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Prey 2 - Preview [E3 2011]

Scheduling my appointments for E3 is always a bit troublesome in a way since I need to decide which games I really want to see in action and which ones I’m fine with just playing on the showfloor. I know that my life is so “difficult” in how I can decide which game I want to see months before it’s eventually released, but based on how crammed my schedule can become, ditching a presentation in favor of another game or merely walking around the convention center can be a difficult thing to decide.  For my final day at E3 I decided to end things with a game that was either going to blow me away or leave me pissed off: Prey 2.

I’m one of the 25 gamers who played the original Prey game for the Xbox 360 back in 2006 that thoroughly enjoyed it.  Prey may not have been 100% amazing and it was a bit gimmicky at times, but it was a solid FPS effort that thankfully was released before the dudebro era came along.   Due to my fandom of the first Prey game, I opted to end my E3 experience with a closed presentation of Prey 2 since I was intrigued by the open-world design the game is aiming for yet I was still a bit pissed about the new protagonist (Prey 1 hero Tommy merely plays a supporting role).  We hadn’t seen much of Prey 2 prior to E3 aside from a few live-action trailers but after seeing the game in action I think I’m completely sold on the concept of playing a human bounty hunter in a completely alien world with shades of noir.

I’ll admit that to me it’s still tough to swallow the concept of Prey 2 featuring a new protagonist (you play as a U.S. Federal Marshall) who after being abducted by the aliens in the first Prey game is now a human ex-pat on an alien planet.  Even the beginning of the demo was a bit difficult to accept since it featured Killian awakening from a plane crash and immediately beginning to engage in battle (with his government issued pistol) against aliens on a damn planet ship that’s the size of Unicron.  Obviously there may be some narrative content thrown in to flesh out Killian(he stayed silent throughout the entire demo) but the first five minutes basically featured Killian shooting up aliens (armed with oh so terrifying alien weaponry) like it was an everyday occurrence. The action in the start of the demo may have been slightly derivative along with further cementing that the new in thing amongst game developers this year is to include a slide to cover mechanic but it looked fun and had the right amount of on-screen eye candy.

What started off as a somewhat normal game took a turn for the better once the action shifted to the alien planet of Exodus. Yeah, the name of the planet is a bit too conveniently named based on the circumstances of Killian but it isn’t bogged down in being a gritty version of Mos Eisley.  We only saw one part of Exodus (one part of the planet is basked entirely in darkness while the other entirely in light) but if what I saw was any indication then I think the game has some huge potential.  Exodus may be an alien planet filled with guys with glowing domed heads and no eyes but there’s a certain amount of familiarity to the planet (a huge source of artistic inspiration seems to be Blade Runner) but it never once looked boring or perhaps like it was playing things too safe like the Star Wars prequels did.  The section of Exodus shown in the presentation may not have had a completely alien vibe to it by featuring otherworldly elements since steel structures, massive floating security sentries and neon signs were plentiful.

The whole industrial sci-fi ascetic has been done to death in dozens of other games and even movies, but there’s something about Prey 2 where it just stands out.  Such a thing is likely because the game plays incredibly smooth and is one of the better looking titles in the upcoming roster of FPS games bound for release in the next year or so.  No humanoid characters were shown off during the presentation so I don’t know if Prey 2 will suffer from stiff facial animations much like Far Cry 3, but the design and execution of the aliens was really good as each additional eye or foot looked realistic and not too silly.  Exodus itself looked like a proper planet in a way with its dense design as the city didn’t appear to be like it merely presented some key scenarios or like it was a static playground of sorts.  Exodus pretty much is a living planet and that was evident in the gameplay demonstration that was shown.

Prey 2 is pretty much going to make sci-fi action fans totally flip out, or at least I think that’ll be the case since I was pretty much blown away by what I saw.  Taking upon his background as a Federal Marshall Killian opts to become a bounty hunter on Exodus albeit a bounty hunter who uses parkour to navigate the planet and is armed with shoulder rockets and glide gadgets.  We’ve seen a few bounty hunter games appear in the past like the underrated PS2 gem Headhunter or even Star Wars: Bounty Hunter, but Prey 2 is aiming to offer the definitive open-world bounty hunter experience in a game that would have the nod of approval from Dog the Bounty Hunter.

