A quick primer on the space-based adventure ahead of tomorrow's release
Tomorrow marks the release of merely the second Prey game ever, but over the years Prey itself has been a million different things to a million different people. In order, it was a touted late-Nineties PC shooter that would be released alongside 3D Realms' game-changing Duke Nukem Forever. It was a solid console shooter released a decade after it was originally announced. It was a cool, smoky alien-noir sequel carrying a ton of hype out of the 2011 E3 show before being quietly cancelled. And now, it's an FPS-RPG reboot from Dishonored creators Arkane Studios, which completely gutted the original fiction of the franchise to create something entirely new. Prey is, without a doubt, one of the strangest video game franchises of all time. And if you plan on trekking through Arkane's latest space-horror odyssey this weekend, you should at least be aware of the context. Here is everything you need to know about Prey.
What was the deal with the first Prey?
Prey came out in 2006 for the PC and Xbox 360, but it was in active development since 1995. The design was originally conceived by 3D Realms, the defunct studio most famous for their profound inability to deliver Duke Nukem Forever. Prey was showcased at E3 in 1997 and again in 1998, and the German industrial band KMFDM was on deck to write the game's soundtrack. Unfortunately, numerous technical problems stalled development until the turn of the millennium. Thankfully, Human Head Studios took the reins and finished 3D Realms' vision shortly thereafter. The game itself was pretty solid – the very same old-school FPS adventure with the sort of 10-hour-plus campaign that is extremely out of fashion in 2017. You play as Domasi Tawodi, a former marine and garage mechanic who is abducted into a disgusting, organic alien ship called "The Sphere." Tawodi, of course, shoots his way through the ship before commandeering the controls and driving it directly into the sun. The game ends as you walk through a portal, ostensibly to visit other worlds in peril, with the words "PREY WILL CONTINUE" blasted across the screen.
So why did it take so long for them to make a sequel?
Well, there actually was supposed to be a Human Head-developed Prey 2. It was announced in 2011 and took place several years after the events of the first game. You played as a fellow human abductee who has carved out a living as a bounty hunter on the Blade Runner-esque world of Exodus. It looked pretty cool, but much like the first game, development ground to a halt shortly after it was announced. In 2012, new publisher Bethesda told Eurogamer that Prey 2 "did not currently meet [their] quality standards," which is a quietly devastating indictment. In 2013, it was reported that the license had switched hands to Arkane Studios – and sure enough, Bethesda officially announced the reboot at last year's E3.
Does this new Prey sequel have anything to do with the cancelled game?
So, this new game is simply called "Prey" – no numbers, no subtitles – and it's a hard reboot of the franchise. It's 2032 in an alternate timeline where John F. Kennedy was never assassinated and instead doubled-down on the American space program. You play as Morgan Yu, who has just woken up on Talos I, one of the original JFK space stations that is still orbiting the moon. You are alone, save for the rancorous alien race (called Typhons) who desperately want to kill you. They have the ability to appear as everyday objects in your field of vision, which means you can walk over to a potted plant and suddenly be under attack. We still don't know the full scope of the narrative (Yu's primary goal is likely to not get eaten) but it's safe to say you don't get dumped on a space station without being injected into some sort of conspiracy. Arkane has mentioned that Yu will quickly realize that she's at a center of an experiment on "what it means to be human," and it's up to you to parse the clues of what exactly went so sideways on Talos I. They've also hinted at some narrative-splitting moral choices, which brings to mind hybrid-FPS classics like Bioshock and System Shock 2.
That all sounds cool, what can I expect from the gameplay?
From Glixel's hands-on impressions, Arkane's Prey feels a lot like Dishonored (makes sense, considering Dishonored 2 and Prey were being worked on at the same time) and as Morgan Yu you will have access to a customizable, RPG-like skill tree. You'll also be able to adopt some of the abilities the Typhons use (like telekinesis, mind control, and, yes, the ability to turn into inanimate objects.) You do this by finding "neuromods" around the world that you inject directly into your eye. The structure of the levels themselves will include multiple branching paths and there will be a crafting system – which we hope will be both engagingly tactile and easy to use – and a suite of weapons that seem hilariously out of context, like the GLOO Cannon, which fires instant-setting glue that bonds enemies to the ground. It's the sort of thing a space janitor would use to make repairs. Arkane are touting the "wombo-combo" potential of the player arsenal, so you can do stuff like coat a Typhon in glue and blast them in the air with the "lift field" neuromod. Naturally, they'll shatter when they hit the ground again.
Of course, you can always just use the shotgun. Prey is friendly to conventional weaponry too. Again, there's probably no better comparison than Dishonored. If you're into that slow-paced, thoughtful style of FPS, Prey will be right up your ventilation shaft.
But really, no connection to the previous games at all?
Speaking on a Bethesda Game Studios livestream last year, Arkane Studios Raphael Colantonio declared "Prey is not a sequel, it's not a remake, it has no ties with the original. You have to look at it like a re-imagining of the IP." So unless Bethesda is playing the long game and Domasi Tawodi is the secret Big Bad behind the curtain, you might as well go into this new game without worrying about any decades-in-the-making story payoffs. Which, given its bumpy history, might be for the best.