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Games Of April 2012: Prototype 2

Prototype 2 offers over-the-top thrills, if you’re willing to wait.

By John Teti • May 9, 2012

Maybe I’m oversensitive. Maybe it’s just because I’m busy and have to play a lot of games. But it sure feels like big-budget video games of late are more than willing to piss away hours of my time with dull prologues and tutorials. Twenty years ago, you’d get a title screen, press a button, and within seconds you were playing. Maybe there’s a happy medium between that and the current state of affairs. There are modern console games that get off to a good start—like the in medias res opening scene of BioShock or the spartan beginning of Journey. Those feel like exceptions, though, to the rules followed by titles like Prototype 2—which has nothing much to say yet will spend huge chunks of time saying it, while you wait.

And hey, I enjoyed the cheap thrills of Prototype 2. I just would have had more fun if the game had admitted the obvious: It’s about being a demigod stuntman. That’s the hook, and there’s nothing subtle about it, but it’s a good hook! Embrace it. Commit to the gag. It’s amazing how little demigod-stuntman work I got to do in the first few hours of Prototype 2, even after I started skipping all the cutscenes. Heartfelt storytelling is great; indulgent, look-at-our-effects-budget storytelling isn’t, at least for me.

Anyway, enough bitching. Polygon’s Chris Plante and I talked about the beginning problem and more in the final installment of this month’s Digest. (If you missed the earlier episodes, we also covered Fez on Monday and Trials Evolution yesterday.) Many thanks to Chris—or, as he’s known in the comment threads, FACEBOOK-805657—for joining me this week. You can find more of Chris’ work over at Polygon.

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161 Responses to “Games Of April 2012: Prototype 2

  1. ToddG says:

    I think you make a great point, John, both in calling out bad intros and lauding the few choice good ones you mention in the text.  I know for me, so much of how I judge good and bad game design is rooted in how much the game respects my time, and one of the easiest ways to do that is to let me actually get to the playing of the game in short order.  Not that an intro can’t be both long and compelling, but so many games seem to have a half-baked cutscene-based story simply because they seem to think they have to.

    • Raging Bear says:

      I didn’t notice the dull first hour as much, but I definitely thought something was amiss when it gives you the sonar-esque hunting ability. It tutorializes the hell out of this ability. It’s fairly obvious how it works right away, but fine, if they want to stop the game to give you a blurb about it, ok. Then they do the same thing about another half-dozen times, juuuuust barely expanding on what it already told you. And of course, it reminds you of these things every time you need to use it from then on.

      What the fuck, Prototype 2? One of the very, very few things that might be fun to figure out and engage your players’ higher brain functions, and you lay it out like a fucking road map?

      Sigh. I didn’t even like using “fuck” just now. Prototype 2 ruined “fuck” for me as well.

      • Vervack says:

         I think this may be an “fix” from the first game. In that one, they just tossed a whole raft of powers and abilities at you every once and a while, and expected you would read the little ingame blurb on how they worked. People complained, so now we have handholding.

        • Knarf Black says:

          It was definitely strange how much that specific power got explained vs. everything else. (I felt like a lot of the stuff that carried over from the first game would have been a little under explained for people new to the franchise.)

  2. It’s funny – I was JUST thinking about this (somewhat) during the beginning of LoZ: Twilight Princess. I love Zelda games but I kinda rolled my eyes knowing I would have to go through an hour or two of mundane village tasks before the game began. The original LoZ and the best one – Link to the Past – didn’t have that.

    RPGs are pretty notorious with this, too.

    (An aside – a lot of people expressed disappointment in the game, which kinda surprised me. It has it’s flaws – sumo wrestling, the jousting on the bridge, fighting as the wolf – but it’s pretty solid all around, despite the plot kinda not making a lot of sense.)

