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BFG 2011: Prey 2 Preview
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 05:58pm 21/04/11 | Comments
At Bethesda's BFG 2011 event, AusGamers caught a first-hand glimpse of Prey 2. Read on for our full thoughts...

If you played the first Prey, chances are you remember a sequence where Tommy fully understands the gravity of his situation while in an elevator; the Earth now just a beautiful vista floating in space, as he ascends to God-knows-where. The Earth wasn’t the only familiar thing in this sequence though, there’s also a jumbo jet that looks markedly out-of-place and, at the time, probably seemed more like a cool aesthetic element to the whole point of the abduction. It turns out it meant a little bit more.

Prey 2 introduces players to Killian Samuals, a US Air Marshall who was aboard that very jumbo jet, and so also a victim of the same alien abduction as Tommy. Unlike Tommy though, Killian is a man ready for action. When he awakes amidst the wreckage of the plane he was on, he’s already armed, and when hostile aliens see him stirring and attack, he’s not afraid to, or incapable of, attacking back. However, even his skills as an Air Marshall aren’t enough for the numbers he’s facing in the unique situation he’s been thrust into, and after a short skirmish that introduces as to the game’s new slide and cover mechanic (which looks very cool, I might add), he’s outnumbered and knocked unconscious.

For spoiler-purposes, the team at Human Head has avoided giving us too much barring that Killian awakens on a planet called Exodus and is now a bounty hunter. Oh, and as far as he can tell, he’s the only human here at all.

There’s no defined link between the aliens who abducted both Tommy and Killian, and the aliens we encounter on Exodus, only that for some reason, Killian has been taken here and that’s that. At least for now.

So immediately we have a very, very different game tied to the same narrative strain. You could argue that it’s a big gamble for Human Head to do this given the positive reception to the first Prey, and the recent ire from fans at the removal of Tommy, odd gravity and portals, but I’m here to tell you they’ve definitely made the right decision.

It’s probably easiest to sum the game up as such: Imagine planet-side Mass Effect 2; any futuristic city will do. Now amplify the detective component of that game, and open the city up to sandbox proportions. Add verticality and parkour gameplay components from Mirror’s Edge; a touch of Batman: Arkham Asylum gadgetry and a gritty, alien noire art-style obviously homaging Blade Runner, and you’re in the ball park for Prey 2.

“One of the things we wanted to do with Prey 2, was explore both sides of the predator/prey relationship,” explains Human Head co-founder, Chris Rhinehart. “In Prey 1 you were pretty much the prey - you would walk into a room and everything would attack you on-sight. [In] Prey 2 we wanted to explore both sides and let you be the predator.”

Immediately as the game opens with Killian on Exodus this statement is true. There are aliens everywhere, but not a one is attacking him. Prey 2 starts you off with an invite, rather than a scare, and it’s in this invite the game’s inner-workings reveal themselves. You have a sprawling and inviting alien metropolis in front of you, and Chris points out this is only one city of three, and given that Exodus is a tidally-locked planet, there’s a light side and a dark side which has allowed the team to be really creative in the environmental design department. For the purposes of our demo, we’re in a dingy, seedy part of the planet somewhere in the middle of the light and dark side; dusk, if you will, which is, again, all the more inviting.

He runs Killian around on-screen for us a bit. The game is running off heavily modified idTech 4 bits and pieces (apparently the timing to shift to idTech 5 was just slightly out), but it looks stunning. The alien noire look they talked about is definitely in check, and all the awesome sci-fi lens flare and neon bloom you could ask for is filling the screen. The first big surprise comes in Chris’ demonstration of verticality, where he takes Killian on a climbing spree and we see, with relative ease, just how tantalising this world is going to be to explore and play in.

