There's a soft spot in our mutant hearts for the monster that is Prototype. A pretty decent attempt at a sprawling open world action game, we spent many an hour back in 2009 gliding around the skyscrapers of Manhattan, before plunging our fists into the ground to create a 50ft radius forest of deadly meat-spike trees.
While we didn't buy into the design of the world, which really felt like a collection of textured cuboids, Alex Mercer's powers were bang-on. If he wanted to play stealth, he could use his anti-social ability to devour passers-by and assume their identity. Slightly less subtly, he could sprout massive claws and scythe through crowds of civilians, tanks and mutants. Protoype may not have been the stand-out open-world adventure of the year, but - and we're wiping a small tear from the eye as we say this - it gave us some fun memories.
So what of Prototype 2? Radical's latest version of the twisted New York sandpit has new enemies, new abilities and an updated, quarantined Manhatten in which to run amok. Many of Mercer's old tricks return, this time infesting the body of our new hero, Sergeant James Heller. You can still absorb key individuals to take on their appearance, for instance, and stroll undetected under your enemy's unsmelling nose.
The fact you're not supposed to be as morally indifferent as Mercer shows in some minor ways. For instance, picking somebody up in Prototype 1 was the start of a process that would always end in their death. Heller has the option to simply put them down again. No more slaying of innocent civilians unless you really want to, then.
Having said that, Heller does seem to take unseemly pleasure from his new powers. Take Bio-Bomb - the other new option when you pick up a passer-by, and the opposite of "putting them down again". You can inject them with an explosive viral payload, and throw them across the map. Wherever they land, they'll explode into thick ropes of organic matter. "Hell yeah," observes Heller. Hell, yeah? Mate, those people probably had dreams.
The most substantial improvement is the ability to wield two of your mutant powers at once. Each of the five powers can be assigned to your left and right arm, giving you 15 combinations, each with their own combos. Familiar powers return - the slow but powerful Hammerfist and the telescopic Whipfist - but the Musclemass ability has gone, replaced with a more flexible power called Tendrils. You can use tendrils to grab and slam items around. If this was a more cerebral game, it might be used for puzzles. As it stands, the main puzzle it solves is "how do you smash a car into a tank?"
A new defensive tactic sees your character form giant rock shields, capable of bouncing projectiles back to their source. Given the generous way enemies throw rockets around, you're going to need it.
The levelling system has taken a leaf out of Skyrim's books - you'll evolve your charming monster by using his powers, rather than upgrading him with arbitrary tokens. You'll still get skill points for levelling up, but they'll be added to more general attributes, like "locomotion" and "health". If you want to build a better Whipfist, you're going to have to use it.
Sadly, many of Prototype's downsides remain. The city's tower blocks pale beside the chimneys and spires of Arkham City. The AI isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer, with civilians and foes sometimes failing to bat an eyelid when Heller plummeted into their midst - we're assured that the Blacklight Soldiers will be improved by final release, but the same can't be said of civilians - they're cattle, plain and simple.
These deflating moments aside, Prototype 2 is shaping up nicely - polishing up the original's core mechanics and adding an inch or two more depth. We'll be back with more details when we go hands-on in January.