    • caspiancomic says:

       Yeah, I love RPGs (especially JRPGs) with all my heart, but some of them take a serious nose-to-the-grindstone approach to their openings, with a lot of boring exposition and a total lack of challenge in their first hour or more. Probably my favourite RPG series, Suikoden, has some admittedly terrible openings throughout the series. The best of the bunch- Suikoden II- actually nails it with an exciting opening sequence that provides the player lots of information without boring them, but almost every other game in the series has an atrocious first few hours. Suikoden V doesn’t start to really pick up any kind of momentum until like four or five hours in- you could play some games in their entirety in the time it takes for Suikoden V to stop being boring. (That said, once it actually does pick up the pace a little, Suikoden V is actually a pretty solid title.)

    • 3FistedHumdinger says:

       Yeah, but how else are we supposed to feel any sympathy for the hero when his idyllic little village is burnt to a crisp by the evil empire he’ll eventually overthrow?

  3. Brainstrain91 says:

    EYEBROWS

    And I agree, Skyward Sword got off to a painfully slow start. Seems the console Zeldas have been getting worse about that in particular. Wind Waker had maybe 20 minutes before you got to slicing up baddies, Twilight Princess close to an hour, Skyward Sword…yeah. Too long.

    Also, on the topic of long RPG intros, would we lump the original Golden Sun’s starting town with the “too long and boring” ones? I love the game so fiercely, I just don’t think I’m qualified to tell.

    • Asinus says:

      Skyward sword’s opening made me hate playing the game. Just awful awful, angering stuff. I was so goddamned mad at that game for treating me like a retarded child. “Hey, go get that thing off the roof…” Okay, and then as you’re running over tere to climb the ivy, the gameplay stops and they tell you what to do. I’d rather figure it out by myself, thanks. I think it took me 2 days to get through the first hour of that game because it was so infuriating that I had to turn it off. I haven’t played it in months now.

  4. Aaron Riccio says:

    In the comments the other day, we were talking about having a filter that allowed players to turn hints off; the gist I’m getting from this week’s bashing of Prototype 2’s unbearable and “infamous” story is that there ought to be a filter that allows players to turn the STORY off, too. I’m in agreement: what’s so difficult about adding a “skip” button to levels or cut-scenes that don’t require any challenge whatsoever? You’re not hurting anyone: if anything, you’re encouraging replay — I can’t tell you how many games I’ve avoided doing over simply because I don’t want to deal with certain sluggish scenes: I just want to cut to the fun parts. There’s plenty to be said for games with story — Bioshock being the excellent example, as it almost always is — but you don’t separate your big-budget release from an indie or flash title merely by throwing more words at the screen.

    • ToddG says:

      I am in total agreement, but if nothing else, we can all agree this needs to, AT THE VERY LEAST, be an option on playthroughs after the first, right?

      • Paul Wamsted says:

        The original Gears of War had this option from the start, if I remember correctly.  Marcus Fenix is released from prison and the Dom offers him one of two paths, the “you’re feeling rusty” path that acts as a tutorial, and the “let’s get busy” path that just goes straight into Locust killing.  I liked this implementation.

    • Raging Bear says:

      Stories should be skippable, but I’m getting ragey enough that I feel that really bad stories should be punished. At the very least, whoever wrote for Prototype 2 (and the original, judging by the distinctive f-bomb count) should never be allowed to write anything more elaborate than a shopping list again.

      And even then, those lists need the attention of a powerful editor, just to keep this jackass from always coming home with twelve shopping bags full of fuck.

      • ToddG says:

        Guys, look out, this bear is raging.

      • Vervack says:

        I think the idea that we should ignore the story is a self-perpetuating cycle. We ignore the story, the publishers interpret that as the belief that story doesn’t matter, developers continue to hire fourth-tier fanfic writers to write the stories, we ignore them out of disgust, and so on, and so forth.

        I won’t say Prototype 1’s story was a masterpiece, but it did do some things well: it gave us a nice little grim conspiracy tale, and it was excellent at creating the sense of a an apocalyptic situation spiraling out of control, with those who unleashed it having coming to realize they don’t any idea of how to stop it.

