I am staring down at my laptop. Steam is open, my finger in raised about the left mouse button. I’m hesitating to launch Prototype 2.
It’s not out of some fear or loathing for the game that I resist pressing the Play button. I just don’t want my laptop to overheat. Again.
When I first launched the game, I was lying across a loveseat in my friend’s cabin. Far in the boonies, I had no phone service, let alone an internet connection. Had I left myself signed into the service before I left? Yes? Good. Am I able to start up the game for the first time without needing a connection?
It took me about 15 minutes, going through my tradition of adjusting every setting in the menu, lowering performance to the medium range I expect my laptop to be able to handle. Satisfied, I enter the game.
I begin the first cinematic. The very long opening cinematic. I wait for gameplay. Or for an autosave to occur. My fan chugs, my case becomes molten, my screen goes black.
I can’t turn it back on until the machine cools down. Twenty minutes later, I’m able to reboot, and skip through most of the cinematic that I’ve already seen. Finally, I encounter gameplay. Okay, things are going well. The computer is running warm, but it’s running. I’m halfway through what is essentially a glorified tutorial. My screen goes black.
Time passes, I restart. I’m exhausted, but I want to make progress. There’s nothing else to do out here. Everyone else is passed out drunk in the wee hours of the morning.
This time I’m a little more meticulous: I close every unnecessary process; I turn off all sound and turn on subtitles. I minimize every possible setting. This seems to work.
About an hour or two in, I realize I’m playing more on principle than out of actual desire. It’s working; that’s all that matters. I find myself skimming through the tale of James Heller, a man whose exploits are contextualized—and, arguably, rationalized—by profound personal tragedy.
A veteran returning from active duty in Iraq, he discovers that his wife and daughter have both been slaughtered. Count the tropes in that first cinematic. He reasonably blames the previous game’s protagonist, Alex Mercer, for his personal loss. He rejoins the military to fight locally, in the precarious NYZ, seeking revenge on Alex Mercer and his virus.
But after Heller’s infected by the furtive Mercer—and I’ll bet you can see this one coming—he quickly learns that there’s more than meets the eye, and redirects his focus to Blackwatch mercenaries and the almost cartoonishly evil scientists that have led NYZ to its current ruin. There, a simple canon-relevant context has been established.
But let’s be honest here: who really cares about the story in Prototype 2? Even Prototype 2 doesn’t seem to take itself seriously, with errant lines of NPC dialogue taking self-aware pot-shots at the game here and there.
The real fun comes from the gameplay itself, right? Right?
I let my laptop run hot, overheat, and shut down for a game that possesses hack-n-slash mechanics but superimposes stealth-oriented gameplay. A game which, after you’ve consumed your fourth or fifth scientist, tapped into your fourth or fifth control deck, and stealth-obliterated your fourth or fifth laboratory, does enough to demonstrate how fractured, yet redundant, it is.