The parkour stuff isn’t so much parkour as clever vaulting. Basically, if you see a ledge you assume you should be able to grab, you can. From the ledge you can dangle, pull up a weapon and fire (think vertical firefights), drop to another ledge, or pull yourself up. This, when coupled with the new slide and cover mechanic helps paint a picture of frenetic and epic gun-play, which we actually witness a bit later on in the demo to great effect when Chris is in pursuit of a bounty target... but I digress, we’ll get back to that in a minute.

Despite all of these tools, the game is still very much a shooter. However, Chris is quick to point out they’ve changed the mold just a bit. For example, given not everyone around you is hostile, they put Killian’s gun away until you need it. He points out that it just felt weird talking to NPCs with a gun firmly pointed at their face, and after he mentions it and we all take notice, the removal seems utterly natural and more than relevant - it would be great to see other games like this taking note here.

Killian has a number of great tools in his arsenal, and right now we’re looking for a bounty target. Looking around there are various NPCs wandering around doing their own thing, and it’s possible to switch on a visor that points out areas or characters of interest. Doing so, we see an area of interest where a handful of larger aliens are beating down a smaller alien. This is persistent behaviour , we later learn, and Chris keeps Killian walking on by. If we were to come back after a while, the little alien would likely be dead and the larger ones gone.

So there’s a slight morality component to the game, but it’s not a cut and dry karma system like, say, Fallout. It’s more in place for you to either be a hero, or a jerk. Like Grand Theft Auto, if you do enough damage to the world at-hand, the authorities will take notice, but ultimately freedom-of-choice in how you interact with the game-world is a sandbox game design element. Personally, I think more depth here would have been good, but it clearly won’t break the game either way.

Killian eventually walks into a casino, which is full of aliens dancing to typically awesome sci-fi “alien dance music”. Again he can use his visor to look for targets or characters of interest, doing this also feeds ambient information about the world around you. What species of alien you’re looking at is, their name, etc - all managed on-screen for you to digest. It’s a nicely contextual way to learn about Exodus and piece together your place here, without being overtly in-your-face or menu-centric.

Unfortunately the casino turns up jack, and Chris decides to descend further into the underworld of this area, by visiting an alien stripclub (unfortunately we didn’t see any alien boobs, but the game is due in 2012, so there’s still hope). In here he finds his target who, for the sake of this demo, is actually an “ambient bounty” (so not specifically tied to the game’s core narrative), and when Killian confronts him, he runs. He has a Dead or Alive call out for his name, Alive offering you more reward than dead, of course, but Chris kills him after a minor pursuit anyway. Interestingly, he points out that not every bounty will always run; some offer cash, some offer information, or some are surrounded by enough heavies that they flip the script and attack you.

Chris plays around with the game-world a bit more, until he comes across another bunch of alien thugs attacking another smaller alien. He decides he’s going to do the right thing here and help the little guy out and pulls out his shotgun. Immediately, however, the thugs turn on Killian, “shit!” Chris gasps and in less than two-seconds we’ve seen just how unpredictable the game can be. Nothing ended up being life-threatening, but it offered a nice glimpse at a hopefully random and dynamic experience ahead.

Switching to his scanner again, some Batman: Arkham Asylum comes into play and Killian can see a DNA trail of interest, which he actively follows. Chris tells us this isn’t just a tool for finding trails of interest; being in a firefight with someone and wounding them means if they flee the scene, you can give pursuit after an extended period of time, or keep up if they just happen to be quicker than you.

Eventually the trail leads him to a host of other bad-guys lying in wait. They’re in deep cover and it’s hard for Killian to get a good shot in, so out comes another handy device: anti-grav grenades. Chris pops one of these right into the area the enemy are so well covered and its blast lifts them into the air for a short period of time, leaving you to basically shoot fish in a barrel. Very cool.

Finally, Chris decides to flip through available bounties and takes on a mafia head named Dragaar. This guy has more significance in your job than any of the previous targets we’ve been dabbling with and he’s wanted alive. We also don’t know where he is, however, rumour has it there’s someone who does, and so we go and visit a would-be informant for more information.

