Preview: Prey 2

By Alec Meer on April 18th, 2011 at 3:01 pm.

I'm sorry I'm not a portal, I'm sorry!

I’m very surprised. Good surprised, not bad surprised. Prey is not a game I feel anything about, to be completely honest. I know it has its fans, but for me it remains part of that mass of id Tech 4-based stodgy shooters which went heavy on bio-mechanical corridor-pounding gloss at the expense of play I found truly engaging, despite early-game experiments with big ideas. Prey 2? More corridors, more textbook murderous aliens, more blamblamblam, no thank you ma’am.

Except it’s not. I was not expecting a game where you spend a significant time without a gun taking up half your screen. I was not expecting an open-world game, inspired more by the likes of Red Dead Redemption and STALKER than by Quake and Call of Duty. I was not expecting a game where your interaction with funny-headed aliens is as much about making moral judgements as it is shooting them. I’m surprised.

(Click these images for larger versions, by the way)

With crushing inevitability, watching a presentation which demonstrated just how different and ambitious Prey 2 was, how determined it is to veer away from the FPS crowd, was immediately followed by sneery questions about why the first game’s Native American hero Tommy was no longer the star, and why portals were no longer involved. The same upset has been visible across the web, since the first details of the game slipped out. I have no idea, at this stage, whether Prey 2 will fulfil its lofty ambitions, but I simply cannot understand the mentality that demands a game stay the same instead of pursuing bold growth and change. Imagine how that must feel. Imagine showing your game full of ideas and creative risks and then just being told off for not repeating yourself.

I don’t care about Tommy. I’m sorry. Yeah, I’m as bored of white, male game-heroes as the next guy, but it’s pretty obvious that the switch to the ludicrously-named US Air Marshall Killian Samuels hasn’t been made as a result over cold feet about making an ethnic minority the star. It’s so the game’s free to explore different places, different concepts. Tommy will, we’re told, take a major but as-yet mysterious key role in Prey 2, but he won’t be playable. Maybe it’s a betrayal, but I’ll take a Blade Runner-inspired open world over more spirit-walking pseudo-mysticism any day.

And portals? There’s a perfectly good game about portals coming out this week. Better to also have a game about free-running bounty-hunting in a massively vertical sci-fi city instead of two portal games, thanks.

Killian Samuels, then. He’s a US AIr Marshall, who was aboard a plane back when the alien invasion of Earth in Prey 1 ocurred. The game opens with him the apparent lone survivor of the resulting crash, staggering to his feet amidst the wreckage of his plane. But he’s not on Earth. The ground is organic, pustulent. Drawing his military pistol, he wanders forward. It’s not long before he finds life, but it’s not human. It’s one of the Prey 1 aliens. Shooting ensues. You know the drill. On the run, hunted by monsters, blasting your way to freedom.

Except Samuels doesn’t find freedom. He finds a brutal punch in the face, and unconsciousness.

Years later. Samuels is working as a bounty hunter on the planet Exodus, a metropolitan hive of scum and villainy, occupied by multiple races living in relative peace, everyone finding some way to make a living. He’s not being hunted. In fact, he’s a hunter – a bounty hunter forever in search of the next paid contract.

Clearly, there are many questions. How did he get here? Why wasn’t he killed/harvested? Where are those evil aliens from Prey 1? Are there any other humans here? We’ll find out in due course, but for now it’s all about the Benjamins.

Exodus is described as ‘alien noir’, with Blade Runner a screamingly clear influence. There’s some Mass Effect in there too – multiple alien races and an air of ubiquitous criminality. The area Samuels is currently turning a buck in is the Bowery, a down-at-heel zone dominated by ne’er-do-wells. It’s the red light district, the crime lord district, the drugs district. It’s perhaps leaning towards the wrong side of dystopic sci-fi stereotype, but again – I’ll take the hovercars, vast, odd-angled skyscrapers and seedy neon over corridor-pounding any day.

When Samuels takes a contract, he’s assigned a target. How he kills or captures that target is your choice. Direct action has its merits, but if you barge into a nightclub and start spraying bullets everywhere you’re going to end up with a lot of heat – both from your target’s allies and potentially from Exodus’ security. So you could try stealth – using an Assassin’s Creed-esque parkour system to clamber over roofs and through windows. Or you could simply try threats, frightening your target into surrender or into fleeing to a less populous area. In Prey 2, you choose whether or not you hold a gun when you approach people. Maybe it’ll help. Maybe it’ll just raise hell. Your call.

