PROTOTYPE BIOHAZARD BUNDLE Review: Two Great Games, One Weak HD Remaster

PROTOTYPE and PROTOTYPE 2 have hit Xbox One and PS4 with no fanfare in a no-frills bundle.

Last week remastered versions of Prototype and Prototype 2 hit PS4 and Xbox One without the tiniest bit of warning. No one seems to know what happened here, but there was absolutely no indication that they were coming until they suddenly appeared on the digital stores. It’s maybe not such of a surprise to see a lack of care from Activision, who laid off a lot of staff from developer Radical Entertainment after Prototype 2 failed to find an audience, but surely this could have been a great way of testing the waters for a third installment?

Instead we have the Prototype Biohazard Bundle, Activision’s two-pack which includes both games and all the DLC from the sequel, ostensibly remastered with 1080p HD renders that improve the framerate on the new consoles. The 1080p is certainly a thing but the improvements seem to not be the case, with multiple reports coming in of framerate issues. I do have to say my PS4 versions looked just fine- I haven’t had any issues with framerate drops or such, even though the game basically looks the same that it always did.

In fact, I found it really easy to get back into Prototype, a game I genuinely loved when it hit in 2009. Radical also developed the PS2 hit The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction and basically took that concept- which sees Hulk easily running up walls, smashing tanks and helicopters, and unleashing powerful “Devastator” attacks- and used it with a mutating monster instead. Well, an evil mutating monster.

You are Alex Mercer, an apparent test subject of a man who has lost his memory and wakes up to find himself with insane powers. He’s able to run up the skyscrapers of NYC with ease and glide off far into the distance, killing enemies with different powers that change his hands into claws, blades, tendrils, and more. He’s mad at the research lab that made him and the military protecting them, but he also has other “infected” creatures to deal with. As the game progresses the city delves further into madness, with pulsating infections taking over entire buildings, and your powers will grow. You’ll able to absorb any character in the game and take over their entire look, the better to hide from the military, and even infiltrate their bases.

Falling the law of twos, Prototype hit at roughly the same time as Sucker Punch’s inFamous and for my money is the superior of the two. Rather than having a black and white good/bad karma system that let you decide just how much collateral damage was ok, in Prototype they just let you be free to be as evil as you want and eat anyone who displeases you. Civilians here are merely a source of health and screams.

The graphics don’t exactly hold up these six years later (the textures are all smooth and undetailed) but the gameplay surely does. The amount of sheer destruction and mayhem you can cause hasn’t changed!

Prototype 2 was an obvious move (this is Activision, after all) and they actually tried to do something interesting with the story. Rather than continuing the adventures of Alex Mercer you play one James Heller, a former US Marine whose wife and kid are killed in the chaos of the last game. Now with nothing to live for, he sets out to kill Mercer, who is being blamed for the infection of NYC. That's not entirely true, as he'll soon find out, but a meeting with Mercer ends with him having powers of his own. Having the protagonist of the first game be an antagonist in the second is a great idea, but it does muddle the fun of destroying your way through the city when you’re playing a guy with PTSD instead of a vengeful monster.

In the prologue of Protoype you played a super-powered version of Mercer from later in the game, a little taste of the fun to be had. Prototype 2 starts you off as a normal soldier with no powers to speak of, and although that soon changes it’s an indication of how scaled back some of the game feels. As with many modern games you have your hand held almost throughout the entire experience, whereas in the first you were left alone to do whatever you pleased.

It’s certainly strange. Don’t get me wrong- they improved a lot of things here, even simple stuff like the controls. To make Mercer jump you had to hold down the jump button and he would leap when you let go of it. For Heller you simply press it and he bounds up, and hold it down for a longer jump. Gliding doesn’t involve finger gymnastics anymore- just simply a hold of R2, and indeed the whole combat system has been improved, allowing you to choose two powers at once to cause maximum mayhem. The orbs scattered around the world have seemingly returned to the world of Crackdown, and the world is instead full of neat events that see you eliminating hives from the inside and going on rampages. The graphics are also much improved, the world feeling a lot more lived-in even as it feels more destroyed- just wait till you get back to Manhattan and see the collapsed buildings leaning on each other .

But so many things feel like a step back. For one thing, the world may be larger but it feels smaller, and some of it is closed off to you until key story parts. Instead of just playing in a condensed version of Manhattan you start off in Brooklyn and have to take helicopters to visit other sections- it’s not completely open to you to explore.

Heller should be the more interesting protagonist, as he actually has an arc and isn’t a blank slate, but he’s such a one-note character you will lament that even today he’s one of the few black protagonists in a video game. He’s constantly angry and never shuts up- always on the phone talking to someone about what he’s going to do next, versus Mercer, who was a more silent protagonist and allows you to explore the world at your whim. Don’t get me wrong- Mercer is about as bland a protagonist as you can get (and probably has quite the head of hair under that hood, which he never removes) but they really dropped the ball with Heller here.

Another problem is that you aren’t a solitary badass- you’re now one of many Mercer children that run around with blade arms. In the first game you are super-powered almost beyond belief, and the fun came with exploring all the different ways you could chop and smash up anyone in your way. Nothing but a few bosses could offer you a real challenge on their own, numbers were the only way you could be taken down. But here there are too many battles where you’re evenly matched. So much for feeling super-powered.

The TLDR version for the sequel: better gameplay, worse design. Both games however are just utterly addictive. The feeling of leaping and gliding through the city as a tentacled super-powered monster never ceases to be thrilling, and the numerous challenges and activities give you lots to do. These are the epitome of great-but-flawed games.

But $50 for two old games doesn’t seem like much of a deal, especially considering the amount of remastering done here, which isn’t much. When games like Metro Redux completely revamp and improve the old games it’s hard to sell one that barely touched it at all, especially for that price. (Bizarrely, the games are only available in a bundle now, although both games are going to be released separately on August 11 at the price points of $29.99 and $39.99. Nothing about that sentence makes sense to me, either.)

Still, bite the bullet now and you’ll get a nice 40 hours of gameplay out of these titles and perhaps some hope for a third installment. Prototype still has potential as a series- everyone loves getting a chance to be an monster!- and we can only hope that we haven’t seen the last of Mercer and his ilk. Maybe if they had take a little more care with releasing these it would have had a better shot.