Reluctantly, Krux, our informant (who we’re told we’ll actually deal with multiple times throughout the game), decides to give us some dirt and a location for Dragaar, but we need to fork over some cash first. Cash we don’t have. Chris tells us the option here could be to just go and earn enough money to be able to buy the information or we can threaten him and try to bully the goss, which we do. Immediately Krux’s bodyguard pulls his piece but Killian is too quick and makes short work of him, leaving Krux with no choice but to spill the beans. Apparently it won’t always be this easy, but it was just another layer of player-choice the team wanted to inject in the game, and honestly, we’re not complaining.

So armed with the location of our target, Chris takes Killian on a vertical ride to where he is; climbing the walls of this tiered world with ease. He comes across a gap that may be a little too far to jump however, and so shows us one more gadget Killian has in his arsenal - “hover boots”. You can’t actively fly with these on, but you can control an uneasy descent, or carefully guide your way over a precarious gap like the one we’re on now.

He finds the target and stealthily positions Killian behind Dragaar’s number one lieutenant. He takes the grunt hostage and shoots another to make an impact. Everyone turns around now in surprise and after a small exchange of words, Chris tells us from he he could execute his hostage and then take on the others, but he decides to use him as collateral instead. His plans are cut short though, as Dragaar does the job for you, killing his lieutenant and leaving you wide open for attack. Now action is thick and fast and over the next five minutes, Chris uses everything in Killian’s impressive arsenal to chip away at Dragaar’s personal army. Various enemy types fill his ranks and there’s a lot of gameplay variety going on.

Eventually it’s down to Killian and the pursuit of Dragaar who is capable of teleporting, which really puts our parkour abilities to the test. Cornered and out of breath though, Dragaar gives up after a wily dance and offers to pay Killian more than double the bounty on his head is. Here you could accept and then deal with the consequences, of which Chris is somewhat tight-lipped about, but he reveals that in a captured state you also have the option of interrogation where you might find more info regarding the main story-line, other bounties or even just money-earning opportunities. Interrogation, however, also has a high mortality rate and Dragaar is no good to us dead, and so he hands him over to our employers.

Not too soon after though, a transmission comes through from our target’s brother who is pissed at this turn of events and sends out the big guns. And before the screen turns blank marking the end of the demo, we see a hulking alien beast of boss-battle proportions fill the screen Our adventure, it seems, has only just begun.

And just like that Prey 2 makes its way onto our must-have list for 2012. It looks stunning, and the team have done an amazing job creating this new sci-fi world, without abandoning their Prey roots. It’s also revealed in our demo that they haven’t forgotten Tommy and in fact Killian will run into him and we’ll learn just what he’s been up to since stepping through the portal at the end of the first game, while a larger overall picture will slowly reveal itself and both yours and Tommy’s place in this new alien world.

Moreover, the team also revealed there would be no multiplayer this time around, as they’re far more interested in spending all of their efforts on the single-player. The tools they’ve set-up here don’t translate to multiplayer that well either, so in my opinion it’s a good decision on Human Head’s part.

If I did have to point out one thing though, it’s that I’m weary about AI (this is something brought up in my interview, too). The enemies in Prey 1 weren’t that smart, and were basically just cannon-fodder. So far what we’ve seen of Prey 2 is an improvement over this, but I didn’t see too much of a challenge being presented. Given the breadth of Killian’s tools, it seems important the enemy be equipped with enough smarts and tactical recourse to deal with unique player-choices in combat. And unfortunately I just didn’t see this in the demo. 2012 is a long ways off, and Human Head’s Jim Sumwalt addressed my concern in our interview as being one of their key focuses, which is reassuring but until we see solid proof we’re going to remain skeptical on this one, if just to keep the team on their delivery toes.

Everything else though is awesome and we honestly can’t wait to learn more about the world of Exodus and our human place within it.

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