E3 2011 – Boba Fett Meets Blade Runner in Prey 2
Sometimes during the course of Prey, while alien abductee-turned-hero Tommy is traversing the massive ship known as The Sphere, a portal brings an airplane from Earth into the ship, causing a massive crash and explosion. The scene is cool but somewhat peripheral to Tommy’s experience in that game: in Prey 2, it’s the start of everything.
Killian Samuels was on that flight. A U.S. Marshall and the protagonist of Prey 2, he finds himself surviving the plane crash in The Sphere, finding his side-arm not far from where he had fallen, and setting off to see what the hell was going on. We quickly find Samuels in the first game’s huge setting, with alien soldiers running all over the place and trying to gather survivors from the wreckage. Hunks of the plane are scattered over a huge area, and he makes his way for the cockpit — but after killing several aliens, he’s subdued, captured and rendered unconscious.
Human Head’s Norman Nazarov, who was on-hand at E3 2011 and played a live demo of Prey 2 for the benefit of journalists, said that Prey 2 is an expression of the developers’ desire to explore different aspects of the Prey universe, and it certainly is that. The first Prey included portals and gravity switching, changes of scale and running-and-gunning on ceilings and walls. It’s a standard-ish first-person shooter with some interesting elements drawing on main character Tommy’s Cherokee background (he does some “Spirit Walk” things where he leaves his body to solve puzzles and whatnot); but at the end of the day, it’s a Doom-like formula of continuing forward, shooting a lot of guys.
Prey 2 isn’t just a departure from that formula, it’s starkly different in many, many ways. For one, it seems that all of Prey’s signature physics and gameplay alterations are uniformly gone. As Nazarov took us through the demo, he pointed out many of the various features of the game, and none of them had much of anything to do with gravity manipulation, portals that shrink people, or anything else that were pushing the limits of gameplay in Prey. Many of them looked a great deal like other games in the FPS genre today, and it’s a little bit sad to see the areas where Prey pushed the envelope disappearing into the margins.
That’s not to say Prey 2 doesn’t look interesting, because it does. The culture of the game is entirely different. Nazarov said this is a game of self-discovery, as players explore the world of Exodus, the game’s alien setting that will remind many of Blade Runner‘s Los Angeles and Mass Effect 2′s Omega. It’s a seedy place filled with seedy aliens, and despite having been on the world for several years since the abduction and worked a job as a bounty hunter, Samuels has a memory loss problem. So the game is about him figuring himself out, as well as the player figuring out who they want to be on the world of Exodus.
Self-discovery takes the form of an open world where the player is free to interact with people as they see fit. Nazarov showed us a bit of walking around Exodus’ crime-ridden Bowery section, an area that gives the impression of both an industry heavy landscape as well as slums. Bright colors and lights play a big part in the art style — what Nazarov described as “alien noir.” It’s a very Blade Runner look, to go back to that example. The Bowery is home to rough types and crime, and we saw street crimes taking place even as Samuels just wandered around the setting. As Nazarov explained, you can choose to intervene, or not, at any time (sometimes doing so will result in rewards and quests you wouldn’t otherwise get). You’re also given information in the game’s heads-up display about what to expect from various characters: whether they’re hostile or can become hostile, or whether you can interact with them. Oh, everyone speaks English, or at least there’s some kind of translation at work.
Samuels’ job as a bounty hunter is primarily what drives the game forward, both in main quests and side quests that can be completed throughout the game world for money and information. If you’ve seen this trailer, you have an idea of what Prey 2 is up to — Samuels has to locate bounty targets using information gleaned from informants and other means and then tracks them down with his HUD information. There seems to be a fair amount of Samuels chasing targets down and apprehending them. The demo followed the trailer closely, with Samuels pursuing a gangster of some kind, killing all kinds of bad guys along the way. Dealing with people civilly, almost in an RPG manner, is also a big part of the game — Samuels keeps his weapons holstered for much of the demo, only drawing them when he wants to threaten an NPC or intimidate someone. When getting the skinny from an informant, for example, he quickly pops the guy’s body guard to let him know he means business. The informant is much more cooperative after the show of force.
From a gameplay standpoint, there was a lot of remixed standard fare on-hand. Exodus is a very vertical place, as Nazarov showed us, and so players can expect to do a lot of climbing up and down walls and platforms in order to get around and sneak up on enemies and so forth. It seems pretty responsive — Samuels automatically reaches for ledges he can climb when the player looks at them, and like Brink, the game automatically reacts to random terrain as the player runs over, through or past it. You can also reliably just jump off of things if you need to, as Samuels is equipped with a pair of hover boots that can save his life and make the world more vertically accessible.
Cover plays a big part in Prey 2, and you’ll find it behind all kinds of things in the game. It’s sticky, too, allowing players to blind-fire over things and hang from ledges and use those for cover, as well. Samuels has a number of weapons and items at his disposal for fighting guys and taking bounties, like shoulder-mounted rockets and a stunning electric bola he can throw to knock out bounties on the run.
The bounty we watched Nazarov take down started in a sort of alien night club, where Samuels sneaked up on a gang boss, grabbed a minion and used him as a hostage. Negotiations fell flat immediately, though, and the hostage’s allies actually blew his head clean off, turning him into a meat shield. While many of the aspects of Prey are gone from its sequel, the violence of the first game isn’t one of them.
Enemies also have a lot of cool gadgets, and the one we saw put to good use was a short-range teleporter used by the bounty to slip away from Samuels, who pursued on foot with a great deal of Mirror’s Edge-like free-running. Every so often, Samuels would have to stop for a fight, sliding into cover, taking out enemies with close-range free-running tactics, and taking part in what Nazarov called “agile combat.” It looks a lot like Brink, but it seems as though it might handle a little better.
After a long chase and many enemies killed, Nazarov cornered his quarry and locked him in a sort of electromagnetic bubble. This device functions as both prison and transport, and Samuels has the option to interrogate captives in the device — at the risk of killing them. Instead of engaging in any (more) Jack Bauer tactics, Nazarov chose to send the bounty on his way and collect the fee; but immediately afterward, he was engage by a huge half-robot half-alien boss thing, which ended the demo with what seemed like Samuels’ certain death.
I wasn’t a fan of the original Prey. For all its innovative ideas about movement and setting, it never seemed to do a good job of incorporating those ideas into gameplay. Rather than take another shot at it, though, Human Head has gone in the other direction, leaning on mechanics that other games have done. I’m inclined to say that’s a good thing — Prey 2′s free running looks better than any I’ve yet seen — but I must remain skeptical of first-person free running in any respect and also of the fact that Prey 2 looks a lot like games we’ve seen before with a neon paint job.
Still, it’s hard not to get optimistic about the chance to cross Blade Runner‘s Rick Deckard with Boba Fett, which is more or less what Prey 2 promises. The vertical open world seems promising, as does the ability to interact with random people at any time and be a force for good or evil. The trailer suggests a Noir/Western, which is a concept I can get behind. And as I’ve found before, I can stomach bad parkour if it’s at least a little fun, so that’s not a detriment, either.
My main concern at this point is Prey 2′s narrative, of which I saw nothing. I’m hoping for some stronger threads than that, which can be difficult to achieve in an open-world setting. The narrative of Prey, or at least the “what the hell is going on here” drive, was one of its high points — I want to know what’s up with Samuels and Exodus, and I’m hoping Human Head delivers on that front. In total, I’m looking forward to checking out Prey 2 when it’s released sometime next year.