Following the story of US Marshall Killian Samuels, acting as a bounty hunter on an alien world, Prey 2 promises freedom of choice in an alien city. At the Eurogamer Expo we got to see two parts of the game in action, an early level with lots of shooting and a later area, about a quarter of the way through the game, that showed a mission in action. There was also time to see the downtime between missions, with Killian involving himself in random street crime and doing some shopping. We caught up with project lead and Human Head studios co-founder Chris Rhinehart to find out what freedom really means in Prey 2, how much of a rotter you can be, whether we can expect additional stuff and release date parity for the PC version, and what failing missions entails.
RPS: Linking us back to Prey 1, let’s talk about Tommy. We’ve already seen a picture of him and it was mentioned that the plot of Prey 2 will cover how Tommy and Killian met. So presumably we’ll meet Tommy in the game? Can you talk about that a little?
Rhinehart: I can tell you that. You definitely meet Tommy in the game. It’s not just a cameo, you run into him, your paths cross several times throughout the game. He is an integral part of the story and an important character. Also, part of the story is uncovering what you and Tommy were up to in the time leading up to when the player takes over as Killian.
RPS: Will Tommy be Killian’s partner at any point?
Rhinehart: There are no plans to have Tommy fight alongside of him but he is integral to the story.
RPS: And is the story divergent at all?
Rhinehart: It is a linear story. We have the one story we want to tell, one narrative, it isn’t going to branch off in different directions.
RPS: In the video demonstration, you showed us that Killian can act like a jerk, shooting innocents, shoving them off balconies. How will that affect the ways in which the inhabitants of the city treat him?
Rhinehart: There is a reputation system in the game. So if you go around and you’re shoving people, killing innocents, your reputation’s gonna go down. If you go around and you’re helping people, aliens getting mugged and so forth, your reputation will go up. And there are other things that will cause your rep to go up or down but those are just two more obvious ones, the more accessible ones. What your reputation will do is it will affect things in the mid-term or the short-term, not long-term, it doesn’t affect story but it will affect things like how cops react to you, maybe vendors will give you a discount if you’re more of a good guy. People will also be more willing to ask you for help when you’re wandering around the streets. If you’re more of a bad guy, people will be more wary around you, keep out of your way.
RPS: Is reputation set on a sliding scale?
Rhinehart: Yes, you can bring it up and look at it in the game.
RPS: The anti-gravity bomb, which lifts enemies from behind cover, is a noble invention.
Rhinehart: It’s really useful, yes.
RPS: I can’t imagine ever being without one. But you spoke of 25+ gadgets; presumably Killian can’t have them all so will players choose specific loadouts or will certain ones be useful against certain enemies and in specific situations?
Rhinehart: The number you can carry is limited. Part of it’s limited based upon your purchasing ability. A normal player won’t be able to purchase every single gadget by the end, so you have to make choices as to which gadgets you want. But then you’re also limited to the number you can equip at any given time and you’re also limited by which ones are activated to be deployed at that time. In the demo I was flicking between different gadgets and equipping them based on different situations as I was going through.
RPS: So if I played the same sections I could approach them my own way, with my own choice of gadgets?
Rhinehart: Yes, when you play through you’re going to find the gadgets that you prefer to use and I’ve got my own choices that I prefer and our situation’s going to be a little bit different. If you want to use more melee gadgets, get up close that will obviously be different than if you use grenade-type weapons and gadgets. We want the player to have the mobility to navigate the world how they want and the tools to take down their enemies how they want.
RPS: There’s an emphasis on collecting and upgrading gadgets in what we’ve seen so far. What about guns? Will there be a lot of variety and upgrades there as well?
Rhinehart: There are no upgrades to guns but there’s a pretty wide variety in the number of guns in the game so that, again, you’ll find guns that you like using. You’ll find some bizarre guns that are really powerful but you can’t use in every single situation, so you can pick some of those or some faster firing guns or sniper rifles and so forth, which can be used throughout the game. While the guns aren’t upgradeable, there are a number that have unique, crazy ammo types. Or functions that are inherently part of the gun, not necessarily ammo types. There are some that have interesting projectiles.
RPS: We’ve seen the alien noir environment but during the presentation it was mentioned that the planet has a light side, a dark side and an area in a permanent dusk, which is the one shown. Does that mean there will be three acts and three environments?
Rhinehart: It’s not divided into three different acts but there are different parts of the planet you’ll go to, so you will visit a brighter side, you’ll go to a much darker side and then there’s the Bowery which is along the equator, a perpetually dusk kind of rainy area. The reason we do that is to offer variety, breaking up where the player goes but it’s not a case of being here, then here, then here, the narrative weaves through all those levels. So I go to the bright side and then I’ll come back to the Bowery, based on the narrative. But just because you leave the Bowery, that doesn’t mean you can’t come back to the Bowery at any point. It’s not a case of leaving an area and then being locked out of it. If you want to go back and explore, you can totally do that as well.
