Prototype 2: The ultimate power trip?

New York Zero - Maximum waste, no sugar...

Radical Entertainment have had to make a lot of tough decisions during Prototype 2's development - but turning Alex Mercer from hero to villain wasn't one of them.

"Prototype as a series is supposed to be the 'ultimate power fantasy' - it's supposed to make the player feel empowered," explained Prototype 2's producer Ken Rosman during a recent investigatory sojourn in Vancouver.

"Alex was a barrier to that. He was unmotivated, afraid of his powers... he ran around taking orders from his sister. Whose power fantasy is that?"

The new hero is revealed on screen. His name is Sergeant James Heller, and he's a growling army veteran who's grieving the death of his young family at the hands of the Blacklight Virus.

His design won't win any originality awards (unless someone starts up a ceremony called the IRONY BAFTAS), but he certainly fits Radical's criteria for a Prototype protagonist to a tee. He's uniformly grizzled, ultra-confident, keen to embrace his new-found superpowers, and he's very, very highly motivated... about killing Alex Mercer.

That's probably to be expected considering that Mercer's now a criminal kingpin, and that we see him injecting a defeated Heller with Blacklight during the game's opening act. But isn't it always a bit dangerous to turn your lead character against the fanbase?

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Rosman doesn't think that he has. "Mercer was never intended to be the main focus of Prototype. The virus is the star. Prototype's real intrigue comes from seeing how infected individuals are affected by it.

Also, if we don't tie the series to a single character or location, it gives us incredible freedom to experiment and innovate with the series in the future. You could see an FPS set in a jungle, for example, or we could do a survival horror game in which you play as a small girl who has been infected."

But for now, Prototype 2 follows firmly in the original's open-world footsteps. It's even set in the same city - New York - but thanks to the events of the first game, the Big Apple has now become a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

But the good news is this: Radical has really put some thought into this and as a result, the newly-rechristened New York Zero is still an interesting place to be, despite its familiarity. NYZ (We'll call it 'En-Why-Zed') is crudely separated into three zones which use a traffic light system (Red, Yellow and Green) to indicate how widespread the virus is in that area.

Red, as you'll already have gathered if you've ever seen a road in your life, is the worst hit of the three - disfigured, Blacklight infused mutants roam the battered streets like it's some kind of meaty Mardi Gras.

The vast majority of the survivors have long since fled over the river to the Yellow Zone, which acts as a de facto evacuation zone. Glide Heller into this area and you'll be swooping into an area of extreme poverty and overcrowding - you'll find dozens upon dozens of homeless citizens lining the street corners, huddling around oil cans and making themselves as comfortable as they can in makeshift refugee camps.

The amount of people rendered on screen at the same time is impressive, even by the lofty standards of current generation hardware, and the frame rate woes of the first game seem to be a thing of the past. Finally, there's the Green Zone - home of the rich and famous.

Drop into this affluent area and you'd be hard-pushed to tell there was a humanitarian crisis at all. They say money can't buy happiness, but in NYZ, it can buy a little safety.

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