Choice in games is a good thing. Being able to decide not to rip innocent bystanders to pieces with your tentacles, or choose not to turn them into linguine before absorbing them into your body after kerb stomping them or surfing their shock-stricken bodies down the street, being able to choose not to do that is quite a big thing. 'We really listened to the community after Prototype released,' says Radical's studio head Ken Rosman, 'and interestingly one of the things that stood out was people asking "Why can't I just put this guy down?" We wanted to have you kicking ass, but we also wanted to give you more of a choice.' It's a nice touch, and one that makes a lot of sense considering that civilians no longer restore your health.
But it doesn't end there. We were a little worried, after seeing the game just before E3, that there really wouldn't be much of a change-up between the core gameplay of the two games. But it would seem that Radical are taking a healthy approach to this side of things too: leaving the open-ended gameplay, fine tuning the combat mechanics, adding in more cool ways to take down military vehicles and streamlining the interface to allow for choice on the fly.
'With the first game it was a little fiddly switching between powers,' continues Rosman. 'The feedback we got was that, most of the time, players would just pick a favourite and stick with it. We wanted to change that and make it easier for you to switch to the right tools for the job in an instant.' Now the difference between power types is even more pronounced: the spikes and claws will work wonders against organics, but Hammerfist will be needed for the armoured support. That's not a problem, though, as you can now equip two powers at once and swap between them mid-battle.
We watched merrily as Heller tore about the streets, eviscerating Blackwach soldiers one moment, before ripping off the RPG attachment of a tank and firing it against its armoured sibling, then turning back round and smashing the original tank into smithereens, plucking officers from the pavement with tentacles, backflipping over Hunter and slashing it to bits with an enormous blade, before launching into the skies and uppercutting a helicopter so hard that it exploded!
'We wanted to go one better than the karate kick,' Rosman acknowledges, his grin mirroring those now firmly affixed to the faces of the journalists in front of him. 'Now you can punch choppers out of the sky. Now there's a lot more variety, you can switch powers on the go, rip secondary weapons from vehicles, we have defensive mechanics such as the tactical dodge and the shield, but a lot of stuff has gone on behind the scenes too.'
Combat is an area that Rosman says has seen a lot of improvement. Although the action on screen looks just as anarchic and insane, if not more so, than the original game, we're assured that in actual fact things are actually rather more ordered to help further empower the player. Going back to the first game, often players found themselves overwhelmed, not knowing who to attack first, with enemies sometimes coming at you three or four at a time and it's questionable as to whether or not players were given the tools to deal with that. It's something that Radical are unafraid to acknowledge at all, something that's become a major design focus for them this time around.
The Tactical Dodge and the Shield are visual on-screen elements that the player can now use to their advantage to dictate the flow of a battle,' continues Rosman, 'but there's a lot of behind the scenes stuff going on too. We've implemented a 'token' system that essentially sees enemies passing an attack token randomly between them so you never have, say, ten jumping you all at once. It'll still feel frenzied, it'll still be challenging in a number of ways, but you're not being cheated by the game this time. We went back and added in telemetry to our testing, looking at player performances, seeing where players were being hit and when and trying to bring some balance to the gameplay.'
Much of what we saw a few weeks ago were basic nods to things we already covered in our previous preview such as the separate, colour coded zones of New York Zero, James Heller's sonar-esque Hunting ability (which we can't wait to try out for ourselves), and the Blacknet hacking mini-quests. But we walked away this time with a sense that this is a much more focused game. Without sacrificing the cathartic freedom of the original, Radical say that they've really tried to focus in on the story with the sequel.
'I think that you're right,' says Rosman when we suggest that it was easy to lose track of one's actions, motives and narrative progression in Prototype. 'But we've done a lot to change that. The tagline 'Murder your maker' is more than just a snappy line for the boxart. Your feud with Alex Mercer is what fuels this game: we have a bunch of subplots, the conspiracies surrounding Blackwatch, but we feel we have a stronger story this time with stronger characterisation.' We asked whether or not we'd see a return for the races, fetch quests, killing spree challenges and so on that littered New York in the original title, and it would appear that those secondary missions will now be more closely tied in to the world around Heller.
'With the original game those things were quite randomly scattered all over the place, they didn't make much sense in the grand scheme of things,' says Activision's Drew Meyer. 'But for Prototype 2 we've tried to have those side quests supplement the story, so you'll get a lot of stuff through Blacknet that will make more sense with regard to the world, help fill in gaps in the sub-plots and so on. It'll still encourage you to explore, but it'll feed back into the story a bit more this time.'
Watch this space for more news before Prototype 2 launches in April next year.