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Prototype 2 hands-on preview

Prototype 2 drops players into the shoes of James Heller, a soldier who returns home from his tour of duty to find New York City in ruins and his family dead, all because of some hopped-up mutant freak named Alex Mercer (aka the protagonist of he original Prototype). Where once you were the guy on the run from the government, now you’re… well, you’re actually still the guy on the run from the government. You don’t start out that way though, as I learned from a recent preview tour through the first hour or so of the Radical Entertainment-developed game.

The first thing you see is a barrage of news reports documenting the rapid decline of New York City from bustling metropolis, to quarantined and heavily patrolled disaster zone. We see Heller returning home, requesting a posting in the red zone. A voiceover psych profile of the new game’s protagonist suggests that he has “a homicidal fixation on Alex Mercer.”

The montage of images eventually gives way to an extreme close-up of Heller’s expressionless face. As the camera pulls back, we see that he’s nestled into the cramped confines of a filled-to-capacity troop transport. Grunts, just like Heller. They’re chatting about the black ops force Blackwatch. They’ve been leading the charge in the clean-up/containment efforts following the outbreak of the Blacklight virus and the events of the previous game. Their hunt continues for Mercer. It’s clear from the idle conversation that Heller’s fellow soldiers have no great love for Blackwatch.

Suddenly, the world turns sideways as an explosion rocks the armored transport. The screen goes dark, and the next sight we see is a blurry look at the wreckage of looming skyscrapers. We’re seeing New York City now from Heller’s point of view. The explosion threw him clear of the wrecked transport, but his comrades weren’t so lucky. We cut to third-person now as Heller starts inspecting the nearby bodies and radioing in with his report.

All of a sudden, Mercer appears on the scene. Heller’s contact on the other end of the mic informs him not to engage, Blackwatch has been dispatched. His “homicidal fixation” compels him to do otherwise. Heller sprints at the man/mutant whom he believes is responsible for the death of his wife and child, closing the distance rapidly and using his knife to slash Mercer’s throat. It’s not going to be that simple, however. Mercer lashes out in retaliation, sending Heller flying through the air.

The soldier is back on his feet in an instant, running straight back at his attacker with murder in his eyes. The two brawl briefly. Heller stabs Mercer multiple times, with no apparent effect. Once again, he’s tossed through the air like a rag doll for his troubles. Mercer stares him down. He issues a challenge to his assailant: “What else you got?”


Control is back in the player’s hands now, with an on-screen prompt that reads “follow Alex Mercer.” Heller isn’t super-powered with the Blacklight virus yet; he’s just a dude running through the streets of a wrecked city after another dude. And about that wrecked city? The streets are a mess, filled with abandoned vehicles, giant chunks of stone and shattered asphalt. A flock of virus-infected birds whizzes by Heller, nasty-looking, blood-soaked things. Mercer continues to maintain a lead on Heller, always ducking just ahead and out of sight.

It’s not long before Blackwatch finally puts in an appearance, shining a spotlight down on Heller from the relative safety of a hovering helicopter. They’re not safe at all, however. Here comes Mercer, hurtling through a window and into the chopper. It drops like a stone, resulting in an impressive explosion. It seems that Mercer and Heller are finally going to have their showdown…

…only to be interrupted by the arrival of a giant infected creature. This thing is many stories high, and it heads straight down the street toward Heller. An escape sequence ensues in which he runs toward the screen with the pursuing beast behind him. The chase ends as the soldier darts into a nearby building, only to encounter yet another infected. Smaller than the one rampaging through the street outside, but still large enough to pick up Heller like he’s an action figure. A QTE ensues, with Heller slashing the beast to ribbons with his knife.

Another cutscene moment. At last, Heller and Mercer are face to face. Mercer grabs his pursuer, shrugging off the other man’s vicious blade attacks. He pulls back one arm and stabs Heller in the gut with sharp, pointed talon that his hand has transformed into. A flash of images flood the screen. Heller’s dead wife. Empty swings. A smiling child. Coffins. It’s not stated outright, but it’s clear enough what’s happening: the infection is spreading.

Heller comes to in a large, round chamber, strapped down to a bed. It’s a test area of some kind. A group of people can be seen through a large window positioned just below the ceiling. Heller wants out. A voice can be heard over the intercom saying “We must learn all we can about the subject.” It’s a researcher arguing with Blackwatch over the merits of keeping Heller alive. The black ops force wants him dead.

The rest of the scene unfolds as a basic control tutorial. I’m not going to spoil the fun, but needless to say, Heller finds his way out into the open city. He links up again with Mercer, and he learns some things that he didn’t know before. About Mercer. About the outbreak. That maybe he’s placing the blame for his family’s death on the wrong shoulders. That’s where Prototype 2 begins in earnest. You’ll get to experience it all for yourself when the game arrives on April 24 for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Windows PCs.

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