        I’ve been debating on whether to get Prototype 2, but after seeing bits of the story, I’ve actually lost all interest in getting it. From what I’ve seen, it’s a poorly done rehash of the first game that forgets that the first game could actually restrain itself at points, introduces a new protagonist who comes off as a malevolent sadist, and turns the player character from the first game into a generic supervillain offscreen and invalidates his modest, mildly sympathetic character arc from the first game. Even all the improvements in gameplay aren’t enough to get me to want to play this, not if I have to hate everything about it while I do so.

    • Merve says:

      I like the way Human Revolution did it: press Escape, and you have the option to skip or resume the cutscene. That way, you never run the risk of skipping a cutscene by accident. Added bonus: the ability to pause cutscenes for phone calls, bathroom breaks, snack runs, roommate visitations, and interesting things outside my window.

      Seriously, why don’t more games do it this way? Is it really that hard to implement?

      • Aaron Riccio says:

        Most role-playing games — including, if I remember correctly, Xenosaga — allow you to do this. Some, as ToddG notes, do not allow you to skip the first time through, but should you die, say, on a boss, most won’t force you to sit through the preceding cinematics all over again. (I think Dragon Quarter did something similar, too, although that game was DESIGNED in acknowledgement to the fact that you’d be playing it over and over again.)

      • Asinus says:

        I also really like how the first Deus Ex makes the tutorial section something you choose to do or to skip. It’s kind of nice that even though is somewhat separate from the game world, it’s still sort of organic in that it takes place in the headquarters. I would muuuuch rather see games take that approach than the now ubiquitous “tutorial phase” of games. Even FFVII made tutorials optional.

      • Merve says:

        @The_Asinus:disqus: I think that used to be the standard about eight to ten years ago. But I guess too many players hated playing “boring” tutorials to learn the game’s mechanics, so developers instead opted to weave the tutorials into the game’s introductory missions.

        Speaking of Deus Ex games, Human Revolution didn’t have an introductory tutorial level as part of the campaign either. The first time you encounter something new, you see a pop-up to access a video tutorial, but you’re free to ignore it. The game pretty much throws you in the deep end right away and doesn’t hold your hand unless you want it to.

        Weirdly enough, Invisible War is the only entry in the series with a tutorial level as part of the main game. It’s also the worst of the three games by a huge margin.

      • ElDan says:

        Prototype 2 gives you this exact option for the majority of its cutscenes, at least on the 360. Press any button and a menu comes up that allows you to skip the scene with the back button or continue with the start button.

  5. Chip Dipson says:

    Nothing, and I mean NOTHING will top the Xenosaga games in terms of never-ending cut scenes and slow beginnings.

    • Aaron Riccio says:

      I don’t know — those “Princess is in another castle” cut-scenes were SOOOOOO boring, and god knows the developers could’ve sped those interstitial pipe-sequences up a bit.

    • George_Liquor says:

      Weird how some games seem really proud of their cutscenes. I’m playing through Bayonetta now, and I’ve noticed a certain pattern to the game: Wander a few feet ahead, get trapped, fight a bunch of baddies, die & continue at least once, polish off baddies, wander ahead a few more feet, watch cut-scene, repeat. They don’t let you skip the cut-scenes with a simple button press either; you have to pause the game, hit ‘skip cutscene’ and confirm the damned ‘are you sure’ message. The game seems to take particular pleasure in kicking the crap out of your unprepared ass if the cutscene that you just skipped led immediately into a fight.

    • caspiancomic says:

       I’ve never played a Xenosaga game to completion for exactly this reason. A friend of mine was going on about how great Xenosaga Episode 1 was, so I rented it out of curiosity and was bored stiff. When I brought it up with him he said that it’s kind of a drag for the first ten hours or so. All I could think was “how did anybody find out that this game was good if it takes that long to get to the good parts!?”

      I do feel obligated to mention the Metal Gear Solid series in the category of interminable cutscenes, though. At least MGS games tend to have compelling openings. Sort of. The opening to MGS4 would have been great if the game didn’t insist on puking a cutscene in my face with every ten or fifteen seconds. It was like having a really bossy friend try to introduce you to a new game- every time you showed the slightest hesitation or uncertainty he’s wrenching the controller out of your hand saying “let me do this part!”

