The original Prey released back in 2006, and those of you who actually bought it will remember that it took an innovative new slant on the alien abduction model. Unwitting Native American mechanic-turned-hero Domasi "Tommy" Tawodi became the literal prey against a race of ravening extraterrestrial maruaders while incarcerated in the cavernous bowels of their mothership. Prey's recently-announced sequel, on the other hand, plans to explore the other side of the predator/prey relationship by casting its lead character as a futuristic bounty hunter in a gritty, open alien world (yay!). Who suffers from amnesia (boo).
Killian Samuels is a US Marshall on the trail of a fugitive when the ill-fated Flight 6401 is swept up in the events of the first game. After waking up on the surface of an alien world, he exchanges fire with some mysterious armoured assailants and is quickly subdued by a vicious electrical bolas. Regaining consciousness, Killian realises that he's been on the planet for several years and carved himself a reputation as a fearsome vigilante bounty hunter. Discovering exactly how he did so, whether he'll ever be able to return to Earth along with the reasons behind his latest bout of amnesia will provide the driving force behind the game's storyline. And apparently he'll meet Tommy along the way.
Making a sequel to one of this generation's niche shooters couldn't have been an easy decision, but from what I got to see at E3, it's a decision that's about to pay off in spades.
Bethesda explained that the fact that Tommy literally blew up the setting of the first game provided them with the opportunity to create an entirely new environment for the sequel. Prey 2 takes place on the seedy planet of Exodus, which has been designed around the concept of "Alien Noir." Dark alleys, copious amounts of glaring neon and stark silhouettes provide an eyecatching visual aesthetic that draws on the likes of Blade Runner, Judge Dredd and Cowboy Bebop for inspiration. The planet has a ferociously hot light side (in which few organisms can survive) and a dark side swathed in perpetual midnight, which is where the bulk of the action takes place. According to the developers, Exodus is "a good place to be a criminal and a great place to be a bounty hunter."
As a deputised lawman, Killian is presented with an impressive amount of choice about what missions to take and how to raise money. The gritty cities of exodus provide him with numerous opportunities to collect "Ambient Bounties," which generate around the world and can accepted on the fly. His personal scanner can detect the allegiance and threat levels of everyone he meets (along with whether they have a price on their heads), and sheathing his pistol, the Bethesda rep moved him in search of his first quarry: a dangerous mob boss by the name of Dra'Gar.
It's worth noting that Aliens tend to react very badly to having guns pointed at them (well, wouldn't you?), and this granted Bethesda with the opportunity to introduce an innovative 'threatening' mechanic. Drawing your weapon can 'coax' new information, compliance and all-out servitude out of the more passive members of society, but wandering around with a weapon can quickly get players into trouble with gangs and "The Eye In The Sky" law enforcement robots.
While stalking through the streets on the tail of an informer who knows Dra'Gar's location, Killian wandered past a number of muggings in progress and rampant gang violence against innocent citizens. Intervening will tend to reward the player with extra credits and information, but also puts them at odds with the city's criminal element (who will doubtlessly provide many of his objectives). Killian is free to ignore these events, but a quick scan revealed that one of the assailants was wanted dead or alive. His two friends were quickly dispatched with precise shots from the pistol, and the erstwhile mugger was suddenly confronted with a difficult decision. Bounties will react unpredictably to confrontation; and either run in terror, stand their ground or offer the player a bribe. This one, however, chose to run - and was subsequently gunned down. "Small fry," explained the developer, as Killian callously sauntered off in search of his informant while payment trickled into his account.
The cities of Exodus are deceptively vertical in terms of design, and thanks to some innovative climbing and free-running mechanics, Killian can take advantage of the rooftops and ductwork to reach his objectives. The informer was perched atop a tall building, and simple context sensitive jumps and grabs (demonstrated by Killian raising his hand if a jump is within range) soon allowed him to scamper onto the spacious plaza. The informer was courteous enough, but demanded a huge sum of money in payment for his services. The Bethesda rep explained that Killian could collect more ambient bounties to stump up the cash, but instead, he chose to kick the menacing bodyguard off the roof and pointed his gun at the alien's quivering face. This was a neat demonstration of the aforementioned threatening mechanic, and though the alien agreed to part with Dra'Gar's location, he promised to call upon the player for a free favour at some point in the future. It will be interesting to see how these different character interaction options will affect the storyline as more information becomes available.
Dra'Gar was situated within a lurid alien strip club, and it was time to taste the all-important combat. The mob boss teleported out into the streets and started running, leaving his goons to clear up the mess. The gunplay is incredibly swift and visceral, with seamless transitions between cover, ledges and slides. Killian can shoot while ducking behind cover or even hanging from ledges, and is free to engage his foes in a truly three-dimensional way. Unwary opponents can be used as meat shields (taunting you all the while), and a team of arrogant bodyguards were suddenly lifted from their cover with a well-thrown antigravity grenade; negating their cover and allowing them to be picked off as they gracefully tumbled through the air. Put simply, the combat is slicker, sweeter and more dynamic than practically anything else I witnessed at E3 this year.
Dra'Gar was getting away, but Killian's athleticism allowed him to flank and cut off the fleeing criminal using the rooftops and pipework. Allied gang members occasionally returned fire and attempted to cover the alien's escape, but a few quick shots from Killian's shoulder-mounted rocket launcher made short work of any distractions. Dra'Gar was soon brought down with a well-timed bolas and presented the player with a hefty bribe and the promise of support in his future endeavours if released.
No such luck. Killian imprisoned the fugitive within an interdiction field, which can apparently be used to torture captured bounties for extra credits, information and even new objectives. This runs the risk of killing the target outright, though, and Killian opted to teleport Dra'Gar back to his employers and collect on the bounty. Job done - in spectacular style.
It's still early days for Prey 2, but from what I got to see behind the closed doors of the Bethesda booth, it's clear that the sequel is 0ff to a flying start. We'll keep you posted.