When you consider the quality and production of Bethesda titles, it’s hard to ignore the publisher’s stance on originality. You can gripe and moan all you like about the bugs that plagued The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Fallout: New Vegas and even Fallout 3, but the experiences had with each of those games, and the investment put into them by Bethesda cannot go understated. Bugs aside, my time with Skyrim remains one of my most enjoyable gaming experiences of the past few years through its fostered emergent components that allow each player to not only have a uniquely distinct gameplay experience, but to also craft their own story from its myriad lines of lore laced throughout.
Obviously amidst this honourable crowd of mentioned games is Bethesda’s latest release, Dishonored. Haling from Arkane Studios (Arx Fatalis, Dark Messiah of Might and Magic), and seemingly out of nowhere, Dishonored has taken this year’s release manifest by storm, jump-starting jaded critics and punters alike while bolstering what I’ve been referring to over the past few years as a renaissance for the first-person genre by way of its expanded, engaging systems, open levels and rich game-world.
Call of Duty (and Battlefield) may have energised the base for the West’s most popular field-of-view genre, but their linear approach to storytelling and vanilla point-and-shoot foundations have left the narrative and creative gameplay components of this type of game lacking during their respective reigns, despite both having such solid multiplayer foundations (arguably the point of each game, but for the purpose of this discussion, we’re focusing more on single-player experiences), and it’s only in more recent years that through the sheer safety in sales of a game being first-person in the first place, has anyone taken both the plunge and
risk to foster new, innovative and original ideas and IPs.
There’s a decent list of games that have emerged during the modern military shooter era that have bucked the popular trend in place of what could be described as more “core” gamer preferentials in the single-player space. The aforementioned Dishonored is one, and the design tangent arguably began this generation with Irrational’s BioShock, while in between we saw the likes of Fallout 3 (and New Vegas), Borderlands (1 and 2), Minecraft, The Darkness, Hard Reset, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Portal 2, Metro 2033, Mirror’s Edge and Skyrim, to name a handful. Interestingly, all of those mentioned are fairly removed from one another, even if they are sequels, yet each of them made an indelible mark on the industry in some fashion.
To this end, it was a sad day when reports started flooding in that Bethesda and Human Head would not be delivering the saliva-inducing Prey 2 I’d seen a handful of times throughout 2011. Despite much chagrin among the Prey hardcore for its total shift in focus from gravity-defying corridors, portals and Native Americanism
, the tantalising idea of playing as a US Marshall who was aboard the jumbo jet initially seen crashed into the sphere of, and in, the first game, living on an alien planet and
as a bounty-hunter no less, was more than enough for me. Add to this a parkour system that was more in-line with the rough and tumble representation of the ‘sport’ by Daniel Craig’s Bond in Casino Royale, than of the antagonist he’s chasing (or the likes of Mirror’s Edge’s Faith), and you have a game most people should be lining up for.
So what happened? And why is it important the game still emerges from the shadows, despite a decent looking continuation of first-person titles in 2013?
The answer to the first question seems shrouded in a bit of mystery (and likely misery), because the level of polish from the team, and support from Bethesda throughout its unveiling tour was of the highest calibre. Add to this a highly produced CG trailer
from the folks at Blur (and featuring a Johnny Cash song, no less), and there had to be some serious tumult behind the game’s halted production. On the clean-up over the seemingly “limbo” state of things, reports went from outright “cancelled” to simply “on hiatus” across a myriad of misquotes, speculation and alarm.
The truth is, neither company has stated an official end to production of the game, and in fact, it’s still listed as a product with assets on Bethesda’s press site. Obviously this isn’t an indication either way, but I find it alluring in the affirmative and hopeful proof
we’ll be seeing Prey 2 at some point, somewhere.
So then to answer the second question of its importance, and to bring this feature’s existence into light, a look ahead to 2013 begs a bit of a question about quality and quantity. In fact, next year is as dark a gaming year as we’ve seen in a long time, with question marks looming over things like the Wii U’s presence, what Microsoft and Sony will do in the wake of so much next-gen whispering, and where this first-person renaissance can go once BioShock Infinite inevitably blows our minds come February.
Microsoft essentially has only one ‘core’ title left on their radar with Gears of War: Judgment from the team behind Bulletstorm while Sony’s major trump card is resting on the shoulders of both The Last of Us and David Cage’s BEYOND: Two Souls -- none of which are of the first-person variety. Other solid options also include Dead Space 3, Tomb Raider, Thief 4 and the behemoth Grand Theft Auto V, but again, nothing here offers a 100-degree FOV. This then leaves the last known first-person stragglers like Crysis 3, Metro: Last Light and Aliens: Colonial Marines hovering around the Triple-A area, and it’s arguable the latter isn’t quite that.