A target running away is a good thing, at least as far as being a player is concerned. It results in a dramatic free-running and wall-climbing chase around Exodus, and delving into a utility belt full of absurd gadgetry. While shooting plays its part, your guns are frankly the least of your tools; anti-gravity waves, shoulder-mounted homing rockets, bolas, hover-boots and in the region of 15 further gadgets are the stars of this show. ‘Prey’ doesn’t here refer to being the hunted – it refers to being the hunter. The Predator, in fact. The inclusion of climbing, electronically-assisted vision modes and shoulder-mounted weapons is not coincidental. There’s more than a trace element of Deus Ex here too, but far more openly action-orientated. The chase is dynamic, crazed, desperate, but the gadgets means the odds are in Samuels’ favour.

(This time, at least. A later chase results in the arrival of a target’s vengeful brother, a hulking, bus-sized brute of an alien spitting firepower from every limb. For all the freeform elements, this doesn’t shy away from setpieces.)

The contract missions, some of which are scripted and story-progressing but the bulk of which are simply scanning for local opportunities, are just one way to make a living. Samuels can also look for ambient encounters, such as intervening in a scuffle and hoping for a reward from whichever alien was getting duffed up. Or he could wait for the fight to resolve itself and loot the resulting bodies. Or he could comb the city, searching its nooks and crannies for cash and for hidden missions such as trashing one cartel’s communication infrastructure.

He could even head off on a crime spree himself, mugging passers-by, extorting cash and discounts from traders and informants, or sadistically pushing civilians from the high streets to their death. This is likely to draw the attention of the floating security drones. You can take those out, but doing so may bring about harsher measures from whoever’s in charge of Exodus. While Prey 2 avoids moral judgments, a GTA-style heat system does mean that being a total bastard won’t result in an easy ride.

The moral judgements, or lack thereof, extends to the contracts themselves too. A target you’re chasing might realise the writing’s on the wall, and promise you a bigger pay packet if you let him go. That’s more money (to be spent on gadget upgrades and ammo) for you, but it might mean you’re letting a bad man go free. Or the target might claim his innocence, leaving the choice as to whether they or your employer are telling the truth to you. Everyone’s probably lying about something; question is, do you try to do the right thing or accept that the whole situation’s pretty messed up anyway and thus make the (financial) best of it?

Whether this openness of both approach and morality can sustain itself across a slew of encounters both scripted and procedural remains to be seen (for instance, at what point does interrupting a beat-down on the streets stop being atmosphere-building and become an all-too-familiar repetion?), but I’m entirely excited about the prospect of constructing my own bounty hunter/bussinessman fantasy life, and only pursuing the story missions when I’m good and ready.

STALKER as alien noir? Clearly, this is a whole lot more mainstream than that (and dodgy style stuff like aliens hissing ‘ssssson of a bittttch’ in silly reptile voices doesn’t do the atmosphere too many favours), but when a game that had the option to be just another gloosy manshoot decides to even begin treading the sandbox path, I damn well sit up and pay attention. Tommy? Portals? I really do not give a monkey’s. I’m the freelance police Predator.

Prey 2 is due for release in 2012. We’ll have an interview with the devs up later this week.

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107 Comments »

  1. Gabbo says:

    I don’t care about the loss of portals (they didn’t really do much for me in the first game), though I did want Tommy’s story to continue, I’m glad to hear he hasn’t been completely thrown by the way side. “STALKER as alien noir” – While maybe not the most accurate in the long run, that tagline sells me on the game much more than the initial smattering of information did.

  2. Kadayi says:

    Sounds pretty interesting. One more to add to the game radar.

  3. rareh says:

    “Quake and Call of Duty”

    ROFL those game franchises are so different, why put those 2 together ?

    I am kind of disappointed cause games are starting to be more about narrative and etc then about game-play.

    Loads of games have shallow brainless gameplay, but because of story or voice-acting they are lauded as amazing.

    I mean you don’t see red dead redemption winner of several goty, with the depth of quake.

    A lot of people have no idea of the depth of quake, so here is an idea of a guy with bad aim, but good decision making(brain) explaining how he won a WC.

  4. Eschatos says:

    I would be incredibly leery, but the shitfest that was Just Cause lead to the amazing Just Cause 2. Such a leap is just as possible here.

  5. edit says:

    I never had interest in the first game (well, I was excited in 1996 but Half-Life soon stole that thunder), but wow, open-world alien noir? Sign me up! As long as there is some deep interaction with the world and characters possible, I’ll be a happy camper. Linearity tends to grate on me nowadays.

    It’s great to see a sequel which looks at a franchise as something which can radically grow and expand, rather than as a mold to churn out iterations of the same game. Hopefully this game does well enough that the developers can continue radically expanding the series in future titles. I’ll be keeping an eye on this one.

  6. Navagon says:

    Remember that dream game thread not so many days ago? Well this is fast fulfilling the criteria of the first dream game I listed and a little bit more besides. I really, really hope they manage to pull this off.

