Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Of all the games that Bethesda brought to its BFG showcase in Utah, Prey 2 was certainly the most intriguing. After all, Skyrim and Rage are entities that we’re vastly aware of on their own, while Hunted and Brink we’ve already seen on countless occasions. Prey 2 though, after hearing there’s no multiplayer, no gravity walks and no portal gameplay returning from the original, is now an almost completely unknown entity.
The first question is obviously, “If this has no portals et al, how is this Prey?” Well, I’m glad you asked… or should I say, I asked. In short, it’s set in the same universe, occurs alongside the events of the original and you get to meet Tommy. Okay, so maybe it’s a little deeper than that and it revolves around the same themes too, like alien abduction and the prey/predator relationship, although the main man this time, Killian Samuels, is more of a predator than prey… like Tommy.
While the original was a linear corridor shooter, Prey 2’s gameplay couldn’t be any further away if it tried. Actually, it did try… it’s now an open-world sandbox game with elements of parkour. Sure, it’s still a first-person shooter, but with an all-new cover system, freedom and plenty of “player choice,” this is very much a different game despite the name on the box.
The action in the sequel kicks off with the chief protagonist, Samuels, on a plane that gets abducted by the Watchers and events transpire that see Samuels take on the role of bounty hunter on the surface of the planet Exodus – taking out the alien trash. Aside from catching a glimpse of the opening moments where Killian crashes on the alien planet, the majority of Human Head Studios’ gameplay demo took place in an area called the Central City Bowery.
The Bowery, according to Human Head, is the cesspit of Exodus, attracting unwelcome busybodies with its red light districts and “seedy” bars, casino, strip joints and the like. In essence, it’s very much like Mass Effect’s Omega. Human Head are keen to label the art “alien noir,” but we’re keen to label that PR speak, after all, the Blade Runner and Mass Effect inspirations are abundantly clear – you can’t invent an art style if your world is derivative. True story.
Prey 2 says a big hello to an expanded skillset of moves, with Killian able to slide into cover; lean out of cover and shoot; and even jump large distances, catch ledges, shimmy and shoot and fire from ledges too – action parkour we’ll call it. As Killian jumps his way around the dank, neon-soaked world of Exodus, grabbing onto pipes and shimmying from platform to platform, the parkour elements come into their own.
If there was one thing that Human Head was keen to push with its new sandbox foundations, it’s that “player choice” will play a big role. Aside from the main linear story, what you do outside that is entirely up to you. Using the visor to scan for potential missions – blue targets are ambient bounties, yellow are people of interest, while red targets are about to kick your ass – players can choose to assist unfortunate aliens who are taking a beating on the streets, seek out informants for information, collect bounties or a whole host of other activities. Of course, players can choose to help or hinder things, or if they want, just kill everyone involved.
The first of the two proper side missions that we caught a glimpse of saw Killian move in to assist an alien who was the subject of some abuse in one of the Bowery’s nooks and crannies. Unfortunately for Killian, he was too late, but that doesn’t stop the bounty hunter avenging the alien’s death. An over reaction some may think, but seeing a pile of a dead alien bodies piled up told us these guys were trouble. Using the visor, Killian scans the DNA trail to see where the tracks lead him and in typical damn-it’s-a-bit-quiet-around-here fashion, the bounty hunter stumbles upon another similar situation. Using the anti-grav wave gadget, which places a cylindrical stasis field around his opponents that lifts them off the ground, it’s easy pickings for Killian as he blasts away at the pair, before talking to the victim of the two (now dead) thug’s angst to collect a princely sum of cash. You can just as easily kill him and loot him though… although that’d be rather pointless.
The second of the two missions saw Killian get his bounty hunter boots on and head after a target. This is after he chased – and killed – an ambient target that his visor picked up on the streets. The target: Dra’Gar, the Collective Leader. Whereabouts: unknown. Objective: capture alive. First things first then, find the whereabouts of the target. Killian’s first job is to see out Knux, an informant, and after locating him via parkour and dispatching his hired thugs, he’s more than happy to help – shock!
Killian’s target then, thanks to the information from Krux, is holed up in a club. After using the hover boots to get from high up to down low in a heartbeat, Killian descends upon the club. Using the visor to see through the wall, we spy Dra’Gar, surrounded by plenty of armed guards, but as soon as Killian enters the club, the Collective Leader bolts. What proceeds is a chase scene through the club and the surrounding streets, with Dra’Gar’s footmen stepping in along the way to slow you down. Unfortunately for Killian, Dra’Gar has the ability to teleport short distances and thus, attempting to hogtie him with Killian’s electrically charged wire ropes is futile. Along the way in a lengthy chase scene, Killian uses grenades, deployable shields, dodges mines and uses night vision, until he has Dra’Gar cornered. The cowardly target then proceeds to attempt to bribe Killian for his freedom, which the bounty hunter flat refuses before capturing him in a statis bubble and sending him back to his handler for payment. Unfortunately for Killian that decision triggers a series of events that sees a character called S’Dyi – a giant worm-like beast – come after the main man for vengeance, thus, ending the demo.
Based on the 30 minute demo, Prey 2 does seem to demonstrate a good pacing, with time to explore mixed in with pockets of intense action. Human Head told the onlooking press that they were targeting 15 hours of gameplay for the average player, but as with any sandbox title, that depends on how far you step off the beaten path. With over 20 gadgets, 40 upgrades, 20 weapons, 3 huge main outer maps, at least 6 alien races, an honour system similar to Red Dead Redemption's and the promise that there'll be answers to the questions regarding what Tommy has been up to since the original, there is plenty of thought and precision being sunk into the sequel that will keep fans of the original occupied. Whether they’ll be happy with the U-turn in the main gameplay pillars remains to be seen, however.
Although Human Head is keen to push Prey 2 as a direct sequel, we can’t help but think that it’s more of spiritual successor. That in a way is both good and bad. Bad, because we were huge fans of what Human Head brought to a potentially stale genre with the original, but happy because its newly directed impetus does boast a certain degree of potential. Picture a Blade Runner-esque sandbox with the free-running mechanics of Mirror’s Edge and more gadgets than James Bond’s Q could ever imagine; that right there my friends is Prey 2. Vastly different from its predecessor, but by no means any less intriguing.
Prey 2 is scheduled for a 2012 release.
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