I like a lot of the concepts I’m seeing advertised in Prototype 2. I really am.
I have to go back a bit, don’t I?
Prototype (the first game) is the story of Alex Mercer. Alex awakens in an underground laboratory from a coma with his memory lost only to find that this laboratory is pretty much of the evil variety as they try to kill him. He escapes using new-found superhuman powers.
I wonder what this says about the superhero concept when something like this becomes standard issue?
Anyway, Mercer learns that he’s infected with a virus that allows him to evolve and mutate in various ways. We learn that he’s a scientist responsible for the initial outbreak of the virus (though not the larger spreading of it) by releasing a vial in Penn Station while evading his former employers who produced said virus. Alex used the virus to try to escape but got infected, assumed dead and woke up on the operating table.
While Alex’s goals in Prototype are to basically beat back the virus and get revenge on his former company, Gentek, in game he’s a bit of an asshole. In the game you can walk up to people (civilians too) and rip them apart, assuming their form. Also you cause massive amounts of collateral damage in the process and the character has an overall moral ambivalence to him.
So when the second game was announced we were given a new character, James Heller. Apparently after Mercer started beating back the virus a new outbreak occurred in New York diving it into three zones ranging from peaceful, to outbreak, to holy shit the wall is breathing. Mercer’s been blamed and he currently resides in the breathing wall zone. Heller comes home (being an Iraq war vet) only to learn that his wife and daughter were killed just a day before by infected people. He starts going on a blood hunt for Mercer, just barely surviving in the land where the streets take steroids but surviving all the same.
For some reason Mercer infects Heller with the virus, making Heller a prototype creature like Mercer. Heller has the same experience as Mercer, waking up in a Gentek facility getting shot at and escaping and then being left to ponder his future. Unlike Mercer though, he remembers everything and from what advertising tells us, he’s set his sights firmly on Mercer, blaming him for all of his suffering and loss. He takes off into the city seeking vengeance.
We all caught up? Cool.
Now I’ve grown to like this story a lot because I think with this story we’ve been shown a new method of storytelling that’s actually unique to video games. You see, video games, more then any other medium, allow you to fully immerse yourself into a character’s perspective. Now with the sequel we have a new character whose motivations we can understand, even encourage, but the great thing is we don’t need to have the perspective of a misunderstood antagonist, like Mercer’s, explained through a forced long monologue. We already know it! It was ours not too long ago.
It’s something that’s always driven me nuts in stories like this where you have a guy on a revenge trip who battles through countless enemies, sacrifices his own ideals and does questionable deeds, finally reaches the target of his vengeance only to be put through a painfully long monologue explaining how the main character is wrong and everything both him and the audience have gone through emotionally has just become invalidated. Instead, from the outset we not only know that our vengeance is probably misplaced but that the target of it might just be more like us then we’d admit. That, in the end, Heller might just become the same as Mercer, not really human anymore. But something else with a different sense of morality.
The concept of main character turned antagonist is a great method of storytelling and it saddens me that the last and only other time I saw this was the Legacy of Kain.
It also allows a great deal of focus taken off the reveal, letting the nature of the antagonist be spread out across multiple plot points rather then revealed all at once. Another great thing about storytelling in video gaming is in fact that you can space out story points (in fact it’s almost mandatory) so that the mood can be painted better and we get a better setup for a dramatic reveal. Not so much in other artistic mediums.
I really hope the interactions between Heller and Mercer take their cues from Legacy of Kain and have the two really meet as infrequently as possible. Instead, letting Heller see that while Mercer might be a full case asshole, there are bigger, greater assholes out there that need to be stopped and their evil being showcased as a grander immediate threat.
I also hope that Mercer’s reasoning behind turning Heller gets some depth to it. By now Mercer is sort of like a god or Superman character, having fully realized his control of the virus. For him, this world shouldn’t pose any threat. Has he developed a god complex? Is he simply overcome with the sense of being the only one of his kind? Or does he need an ally in his fight?
I do want to see at the end the player given the choice to either spare or kill Mercer, though it may be better to have the hatred spread across more games as new enemies are introduced or old enemies finally given their due blame in events. Or, even more interesting, to have the final choice of the game not be a typical moral one, just simply that the player decides to either kill or join Mercer, based on what he’s seen thus far. Either way, the creators of Prototype 2 have a great core plot to work with. I hope they don’t waste it.
And so too does this work exist.