Of course there are a number of question marks also surrounding less-known first-person games, such as ARMA 3, Survarium and Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 in regards to quality, while bigger, fatter (red) question marks have us wondering about Homefront 2, which is reportedly being handled by Crytek UK (formerly Free Radical) and its fate given the sinking ship that appears to be THQ, and Bungie’s first Activision affair, Destiny, which was outed during the Infinity Ward court proceedings. And what of Respawn’s mystery project -- is it likely to be a first-person outing?
There are more too, such as Ubisoft’s Rainbow 6: Patriots, the Rise of the Triads reboot, Terminal Reality’s The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct and Warframe, but none of them are likely to turn heads the way we’ve seen games like BioShock, Portal 2 or Dishonored have which is why I’ve currently set the bar at Irrational’s forthcoming sky lark, BioShock Infinite (see what I did there?). Comparing that and most of the been-and-gone aforementioned to the likes of the military monsters that will undoubtedly fill out the end of 2013 with Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty: Whatever
(speculation on next year’s CoD is a whole nother kettle of fish entirely), just wouldn’t be right. So what we need is more lateral first-person design and less corridor. Enter Prey 2.
We actually don’t know what Bethesda’s plans are for 2013 yet, and there’s probably a very good reason they’ve been so tight-lipped. Obviously based solely on this feature I’d love to see Prey 2 see
the light of tidally-locked day, but we also don’t know what the ex-Starbreeze guys over at MachineGames have been up to since ZeniMax brought them into the Bethesda stable, nor do we know what Resident Evil legend, Shinji Mikami, and his crew at Tango Gameworks are working on since they were handed the same opportunity (I’d bet my first-born it’s not first-person though).
So the future of the Dishonored publisher’s games manifest is really anyone’s guess, and given the Prey 2 license is in their hands, it’s a strong bet we will see the game at some point. Whether or not it’s at the hands of developer Human Head though, remains to be seen. Since halting development on Prey 2 they’ve been working on a sequel to another of their IP, Rune, and although Bethesda apparently now own the Prey license, there’s no reason Human Head couldn’t rebrand the work they’ve already put into the game in the same vein Sleeping Dogs developer, United Front, did with what was formerly True Crime (as suggested
by VG247’s Brenna Hillier).
There is the possibility though, that Bethesda own the codebase for what Human Head were working on, which would make things slightly more difficult. The problem here would be largely with another team working with someone else’s vision, as Human Head had been working on the sequel since before Bethesda nabbed it up. It wouldn’t be out of the realms of possibility for them to pull another team over to the project, and hey, it could very well be MachineGames or the like, but I hope not.
The reasons for a need for Prey 2 to continue to help in the growth and prosperity of my so-called first-person renaissance is despite it having been five years since the release of the first Prey, Human Head showed remarkable foresight with their sequel. Components such as vertical combat (and not just platforming), gadgetry (as gameplay systems), sandbox target design, art-direction and basic player-to-character progression jumped off the screen with design maturity. It was the simple things like protagonist, Killian, lowering his weapon when approaching NPCs because the developer thought it was weird to have a gun pointed in the face of everyone you spoke to. Or the game’s incredibly obvious approach to sci-fi, alien city design and the subsequent verticality, exploratory and combative opportunities that emerged as a result. Then there’s the sheer idea of flipping the hunter/prey side of things on its, well, side
. In the first game you had no idea what was going on and the game’s hero was a reluctant one, at best. In Prey 2, as a bounty hunter and seemingly the only human on the planet Exodus, the entire point of the first game is flipped like so much gravity the team toyed with in Tommy’s tale.
As far as sequels go, let alone games that push the envelope of design by way of player-choice and progressive mechanics, Prey 2 was the shit.
The importance of a game that is a true sequel and not some brand reimagining like Far Cry 3 (which is looking sweet, I might add), and stands almost as an antithesis in design to not only its predecessor, but more specifically the outdated and over-the-top narratives of modern, linear shooters, cannot go understated. If anyone of importance at either camp reads this, whatever you do, please respect what this game was clearly attempting to accomplish.
I’ll live if Prey 2 never emerges from its limbo state, but only just. As I’ve explored throughout this feature, though not clear, there’s at least a handful of solid first-person games emerging post 2012’s close out. And while in all honesty I can’t see what I see in the likes of BioShock Infinite, Dishonored or Prey 2 beyond the absolute former so far, with a new gen looming on the horizon and a hopeful
battening down of the first-person renaissance hatches from the continued success of the likes of those mentioned (and reminders of those we miss, like Prey 2) the future for this burgeoning growth in original, innovative and compelling first-person games is not over yet.