Prey 2 First Look Preview -- Going Off the Reservation Never Felt So RightBy Jake Gaskill - Posted Apr 22, 2011
For one reason or another, I totally missed Humanhead Studios’ gravity-defying, alien adbuction-themed shooter Prey when it was released back in 2006, despite having played it's rather spectacular opening level and knowing all of its key characteristics: it starred a Cherokee mechanic named Tommy who is abducted by aliens, it featured anti-gravity and even portal-based gameplay (pre-Portal), and you had to play through a ghostly, archery mini-game whenever you died to revive yourself. Beyond that though, I couldn’t really tell you much more about the game.
Luckily (or perhaps troublingly, if you were a diehard Prey fan), Prey 2 bears practically zero resemblance to the previous game, so if you're a newcomer like me, you can rest easy knowing you'll be able to hit the ground running without feeling totally lost. In fact, aside from the story, which Humanhead was super cagey about during Bethesda’s BFG 2011 press event last week, Prey 2 could easily be called “Insert Made Up Name Here” and no one would have been the wiser. For as little as we know about the story at this point, we do know that Tommy will make an appearance in the game in some form or another, and we know that Prey 2’s main character, U.S. Marshall Killian Samuels, was abducted at the same time Tommy was in the opening scene of the first game (In fact, you can briefly see Killian’s plane in the first game’s opening scene. The plane is also featured in the Prey 2 live-action teaser trailer released a few weeks back.)
So there’s obviously a strong narrative connection between the two titles but how strong remains to be seen. On the gameplay side, at least based on what we were shown, which was about a 25-minute demo driven by the game’s lead designer Chris Rhinehart, Prey 2 has a ton of compelling elements going for it. And while the gameplay does share few similarities to the first game, Rhinehart explained that it will still fit thematically into the Prey universe and is designed to fit within the context of the new storyline.
“We took a look at what we thought was kind of the core of Prey…and then we kind of boiled it down to a couple core things. It’s about alien abduction…and it’s about one man versus these aliens. It’s not an intergalactic war. The other thing we wanted to do with Prey 2 was we wanted to explore both sides of the predator/prey relationship. In Prey 1, you were pretty much the prey. You walked into a room, and everything would attack you on sight. Prey 2, we wanted to explore both sides and let you be the predator.”
The first scene we are shown, which is actually the beginning of the game, instantly sets a BioShock-ish tone by opening on the flaming wreckage of a destroyed airliner. Gazing up through the twisted fuselage we spot a familiar sight: the Earth. As Killian pushes through the disaster zone, he pulls out his trusty revolver and checks to make sure it’s still intact. It’s a good thing too, because just then, an alien enemy spots us, forcing us to put him down with a few perfectly placed pistol shots. In the distance, we spot the cockpit, which lies deep within the flame engulfed industrial complex now littered with plane debris.
Moving ahead, we spot some more enemies taking up positions behind some concrete embankments. Following suit, we slide into cover ourselves. Here, we see the game’s retooled cover mechanics, which now include the ability to more easily pop out from cover and fire or blind fire from cover as well. You can also do both of these things while hanging from ledges, but we’ll get to that in a little bit.
We run up a nearby ramp, away from the fleshy, glistening terrain that snakes through the facility, which shows our hands pumping on either side of the screen, ala Mirror’s Edge. The next area is crawling with enemies, so we once again take cover and pop some alien skulls. It doesn’t last long though, as we are soon incapacitated and knocked out by a particularly gnarly looking blue-eyed slaver alien.
When the next scene opens, it’s a few years later, and Killian is now on a planet known as Exodus with no recollection of how he got their, but he has since become a bounty hunter with more enemies than friends, and it becomes part of his mission to uncover the mysteries of his past. Looking out at the stunning vista in front of us it’s like we’re looking at Blade Runner: The Game. The futuristic metropolis stretching out in all directions is packed with gritty, “alien noir” style. Neon signs pop against the darkness, flying cars fill the night sky, and there’s an air of seediness that is unmistakable.
What is particular interesting about Exodus as a setting is that the planet is locked in its orbit so one side of the planet is always dark while the other side is always light. The section we’re seeing sits somewhere in the middle, so it’s perpetually dusk, which adds to the shadowy, noir-feel of the city.
From here, we get our first look at the game’s new parkour-inspired gameplay. Like Mirror’s Edge before it, and Bethesda’s own upcoming shooter Brink, Prey 2 puts a major emphasis on being able to freely explore your environment through first-person platforming.
“We wanted to expand the player’s movement set,” Rhinehart says. “As a bounty hunter, we wanted the player to explore and pursue and to have really interesting different combat in the world. So we’ve added the ability for the player to not only kind of just run, jump, shoot, and dive, but I can vault over things, I can run and grab an edge, and peer around as I’m hanging from the edge…We want to keep it real accessible for the player.”
