Prey 2 Eyes-On2 Sep 2011
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Since 2006 Barack Obama has become the United States’ first black President, Spain have won the World and European Cups, swine flu has come and gone, the economy has gone haywire and London was torn down by a bunch of kids who fancied an early upgrade to their mobile phones.
2006 was when the first Prey was released on Xbox 360 and PC, given the length of time and major events that have taken place in the intervening period I think it’s safe to say that the team at Human Head Studios can be pretty much do what they want with Prey 2 with anybody getting too upset. There have been bigger things to worry about and/or celebrate.
And, it seems, Human Head Studios are not afraid to do whatever they want. Over the course of our 20 minutes-ish demo, it’s clear that things have changed… a lot. If you’re hoping for a repeat of the gravity puzzling, alien fearing, Cherokee Indian playing that come to define the first game, then prepare yourself for disappointment. Everyone else, however, should sit up and take notice because Prey 2 is bigger, more ambitious and more sophisticated than its predecessor ever was, or attempted to be.
What we already knew coming into this latest demo was that the first game’s protagonist Domasi ‘Tommy’ Tawodi is out and a newcomer, Air Marshall Killian Samuels, in is. However, it has also been confirmed that Tommy will appear in the game and have a part to play in its story – but the worthwhile details are being kept under wraps by the powers that be at Bethesda.
Players of the first game will remember an incident in which a commercial airplane crashed into a construct known as the ‘Sphere”, an incident that turns out to be an alien abduction rather than a simple accident. This is where Prey 2 begins; Killian Samuels was on that plane. After a brief intro cut-scene and a shoot-out against a few aliens amidst the wreckage of the vehicle (Air Marshall’s are allowed to carry guns on planes) our new hero is knocked out.
Fast forward a few years and (according to the Bethesda rep demoing the game to us) “roughly 25% of the full game” and Killian finds himself in Central City, on the planet Exodus, with no memory of what has happened in the intervening time. What he does remember is that he’s now a bounty hunter and a damn good one at that.
“In the first game you were hunted by the aliens, this time you’re the hunter. You’re the one they fear,” we’re colourfully informed by Bethesda during the presentation. In the open-world, vibrantly decorated, complex claustrophobic layout of Central City you’re the big dog and it’s immediately clear why the aliens should (and do) fear you.
For starters you can move like a cat around the city, leaping across gaps, sliding under low clearance ceilings/bars and nimbly climbing ledges, walls and railings. Throughout all of these actions, no matter their complexity or required dexterity, Killian can use his weapons to attack enemies; ridding the parkour of a degree of the vulnerability that comes with such actions in a game in Brink, for example.
Given the tall architecture and your ability to traverse it quickly and swiftly there’s an emphasis on combat that takes place over a number of tiers; enemies attacking from above and below as well as from your own level. For this reason combat seems to be most effective when moving quickly and continuously to both avoid enemy fire and flank around to advantageous positions.
The missions we witness were all concerned with the hunting of bounty targets. When you manage to track them down, different targets react in their own way. For example, one bounty took off and fled through the city on foot when we walked up to them and asked him to come along without a fuss. Thus ensued a chase with an enemy that can teleport across short distances; an ability that was nicely countered by Killian’s parkour expertise.
Of course, you don’t need to adhere to the nicely-nicely approach. Instead of asking a target to join you, you can simply kill them without any prior communication. However, the population of the city do react to your actions and the kill-first approach is not likely to make you many friends. Not that true friends are something you’re likely to make easily anyway, “No one is truly innocent in Central City,” say Bethesda, “it’s a good place to be a criminal, it’s a great place to be a bounty hunter.”
That film noir-esque sensibility runs through not only the character of the city’s people but through its visuals, too. Dubbed “alien noir”, Central City looks like a mash-up of Bladerunner, The Fifth Element and Ghost in the Shell with a stark use of vibrant primary colours juxtaposed against solid blacks and dull greys. Suffice to say it looks nice and moody.
To give some insight into the manner of the city’s establishments, one bar featured hologram strippers with clientele ogling nearby as they down drinks that look positively toxic (and certainly not fully legal) that they’ve bought from a less-than-reputable looking barman. Hardly the kind of place you’d find in Kensington or Greenwich on an average night out.
Our demo ended with a battle against a giant alien (that we presume is kept as some sort of pet) that was called in to kill us by the brother of our most recent bounty victim. As with more human-sized bad guys, the key to victory lay in constant movement and firing while running, jumping, sliding or whatever circus grade move you happen to pulling off at the time.
Considering the nature of the previous game, the difference in design and graphical approach is initially surprising but ultimately welcome (at least for the duration of this particular demo); things are more complex, more intriguing and seemingly more fun. Then again, I’m a sucker for a good bit of alien noir… whatever that means.