Gamers were left hanging at the end of Activision's 2009 release Prototype, unsure of the fate of the infected Alex Mercer, a powerful shape-shifter. Lucky for us, the development team at Radical Entertainment has been hard at work on a sequel - and it looks like Alex has gotten too big for his boots.
We recently chatted with producer Jono Lim, who was in Australia showing off the game, and he explained that Mercer is living proof of the concept that absolute power corrupts absolutely. While he may have been the "good guy" in the first game, by the time Prototype 2 rolls around, Alex Mercer is a pretty nasty fellow. Rather than pulling on the same mutated hoodie, you'll be seeing the world through the eyes of Sergeant James Heller, on a revenge mission to destroy the mysterious Blacklight Virus, just like it destroyed his family.
Lim explains that the character-swap wasn't always the plan, but the team wasn't sure quite where to take the character, unless they resorted to having him fighting planets.
Once we started analysing it and started talking about it, what would happen if we introduced a new character?
We knew it was a - not necessarily a controversial topic, but we knew that it would be talked about a lot. We didn't want to alienate the fans from the first game, so we quickly centred on "Okay, let's bring Alex back as the antagonist!", what does that look like? What are the stories there?
Once we put it all together, it was like "Yeah, this is really something that people can get behind" and so far, the response has been great.
To help soften the blow, Radical has been offering all sorts of messages and back-story to introduce James Heller, who did not appear in the first game.
I think that in terms of the messages that we've put out so far in terms of what Heller's story is, how he's impacted by all the stuff around the virus and the outbreak - I think people are starting to understand that okay, there's two sides to every coin. Now, they want to see the other perspective and figure out why Alex is such a bad guy - at least to Heller...
Sergeant Heller, like Mercer, is infected by the Blacklight virus. Unlike Mercer, his virus has mutated, becoming more fluid and organic, and granting him the ability to use tendrils to reach out into the environment, pick up objects or string enemies up in trap-like webs.
When asked about the learning process between games, Lim explains that the development team sat down and looked at player feedback from the original Prototype to see what was done well, and which areas could have used a little more work. This is exactly why the team has worked on a "much simpler story" for Prototype 2, to make it easy for gamers to understand and identify with Heller's motivation.
A big issue of Prototype 1 is that we (on purpose!) designed this complex conspiracy that was several layers deep in terms of how it wrapped up. Some people really enjoyed that, but a lot of people - it was a little too much for them. They didn't really care about all this, they just wanted to go tear around the city and that's what they focussed on.
If you're not sure about Prototype 2 because you never played the first game, Lim says it doesn't matter - and not just because it's a new guy in the spotlight.
Players can just definitely jump straight in. I think there are a bunch of little homages, if you will, to the first game, but it really stands on its own.
You've got brand new characters, so it's already disassociated in some ways from the first game, and you can kind of look at the second game as just a product of its own, and figure out all the things that are going on within that universe without having any foreknowledge of the first.
Even though the game's not on shelves yet, we asked Lim to consult his crystal ball and predict the future for the Prototype franchise. Skipping straight over the concept of DLC for the game, Lim is quietly optimistic, even though his predictions don't include a solid answer. He describes the concept of Prototype 3 as an open book, laughing as he refuses to rule out the return of either Mercer or Heller.
...it's a problem about tomorrow, that we're not worried about today. We're really focussed on finishing up Prototype 2.
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Jimmy the Geek