Prey, as in the original 2006 Prey, wasn't exactly a game crying out for a sequel. It was a perfectly serviceable, surprisingly weird shooter about portals, a viscera-laden alien space station orbiting Earth and Native American spirit powers.
Prey was okay, telling a story with plenty of ideas that were fun, but hardly revolutionary. Ultimately it was a series that could have easily have slipped into forgotten history, were it not for troubled production of its successor.
Prey 2 was to be set in the same narrative universe, concerning a US Marshall who becomes a bounty hunter on an alien planet. In 2009 the sequel and IP were acquired by Bethesda; in 2014 the project was officially cancelled.
By that point the new vision of Prey set for release in May would have been in the works at Arkane Studios (best known for Dishonored). This Prey takes place on a space station orbiting Earth and concerns an alien threat, but beyond those base elements it's a very different game: one darker, and with a psychological edge.
As Morgan Yu, players will be tasked with exploring and surviving Talos I, a huge space station overridden by a shape-shifting alien species called the Typhon. Derived from these creatures, which were subject to research aboard the vessel before the events of the game, are powers players will be able to utilise.
At a preview event in London, IBTimes UK went hands on with the game's opening hour, which set the tone and teased its mysterious plot.
The game starts in Yu's apartment on the day he or she (players have the choice) embarks on a series of tests before travelling to Talos I. The player can take a look around the apartment before getting a helicopter ride over the city towards the testing facility, where they are greeted by Yu's brother Alex.
These tests are the game's basic tutorial, but it doesn't outstay its welcome and Arkane Studios toys with the formula just enough, adding a constant feeling that something isn't right which ramps up the tension. We won't spoil the details, but before long players are aboard the derelict space station searching for answers to a mystery steeped in scientific intrigue.
The demo concludes with Morgan returning to his office, just off the station's main foyer, which the player reaches after making their way through an authored, linear portion of the station designed to introduce the base elements of Prey's gameplay: enemy encounters, approach options that offer branching paths and neuromods, which allow players to upgrade abilities and skills.
Before we get into how the game plays though, we should address the overwhelming similarity Prey has to BioShock - Irrational Games' classic. The marketing for Prey has certainly indicated that Prey might evoke the beloved series in play as well as the Art Deco-stylings of its setting, but it at times feels identical, to the point I briefly wondered whether Prey might be a stealth sequel (which it almost certainly won't be... probably).
The dilapidated setting, the open, exploratory nature, the feel of its weapons, the use of a wrench for melee combat, the world-building texts and audio logs, the voices communicating to and guiding the player, neuromods essentially acting as plasmids. It seems BioShock wasn't just an inspiration for Prey, but the blueprint and foundation.
Of course, mimicking BioShock is no bad thing. It's a highly-regarded classic for a reason, but nothing about the opening hour of Prey grabbed me in the same way, perhaps because its setting and story are more conventional. That's not to say the full game will not, there's certainly plenty of evidence that it may.
The demo is dashed with hints at what will help the full game stand apart. For example, the Typhon enemy mimics items in the environment. At any moment a stall, bin, even or a corpse might reanimate as one of these spindly black nightmares - which look give-or-take exactly like the alien enemies in the cancelled XCOM shooter from 2010. This made us jump the first time, the second time and, we assume, continue to make us jump for the duration of the game.
These aliens are what the scientists aboard Talos I were experimenting on before they broke loose, ran amok and killed almost all the crew. These experiments resulted in abilities that Yu and the player will be able to wield, but which weren't available in our demo. These powers include the ability to mimic and control objects in the environment - a cup for example - which will be useful in solving certain puzzles.
These powers, plus Prey's GLOO Cannon, which fires huge globs of adhesive that coat and restrict the movement enemies, as well as creating platforms to allow players to get around, are hopefully signs of other inventive tools to come.
Towards the end of the demo a second Typhon enemy type, with a more humanoid appearance, was introduced. Larger and more threatening, instinctively I ducked away and tried to avoid confrontation. When I engaged it (to see how such an encounter would play out) I hit it with a flurry of attacks before it whipped into the ether and vanished from view.
The eerie stillness that remained was a feeling I hope Prey can instil many times over, and was the surest sign that despite smacking heavily of another, likely better game overall, Arkane Studios' latest can live up to the developer's lofty reputation.