Watching the new mechanics in action definitely looks smooth, and unlike Mirror’s Edge, watching someone else doing the first-person parkouring doesn’t instantly make you nauseous, and there’s a precision to the movements that suggests a tightness to the controls, but that could also be because the guy guiding the demo made the game. Still, the flow is quite impressive, as we climb and jump around the city will ease, which you’ll be doing tons off given the sheer scope, and verticality, of the game world.
The other major addition to Prey 2 is player choice, which, again, fits in perfectly with the open-world and bounty hunter storyline. Rhinehart says there was another major reason for taking the game in this direction.
“We knew that in order to make a first-person shooter that was going to make a splash and be interesting and exceed player expectations for 2012, we knew we had to do more than just run, gun, and shoot.”
So in addition to the new movement set that encourages exploration, the game also lets players decide how they’re going to go about finding jobs, collecting random bounties, and generally interacting with the world and its inhabitants. Reinhardt references Rockstar Games’ Red Dead Redemption several times through the demo when talking about how the game’s storyline and open-world structure are handled, and it’s a fair comparison. Although, Prey 2 goes a bit farther by introducing more RPG-inspired elements such as weapon and gadget upgrades, so think of it more as an action-RPG-FPS if that helps.
Similar to games like Deus Ex: Human Revolution or Crysis 2, there’s plenty of freedom to play how you want to play. You can focus on stealth and boost gadgets that favor that style, or you can go the action route and put your resources there. There are over 20 gadgets with 40 upgrades available right now, but there could be more in the final game. One of the particularly snazzy gadgets is the anti-gravity wave, which is a grenade that can be tossed near enemies to actually lift them into the air, preferably when they are behind cover. Another is the shoulder mounted rocket system. There are also over 40 weapons in five categories, so combat variety doesn’t seem like it’s going to be an issue.
Speaking of weapons, one of the nice touches, and one that goes a long way towards emphasizing player choice, your gun isn’t out by default. It’s a small thing, but it’s one of those gamisms that we don’t really think about, but if you saw somebody running around, shoving guns in people’s faces when having conversations with them, you’d most likely call the police. And since interacting with NPCs plays a major part in getting jobs, it just makes sense to have it automatically holstered. Unless, of course, you want to be the guy who gets info through intimidation, in which case point your gun at non-threatening NPCs will result in them cowering in fear. Again, it’s up to you.
Rhinehart takes us through a quick bounty mission that starts in a local alien strip club (holographic strippers to be exact). We scan the crowd using our visor, and the target is immediately highlighted. This particular bounty is wanted dead or alive, so we approach the target in attempt to make him surrender, but that doesn’t work out so well, as the guy sprints for the exit. We give chase, only to blow him away a few seconds later. Now even though this particular bounty ran away, that’s not to say they all will, which also adds to the game’s sense of variety and freedom.
It’s worth pointing out here that while you are free to kill as many random people as you want in the world, there is a security system the monitors the cities, and there are security drones hovering throughout the world ready to bring down hell on your head. It works similar to the tiered cops system in a Grand Theft Auto game.
The next bounty mission starts with us tracking down an informant to find out the whereabouts of our new target. We scramble up the side of building and across some ledges to reach the high-rolling informant, who is flanked by a mean looking bodyguard and a personal, mini-holographic stripper. Since we don’t have enough money to buy the information, we shoot the bodyguard off the roof and threaten the informant by shoving our gun in his face. He tells us where we can find our target, and lets us know that somewhere down the line he’ll be calling on us for a favor.
We make our way to a nearby club. We spot one of our target’s lieutenants patrolling out front, so we sneak up and take him hostage. Holding him as a human shield, we move into the club and confront our target and his numerous henchmen. When they spot us, a bullet rips through our hostages head, tearing it clean off and leaving us holding his headless corpse. We drop the body, and proceed to clear out the room, which quickly turns into a showcase of exploding bodies. Our target teleports out of the room, and we pursue.
After a lengthy chase through the city, and across a speeding train, we corner the bounty on the ledge of a tall building. We secure the target in a glowing yellow ball, at which point we have the option of interrogating him or teleporting him to our client. We send him on his way, and just before the demo ends, we receive a transmission that a seriously bad dude has locked in our location. Just then, a towering beast with a chaingun arm comes barreling around the corner. With the big nasty roaring in our face, the demo fades out.
To say we were surprised by Prey 2 is obviously an understatement, and to say we can't wait to see it again in the coming months as we move towards its 2012 release is an even bigger one. Not only does it raise all sorts of compelling questions about the nature of sequels, but it also promises to let us live out on our biggest fantasies: bounty hunter in a super seedy, Blade Runner-ish futuristic metropolis. Yes please!