  7. gwathdring says:

    Wow. I already want this to sell well, whether or not I end up liking it. This is what I like to see out of a franchise, or a sequel. This sort of a wild shift in direction is the only way I can see Episode 3 working and being worth it, for example. Maybe it’s time the gravity gun gave up to ghost and Gordon Freeman learned some new tricks (the game learned quite a few new tricks by Episode 2, but it felt like the tropes of the series were holding it down).

    Movies should adapt a similar mindset to existing sequel/franchise issues. For example, doing something other than an origin story when rebooting a franchise (to be fair Superman Returns didn’t do an origin story and it was still pretty bad by many accounts but I wanted to give someone a hug just because it wasn’t another damn origin story).

    Creative advancement in sequels! Yes please!

  8. gwathdring says:

    Holy crap. I just realized this game could end up being something like my list of “what if…” concepts that came out of wanting to like Stranger’s Wrath so much more than I did (to be fair, my experience is limited by not owning a console and coming back to the game a still somewhat troubled PC port). The crux of it is: I didn’t realize how excited I was at the idea of a bounty hunting game with free running until a moment ago. But that sounds pretty spectacular if they can pull it off.

    -mutters halfheartedly about predominantly bipedal aliens-

  9. SwiftRanger says:

    Prey had more than portals and Tommy. It had a great weapon feel, wall/ceiling walking, gravity mechanics, cool environmental puzzles and monster spawning vaginas. It’s still the best game that came out of the Doom³ engine imo, despite its flaws (big enemies/bosses not being really challenging or smart).
    I am a bit bummed that Human Head just seems to leave a lot of the special stuff behind. The new approach sounds ambitious but I am really interested in how they’re gonna keep their levels “sci-fi” and compelling enough without Prey’s tricks. The latter did add to the atmosphere and it would be a shame to dismiss them.
    And portals? There’s a perfectly good game about portals coming out this week. Better to also have a game about free-running bounty-hunting in a massively vertical sci-fi city instead of two portal games, thanks.
    That’s just a silly argument, Alec, and you know it. I’d like to take both in one game.

  10. Commisar says:

    hmmm, this actually looks pretty good, now that I’ve seen a bit of it

  11. DD says:

    Oh wow this looks/sounds awesome. Now make Rune 2!!!

  12. patricij says:

    lol no boobs

    • Foowahchu says:

      Yeah she looks like those hot dancers with the long head tentacles in the Star Wars verse.

      Also…

      Between Duke and TWitcher 2, there’s no shortage to get my objectification of digital women on!

  13. Thants says:

    Well, over the course of that article I went from knowing nothing whatsoever about Prey to being very excited for this game. Awesome!

  14. Vinraith says:

    Crap.
    I was prepared to totally ignore this. The first half of Prey was a moderately entertaining linear puzzle/shooter, the second half was a suckfest of epic proportions. I was done with the franchise, here was one game at least that I didn’t have to give thought to, or find time for.

    And then you went and described a really intriguing open world shooter, and I’m back in.

  15. poop says:

    the actual game part of this sounds interesting but the way it is barely related to the original at all except in name has the marketing department stink all over it

  16. kibayasu says:

    While I’m not going to deny that Prey 2 could be a good game, it sounds like it’s going to be a pretty lousy sequel.

  17. Personoic says:

    I liked Prey.
    The use of portals linking areas with funky gravity was probably the biggest draw gameplaywise. It added more possibilities in combat where you can have a rocket shoot out with a guy standing on the roof or you could run upwards into a vent to dodge incoming fire.

    I thought it had a pretty cool art direction (I love the biomechanical Quake vibe) and although your guns performed generically they looked hella cool. Tommy was a semi-interesting character because you actually hear him getting pissed off and say things like “What the fuck is that?!” as opposed to your normal silent FPS protagonist.

    Also the school bus scene.

  18. Burning Man says:

    To reiterate other similar comments, I couldn’t have cared less about Prey 2 until I saw your article. This sounds really good.

  19. bill says:

    If it’s half as fun as Nar Shadar in Jedi Knight then i’ll be happy.

  20. drewski says:

    Colour me intrigued.

  21. Matzerath says:

    I’ll just go ahead and predict this will be crap.
    Prey was fun. A fringe game, hardly anyone on the street would recognize its name at this point. Why make a loose sequel when you can easily put together your own game mythology and backstory? How can you possibly benefit from leeching off an old game?

  22. tailzdru says:

    Staring eyes 6/6

  23. DOLBYdigital says:

    Bolas…. you had me at bolas :)
    Seriously I like the idea of using various gadgets while chasing my targets down as long as the controls are good. Also like the open world in an alien setting but time will tell if they make a good game out of this.

  24. RegisteredUser says:

    They shouldn’t have called it Prey. That’s about it. It’s a blatant cash in on an already established name.

    But I do like what I am seeing as a seperate game.

  25. fenriz says:

    oh god i love vertical cities, i want at least 5 miles of verticality.

    I miss beneath a steel sky.

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