the game is better for it. Countering attacks is easier, and makes the cheap hits of the previous game far less likely, and far more avoidable. Running across rooftops, gliding through the air, and landing feels something close to fluid, which makes escaping when Heller’s been found by the military much more frantic and pulse-raising, albeit still a bit on the loose side. All this takes place in a much more vivid and living New York City, where the NPCs feel less like blank marionettes, and buildings feel hundreds of years old, which makes the sight of them being covered in corrupted viscera and viral runoff even more horrifying.
Prototype 2 certainly offers a stronger experience than Prototype, but it’s still thoroughly outclassed on current gen consoles by Saints Row IV and Infamous: Second Son. At its best, a remaster can be a great reminder of why we loved a game to begin with. Had the Prototype Biohazard Bundle actually been a full upgrade, it would at least show us how far we’ve come. But given even Prototype 2’s mind-boggling technical limitations, this troubled bundle is more of a reminder that mediocrity is still not obsolete.