      • George_Liquor says:

         Snake? Snake?! SNAAAAAAAAAAAAAAKE!!

      • Asinus says:

        I had the same issue with Xenosaga. I thought “45 minute cut scene” was an exaggeration, but it wasn’t. So, finally one summer, a friend of mine and I decided to see if we could get through it. HOnestly, once you get past cutscene hell, the game is pretty great. However, just based on what I read on line, they lost the team that created the first one when the time came for the sequels, they made COSMOS hyper sexy, and we decided just to quit after the first one.

  6. Chip Dipson says:

    To be fair, I spent just as much time blowing into cartridges to get them to work back then as I do watching cut-scenes today. It all balances out in the end.

  7. Merve says:

    You guys never finished the pizza. UNACCEPTABLE, GAMEOLOGICAL.

    • ToddG says:

      Completionists, indeed!

    • Aaron Riccio says:

      So much for THAT achievement. Then again, that may just be poor game design from Stouffers: they have to know that only the most hardcore of gamers will make it through a full level of that.

      • Merve says:

        I both pity and admire those who manage to make it through the entire game. I’d imagine that the last level contains twice as much bread and 80% less sauce.

        • Aaron Riccio says:

          It’s rumored that there’s an Easter egg hidden in one of the later levels, though. The answer to the question of life, the universe, and everything, baked in binary code into the very crust. Not sure that justifies the frustration of everything that leads up to that moment, though. You might consider using a Game Genie (by which I mean my overly hungry friend, Jeannie) to help you clear the earlier levels and skip directly to the stage in question.

        • Merve says:

          @google-19efbd0104cbaffa5782aef5b7104019:disqus: There’s another Easter egg that is literally an egg baked on top of the pizza.

        • Aaron Riccio says:

          @Merve2:disqus : Mmmm, festive, and at least an attempt at sauce.

      • feisto says:

        I heard there’s a hidden dungeon you can access only with a second playthrough that’s filled with nothing but hard, two-day old pizza, but it just doesn’t seem worth the effort.

    • caspiancomic says:

       If you fail to finish the pizza within three videos you get locked out of the best ending. They never tell you that, though. Supposedly it promotes re-eat value.

      • Aaron Riccio says:

        I’m not sure if you meant to be quite as disqusting as you were with your reference to “re-eat” value. While they’re all about the “re-heat” factor, “re-eat” implies that you’ve regurgitated everything you managed to stomach about the first pizza and are now shoveling the familiar (but in a new context) back in. 

        In other words: a sequel.

        • caspiancomic says:

           Aw dang, I basically meant “re-eat” as in “eat another one”. It didn’t even occur to me I was actually saying “eat your own barfs like a dog”

          Man, I am a gross dood.

      • Merve says:

        You can, however, still achieve the best ending by watching the third video with three of your friends to boost your Gastric Readiness Rating.

  8. sageturk says:

    If John Hodgeman and John Teti were to ever be in the same room at the same time, their near-identical soft-spoken literary nerdiness would meld into a single, unstoppable, moonfaced being of pure light.  If such a thing were to happen, god help us all.

  9. caspiancomic says:

    Maybe it would technically be bad game design, only experimentation would tell, but I’ve always wanted to do a game where the first thing that happens to your character is that he or she is given an amazing new power and expected to use it straight away, with no tutorial or guidance or anything. I was inspired by Mobile Suit Gundam: I wanted to do a game where Amuro Ray climbs into his Mobile Suit and has to start fighting the Zakus with absolutely no idea what he’s doing. Because that’s what it would be like. He wouldn’t be thumbing through the manual with one hand and landing headshots with the other, there wouldn’t be a little text box on his display saying hold R1 to lock on and press X to fire, he’d just be hammering on every button and hoping to christ he got something accomplished.

    I think a similar system would work here. Protagonist man get infected with the Cancer Linguini, his old teammates see he’s infected and open fire on him, NOW GO! SURVIVE THE ONSLAUGHT! No button commands, no tutorials, no newest objective pop-up, just white-knuckle panic. Then, after you slaughter your way out of that particular situation, the pace of the game cools off and you’re given more of an opportunity to experiment with and learn how to really control your powers. It would certainly fix the sluggishness of the game’s opening, in any case.