RPS: There are events, like muggings, occurring around the city and Killian can choose whether or not to intervene. You call those ambient bounties, right?
Rhinehart: Yes. They’re optional and can help you earn extra cash.
RPS: Will every bounty act the same way on every playthrough, or will it be a surprise?
Rhinehart: It gets mixed up. When you approach them, they can fight back, run or surrender. Some will have henchmen. But it won’t always be the exact same thing. It’s possible you’ll encounter a bounty in the same place, or a very similar place, and the chase will follow a different route maybe. There’s a wide variety of bounty types and routes that they’ll take.
RPS: As for the actual missions, the non-ambient ones, are they all essential to the story, or are some optional as well?
Rhinehart: Some of them are optional.
RPS: And if I play a certain way, or accept certain optional missions, will others become available or unavailable depending on that?
Rhinehart: No, the side missions unlock over time. Technically both do, the main missions as well, as you progress through the storyline. But side missions unlock, become available depending on the areas that you’re in, so when you go to a new area, there may not be any side missions yet. But when you explore the world for a while, side missions will start to unlock.
RPS: But will I always see every side mission if I want to?
Rhinehart: Yes. One of our philosophies was that we didn’t want, just because of player action, to block out major chunks of gameplay like that. There are a few things that not every player will experience on their first playthrough, like guns and gadgets. By the end of the game you’re not going to have enough money to buy every single gadget, so you do have to choose, or maybe sell a gadget back to buy something else. Or you could just stick with what you have and then do another playthrough to try out some other gadgets.
RPS: On story missions, will enemies always follow the same plan of action, meaning we see the same set pieces every time?
Rhinehart: As far as the route that they take, it won’t always be exactly the same. In the code, there are certain areas we want them to go to in order to hit the major beats that we want them to take the player through so it will be a more designed experience, giving the rollercoaster feel we want to run through the game. But they will make different choices, sometimes jumping up a building, going through it or teleporting past and they will react if you find a way to cut them off. So it’s not like they’ll just ignore you if you get in their way, they will react to that appropriately.
RPS: And if a bounty escapes will we see a fail screen, or can we try to recover?
Rhinehart: If a bounty escapes during a mission you will get a fail screen and then you’ll go back to the checkpoint and be able to restart from there. Again, we don’t want to lock out content because of failure. There are exceptions though. If ambient bounties escape, they’re just gone. The game doesn’t reset back to let you try the ambient bounty again and then that character may show up again later but if it’s a main story mission and you fail it, you go back to the checkpoint. Or if you want to you can just abort the entire mission, wander round the world and come back later to try the mission again.
RPS: How big is the world? I haven’t seen a map yet, but will one be necessary?
Rhinehart: There is a map, yeah, you’ll definitely need a map. We’re actually going through user testing right now to make sure that everything makes sense so that people can figure out where they are in different areas. One of the things we’re doing is adding in plenty of landmarks, as many as we can, so as you wander around you see a certain statue or sign so you know what part of the city you’re in. We do have a minimap now that wasn’t shown in the demo, as well as the static map that you’ll use to navigate around but we want you to be able to use the landmarks in the actual world. As you start picking up missions in certain parts of the town, you’ll start learning.
RPS: During the demonstration, when a mission was accepted and a rundown of the target and parameters was given, one piece of text read “Collateral Damage Acceptable”. Presumably this means on some missions collateral damage won’t be acceptable. Would harming civilians sometimes lead to a fail state?
Rhinehart: You’re the first person to ask that actually. It’s actually a legacy thing that we’ve since removed. Originally, the idea was that you were free to kill anyone you want and there would be no ramifications for it but in playing through it we determined that we didn’t really want to have zero penalty for gunning down innocents. There had to be some penalty, such as the cops coming after you or the value of the mission payoff going down. But killing innocents doesn’t negatively affect the mission itself, other than the police presence and loss of ammunition!
RPS: So you could end up with three-way fights between cops, bounties and Killian?
Rhinehart: Possibly. We’re encountering some of that right now in tests. What we’re doing is, during this phase of balancing, is working out how difficult we want certain things to be and how powerful we want the police force to be. Right now we’re looking at that and one of the issues we’re looking at is how much we want the police presence to influence events when you’re in the middle of a mission.
RPS: And there are no plans for multiplayer?
Rhinehart: No multiplayer. We’re focusing on a strong, compelling single player narrative.
RPS: With the PC being a superior platform, Prey 2 will obviously support all kinds of advanced graphical wizardry, won’t it?
Rhinehart: We are looking into anything special we can do for PC users but no announcements yet as to what that may or may not be but we are looking into different ways that we can enhance the PC side.
RPS: And when can we expect to be playing?
All I can say at the moment is 2012.
RPS: Simultaneous release on all platforms though, right?
Rhinehart: Absolutely. Yes!
RPS: Thanks for your time.