Arkane Studios appeared on everybody's radar back in 2012 when they released Dishonored, the immensely successful first-person stealth game where you play as Corvo, the Royal Protector to the Empress, but where you're framed for her murder and spend the rest of the game trying to prove your innocence and save her daughter, Emily. Dishonored 2 was released last year to similarly glowing critical acclaim, continuing Corvo and Emily's story, having them both as playable characters this time around. They've opted to stick to a similar route with their next game, Prey.
Set on the moon-orbiting space station Talos I, the player controls Morgan Yu, a human whose gender can be defined by the player, along with various other attributes. The purpose of Talos I is to house and confine a hostile alien collective known as the Typhon, but somewhat predictably the Typhon manages to escape. Morgan must scavenge and collect various weapons and resources available aboard the station to fend off the aliens, while traversing the station, often returning to previously explored areas Metroidvania-style. Morgan even learns some of the aliens' powers over time, such as the mimic ability, which allows him/her to transform into everyday items such as a chair or a coffee mug.
It's with that in mind, when we were at PAX East, that we had the chance to talk to Ricardo Bare, lead designer at Arkane Austin, about the direction the game is heading, the various forms of the Typhon, and everything else Prey.
Dishonored was a title that allowed the player to tackle each objective in a plethora of different ways, often having multiple routes for stealth alone. Arkane have taken the same approach with Prey, with Bare saying one of the team's core values is "to make games where players are empowered and can approach problems, fights, and challenges with their own tools and their own ways to solve them."
As well as players being able to tackle situations in different and unique ways, the aliens tend to do the same thing too, a formula that creates some interesting moments. "I was watching Seth (lead systems designer) rehearse earlier today about how we're going to play the game (for the demonstration) and he was fighting this creature called a Phantom," he told us. "The Phantom hit him, but knocked over an explosive tank that blew up and Seth flew out of the room, crashed through the window and landed in the next room over. I was shocked that it happened. There's always surprising stuff like that."
The Typhon can take on various different forms in the game, and react to how you play, something that we also talked about with Bare. "There's a creature called the Nightmare," he explained, "and there's certain things you can do which will attract its attention, it'll appear in the level and hunt you down. When I was playing, I thought I was safe and was crafting stuff with a bunch of neuromod upgrades, and I forgot that's one of the things that will grab the Nightmare's attention. I did that while I was in my office and it broke inside, killed all my allies and then killed me."
A lot of Prey is about solving a mystery: who are you, why are you there, what are you going to decide as you progress? You'll have to make decisions based on what you learn about yourself, either agreeing or disagreeing with your past actions (an idea which reminded us of Total Recall). There's two main endings to the game depending on the choices you make, but there are "tons of little permutations" based on specific events, seemingly similar to how a number of games - from Fallout: New Vegas to Mass Effect 3 - have tackled it. It's a trick that, along with some random enemy placement, adds replayability to the campaign, encouraging players to make a second pass to see what happens if things play out differently (Arkane themselves reckon a single play-through will take between 16 and 22 hours).
The Prey universe itself is an alternate timeline from our own, where John F Kennedy survived the assassination attempt in 1963 and subsequently gave more funding to the space program. The Typhon were drawn to human activity in space which caused them to attack Earth, but the United States and the U.S.S.R joined forces to repel them, and built Talos I to act as a prison for the alien threat. The game is set in 2032, where scientists have developed technology that allows the Typhon to be controlled by humans and harness their powers to grant superhuman abilities.
Duality is a concept Prey tackles through the decisions you make, how you approach different situations, but also with how you upgrade your character. "The main way you upgrade yourself is through these little devices called Neuromods, you inject them into your eye and they change your brain" Bare said, "and there's a whole family of skills that are all human based; hacking, repairing, standard skills like that. But then there's also a whole family of skills that are based on the powers you can learn from the aliens.
"So you can play the entire game deciding not to touch the alien powers, even though they're really powerful, as they can have consequences for using them, so you can just be a pure human. Or, you can decide to go big time into the alien powers and become more alien, and those powers are super awesome. Or you can mix and match, but you'll never be able to find enough Neuromods to max both out, so you kind of have to make a decision along the way."
We actually talked to Bare last year, and back then we asked about any potential limit to the powers you can unlock. "You can use the powers as much are you want," he explained at the time, although he added that there are limitations. For example, "you can mimic anything that is roughly your size or smaller, and it has to be a free object, so something that isn't bolted to the ground. Typically, most of the physics objects in the games are objects you can carry in your inventory, you can mimic those."
Opting for abilities from both trees has its perks, as certain skills can be combined for powerful results. One example Bare mentioned is the Remote Manipulation ability found in the alien tree that allows you to interact with things from a distance, such as computers. Combining this with the human hacking ability means you can do things like hide under a desk and hack a computer or robot from the other side of the room, which is perfect for stealthy players.
We've seen similar combinations of abilities and powers in gameplay videos and during earlier previews, and given Arkane's penchant for creating systemically driven games that allow for player expression and emergent possibilities, we're very much looking forward to exploring these new powers and their potential applications. With Dishonored 2 still very much fresh in the memory, our expectations are suitably high. With that in mind, Prey is shaping up to be one of the most interesting games of 2017. It releases on May 5 for PC, PS4, and Xbox One.
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