    • Aaron Riccio says:

      This is, to date, how I’ve beaten every single fighter that I’ve ever played. Let me just keep mashing buttons until I happen into a combo, let me attempt to memorize it, let me learn how to chain a few together, let me figure out how to first block and then counter, and then . . . oh screw it, let me just go back to mashing buttons again.

      • Merve says:

        That describes my current playing experience with Arkham Asylum more or less perfectly. I just mash the mouse buttons over and over again and Batman does the rest. I’m guessing that the fighting controls a little better with an XBox 360 controller.

    • 3FistedHumdinger says:

       Dude, Amuro Ray TOTALLY READ THE MANUAL while killing his first two Zakus RIGHT IN THE COCKPIT.  Did you even see that shit?

      • caspiancomic says:

         Hmm… maybe I was thinking about Shinji in Unit 01? Pretty sure there was a bigger than average robot involved…

    • Vervack says:

       They did that in the first game, in a way. Right at the beginning you’re thrown into Times Square near then end of the game’s story, and you get to run around while they showcase a few of your powers. They do shoot you back to Day 1 afterwards, though, so it’s really more a sampler of what’s to come.

  10. Mookalakai says:

    Prototype’s story just doesn’t make any sense either, which is hardly the most glaring issue. Wouldn’t the evil PMC and genetic companies who are responsible for the virus go bankrupt, you know, after it’s discovered they are responsible for a few million deaths? Who are they selling their doomsday viruses to? There can’t be that many mad scientists or maniacal dictators to buy that shit.

    • HobbesMkii says:

      I take it you haven’t encountered much in the way of contemporary entertainment for the past fifty years or so. There’s always a faceless corp that seems to have a Board of Directors totally willing to turn a blind eye to mass murder, even at the expense of a viable business model. I’m less curious about these corporations than I am about the venture capitalists that are giving them seed money.

      • Mookalakai says:

         Yeah but in Prototype it’s been dragged out over a long time. The paramilitary company has completely occupied Manhattan, and it’s obvious the virus they created got loose and millions of people have died. This is pretty much the aftermath now, but they still seem to be humming along fine. Also the Blackwatch guys are just comically evil most of the time, for no apparent reason other than that they don’t have faces.

        • Raging Bear says:

          It’s true. This is a game that punishes you for thinking more deeply about it than the writers did, which is to say, thinking about it at all.

          Why, if Heller is so content to slaughter bystanders by the hundreds (and even says as much in one scene), are half your side mission objectives “stop this bad guy/experiment in progress/monster before it hurts innocent people“?

          Why did they reuse the same nonsensical alert system from the first game, whereby soldiers, on the lookout for someone with superhuman abilities, will happily watch you jump 50 feet straight in the air, fly around, land without harm, punch someone in half, dash up the sheer side of a building, or run as fast as a train shrugging trees off their roots as you go, and only become mildly suspicious at any of this?

          Do the job requirements at Activision for any departments other than programming and art simply say “You must be able to occupy a chair and fall asleep on your keyboard from time to time so your fitful, drool-soaked squirmings produce design frameworks and scripts for our biggest-budget games”?

        • ElDan says:

          My favorite terrible design thing so far is how I can horrifically kill and mutilate the corpse of any military personnel as long as someone’s not looking directly at them, though most of the time that doesn’t matter either. You can run right past one guy, kill the other guy (who’s three feet away) in an outrageously over the top manner and nobody bats an eye.

          Also love how at the end of every mission, you just have to get maybe a half a block away from anybody that’s shooting at you and switch your form and everyone is instantly dumbfounded. And then of course you can shift back into your own body and walk right back past those same guys and they don’t even notice you.

