June 9, 2011 by Paul Curtin
Back in 2006, Bethesda released Prey, a sci-fi first person shooter that was one of the first games to show off the superior graphics potential of the Xbox 360 over previous generations of consoles. It’s been five years and up until a couple months ago, there was zero news on a sequel to the sleeper hit. Because I didn’t own a 360 back when Prey was released, I’ve still yet to get around to playing it… although I’ve been wanting to for some time. Today we were treated to an exclusive behind-closed-doors preview of Prey 2‘s story mode gameplay by Lead Programmer at Human Head Studios, Norm Nazaroff, and one thing is for sure: I’ll be picking up Prey 2 on day one of its release.
I want to use words like “game changer” and “breathtaking” to describe Prey 2‘s visuals, but those words just don’t do it justice. We were shown Prey 2 on the Xbox 360 and the visuals were so beautiful that the game looked like it was being shown on a Xbox 720 or as a tech demo, which is surprising since Prey 2 is not on id Software’s Tech 5 engine and instead uses a modified version of Tech 4. Norm described the visuals as “alien noire” with a contrast of very dark areas lit by vivid neon lights. Although the characters don’t look photorealistic, the art direction is one of, if not the best, I’ve ever seen. It’s a cyberpunk fan’s wet dream and if you’re a fan of Blade Runner or Mass Effect, you’re going to be blown away.
Although Prey 2 is being developed by the same studio as the original, the sequel bares little in common with the first. You’ll notice right away that there’s a new protagonist, Killian Samuels, a U.S. Marshal who was onboard the same plane that is briefly shown in the original before it is abducted from Earth by an alien ship. As Samuels, you’ll start off having no memory of your past and fighting for your life on the alien world of Exodus, a planet with one side always facing the sun and the other always being dark. After waking up from the crash, Samuels is incapacitated by the aliens he’s fighting and the story skips forward with Samuels (who has now become stronger and switched from being the prey to the predator) working as an alien bounty hunter. Norm explained that like the first game, Prey 2 is all about self-discovery, and players will uncover more information about Samuels as they progress further through the story.
In addition to a brand-new main character, Prey 2 also introduces a very different style of storytelling from the previous game. Unlike the linear style of the first, Prey 2 allows players to freely roam around areas in the game and choose which missions they want to take on and in what order they wish to take on said missions. P2 seems to be very similar to Mass Effect, not only visually with a cyberpunk Blade Runner feel, but also in terms of allowing you to select from different dialog options. The conversation options we saw weren’t as complex as those in Mass Effect, but are still enough to let you play the game the way you want. There was one point where an alien you come across on the street offers to sell you information; in our demo Samuels chose to just shoot and kill the alien’s friend next to him, which resulted in the alien instantly having a change in character and being scared into giving the information free of charge.
Players are able to also use a scanner device to search for missions, objects, and people/aliens to interact with. The scanner allows players to determine the threat levels of other citizens they come across, and it help aids in their moral and tactical decisions. Just while walking to the first mission, there were incidents occurring on the streets, like a gang of thugs beating an alien. This presented the player with the moral decision to either ignore the event by walking past or rescue the citizen by killing the attackers before they can kill and rob the victim. There was also the option to allow the attackers to kill the citizen, then kill them and rob everyone — but that’s if you’re feeling especially evil.
After using the scanner to look through walls of buildings in the city, Samuels was able to determine that the person he’s after was hanging out inside a club. Each mission allows you to take it on in different ways: you can go in guns-blazing or choose more tactical options to change the outcome. This particular mission had an officer outside the club, which Samuels was able to take as a hostage and alien meat shield. While walking into the club there’s a minute of comic relief as the officer continues to trash talk and insult you while you’re making your way through the club to the main suspect. Immediately upon reaching the room where the main suspect and his goons are, a shootout started, instantly resulting in the officer’s head being blown off (so much for the shield), the suspect quickly escaping out the back door, and an intense parkour chase through the city.
The action while chasing after suspects through the streets and over multiple tiers of buildings was a thing of beauty. Mirror’s Edge and one of Bethesda’s other games, Brink, are two games that instantly come to mind, but Prey 2 seemed to do freerunning even smoother and better than either of the previous two evolutionary games. Since the game is still so early into development, it wasn’t hands-on, so I can’t confirm if the freerunning movement is actually better and easier to use than Brink and ME, but it definitely looked that way from what we were shown. Besides just running smoother, there’s improvements to the freerunning system that allows for players to hang on ledges and lean over and shoot while still hanging. The player movement during the chase scene seamlessly transitioned through the multiple stories of buildings and even jumping from traintop to traintop (while they were moving) when chasing after the suspect through the vast cityscape.
But the chase wasn’t just a player running after a fleeing suspect; there were a lot more aspects that made the chase a real challenge and difficult for the player to catch the perp. We were shown an electric bola weapon earlier on in the demo, and when trying to use it on this particular suspect, it proved to be worthless as he teleported out of range every time the bola lasso device was about to hit him. After a long and epic chase scene, Samuels caught the suspect and used a force field bubble device to trap him in it. Once trapped, the suspect tried to plead with Samuels to let him go and even offered a bribe of more money than his bounty to let him go. Here is where the moral decisions once again play a factor as you’re given the option to screw over who gave you the contract and take the bribe, or use the bubble as a portal and send the suspect back for the original bounty.
Besides fighting and chasing after other human-sized aliens, the end of the preview teased a massive spider-looking boss that looked crazy. Being an almost completely different game than the original with a new way to play the story and battle enemies, Prey 2 is shaping up to be a massive success. With the game still being so far away from its 2012 release date, Prey 2 now has our full attention and is our Most Anticipated Game of E3 2011.