What made Prey 2 really stand out for me and be the perfect way to close out E3 2011 for me is that the traversal mechanics are incredibly smooth.  Platforming in FPS games tend to be an absolute burden (with the exception of Mirror’s Edge) but moving around Exodus looked easy breezy in the presentation.  Even though Killian was jumping across wide gaps to grab a ledge or doing a bit of platforming aboard a moving train, there didn’t look to be any major hitches in the platforming system as it looked really intuitive. Obviously I don’t know if the platforming controls feel incredibly responsive or require a level of precision that the chap from Human Head Studios was able to achieve. But from what I saw in the demo, it appeared as if Prey 2 may borrow elements from the somewhat automate feel the platforming found in Assassin’s Creed in how it appeared to be sticky to an extent. Perhaps Prey 2 will have more extensive platforming sections that do require pure skill, but what was shown in the demo was simply the type of action that encourages gamers to run around and explore the scenery that Exodus offers.

The platforming in Prey 2 just isn’t to provide a side-activity for gamers as it is a pivotal element of the core gameplay.  With Killian being a bounty hunter not all of his bounties will go down quietly with some either opting to engage in shootouts within an alien nightclub while others decide to run or teleport across Exodus as was the case in the demo I saw.  I don’t know if it’ll become an element of the game which will become either too predictable or not that interesting once it occurs for the 25th time, but Prey 2 seems to be built around chasing bounties and then either blasting their heads off or sending them to a prison via a nifty transportation device.  I was able to see two chase segments in Prey 2 and one was totally random in where it ended instead of being pre-scripted and while the 2nd chase segment was entirely scripted.  Even with the second chase mission being scripted, there was still a nice amount of freedom in where the player could pursue the bounty and the scripted path did go along some sections which made the chase exciting in that Hollywood action sort of way.

Prey 2 isn’t just about chasing a bunch of yellow aliens as in some cases it is required to put a few bullets in them through a bit of excessive force.  The roster of weapons Killian has it his disposal is surprisingly rooted in a sort of realism compared to the extreme fantasy elements found in the first Prey game.  I was kind of bummed out to a techno organic gun wasn’t included in the demo but seeing the body of an alien fly off a ledge a good 50ft after being shot in the face with a pistol did put a grin on my face.  In one way Prey 2 may be losing some of the immediate originality that the first Prey had since the weapons presented in the demo may have been cool but are entirely familiar, except for small things like the shoulder mounted rockets.

Armed with a mere pistol it’s still possible to walk into an alien bar like an absolute boss and tear things up like there’s no tomorrow.  The action in Prey 2 was a lot of faster than I expected and it was really visceral since shooting enemies often resulted in a brief slow-motion shot so the gore and blood effects can be appreciated.  The slow-motion shooting in Prey 2 was cool to see but I don’t know if it’ll bog the game down once it happens for the 50th time since it is something that could annoy people over time.  I’m still on the fence a bit about the weapons that Prey 2 will offer but I was more than happy to see some action that was beyond cool and didn’t seem overly derivative in this day and age of CoD copycats and games which take place behind cover for 55% of the time.

Prey 2 may have been one of the few games I saw at E3 this year that I didn’t get any hands-on time with, but it was definitely one of the most impressive titles at the show.  With the ability to tackle missions whenever the player desires and execute them in the manner they want, Prey 2 could provide a rare mixture of originality and freshness amid FPS games these days that are either linear or take four hours to finish.  I think in some ways it’s still a bit disappointing to see the Prey franchise shift from Tommy to Killian and somewhat forgo elements that made the first Prey so appealing (portals, gravity rooms) but I think there’s still enough of a sci-fi aspect to make Prey 2 standout as it is the first major open-world sci-fi game we’ve received this generation.  The mixture of parkour, crazy aliens and bounty hunting freedom may not go over well with the Modern Warfare dudebro generation, but for gamers who enjoy general sci-fi action with dashes of noir influences, then Prey 2 is certain to appeal to you as it’s unlike anything we’ve seen so far.