        • Vervack says:

           @Raging_Bear:disqus, @ElDan_says_Fuck_Disqus:disqus : It’s a compromise in the name of gameplay. This is supposed to be a fast, action-packed free-for-all, and giving the military a realistic sensitivity to your shenanigans would honestly start to get boring. Given the amount of military bases and patrols wandering around, realistic levels of sensitivity would mean you have to either spend a fair chunk of the game wearing a military disguise walking around on foot, or constantly getting to to fights and having to fend off strike teams, and who wants that? It’s not realistic, but it’s acceptable in the name of fun. (I have heard that the unlockable Insane difficulty level has a hair-trigger sensitivity meter, for what it’s worth.)

          They do seem to have cut down on the number of viral detectors, though. Those got to be annoying in the later levels of the first game.

        • Raging Bear says:

          @Vervack:disqus Oh, I realize that, I assure you. Normally, when it comes to sacrificing realism in the name of playability, I’m the first to grab my wavy obsidian dagger and get in line. But there are limits.
          No game is realistic, but most of them never even raise the question of realism in the first place because they establish some form of internal logic and stick to it. Prototype 2, on the other hand, openly contradicts itself at every opportunity. It’s not limited to the alert system, but that is one heck of a handy example.

          You can only plummet out of the sky to land unharmed in a circle of smashed pavement two feet in front of a barely-interested soldier whose only function in this universe is to identify and shoot at people who can do that kind of thing before you’re forced to think about how completely asinine that is, and that can be a serious blow as far as immersion or investment in the world they created.

          It’s a bit more playable for this system, I suppose, but playability and consistency are in no way mutually exclusive, as better-designed games demonstrate on a regular basis.

      • Vervack says:

        Okay, time to nerd the fuck out over Prototype, god help me.

        The whole thing goes back to Blackwatch, which got its start back in the 1960s as a DoD bioweapons research program. They were doing the usual evil stuff (researching diseases to target specific racial types, that sort of thing), and they ran a live test on a populated town that went totally apeshit. After this, they were retooled into a military force to protect American from biological threat and analyze the stuff that came out of the town (it was Hope, Idaho, btw). Gentek is the civilian side of their operations, concerned mostly with research, and Blackwatch does the shooty-gun stuff. In other words, they’re financed by you, the taxpayer, though Gentek probably gets a small trickle of change from whatever patents they hold.

        Personally, I’ve always been rather curious at the level of casualties the Marines and Blackwatch suffer in the course of the first game. There’s an offhand mention that the predicted Marine casualty estimate was somewhere in the ballpark of 2000 to 2500 per week, which is seriously into Stalingrad/Somme territory, so I’ve been wondering how long the infection would have to go before the Marine Corps simply wouldn’t have enough people to function as an independent fighting force.

  11. I appreciate all that the Digest offers and is one of my favorite sections but now I gotta ask. Where did you get such an amazing blazer…

    • John Teti says:

      This is a boring answer, but: Bloomingdale’s.

      • HobbesMkii says:

        Lies! I refuse to believe such a magnificent blazer was produced in any way other than by three gypsy weavers who made it from a unicorn hair and griffin fur blend, dyed it with the blood of a basilisk, and who live at the top of a mountain, surrounded by a giant serpent that you, John Teti, had to kill in order to be considered worthy to have such a garment adorn your shoulders.

        Bloomingdale’s! Phah! 

  12. large_marge_sent_me says:

    I loved this. Plante’s “biiiiiiiitch” had me laughing out loud, and Teti does a fantastic job of keeping things moving along.
    I haven’t played Prototype 2 yet, so this next bit is somewhat hypothetical, but (based on y’all saying it’s ultra-similar to Prototype 1), I wish you guys would have highlighted just how fun the game can be. Prototype 1 did a better job of making travel enjoyable than any game I can think of since Spider-Man 2. (Arkham City is a good example of a system that tries but just doesn’t get it.) It was freaking fun to run, jump, glide, run, jump, glide in P1. The flow was just perfect. 

    Does sound disappointing though that yet again they fail to find the happy medium between between the FUN!-ness and hunger-dunger-dang. I want to see Saints Row 2 with Prototype’s abilities.

    • Have you played Saint’s Row 3? It’s very close to SR2 with Prototype abilities. They actually cut a similar parkour mechanic at the last moment.