There's no doubt about it: Prey is a cool name for a video game. It's so cool in fact that Bethesda kept the IP alive despite the middling success of the first game, and the subsequent troubled and storied development of Prey 2. But we're not here to dwell on the past, instead we're going to look to the future, and consider what might come to pass when Arkane has finished putting their stamp on the science fiction property that first made an appearance on PC and Xbox 360 a decade ago, albeit in a very different form.
At first it was part puzzler, part alien blaster, and following that who knows what we'd have gotten if Human Head had finished their work on what looked a drastically different sequel. But they didn't, and when immersive sim experts Arkane Studios were put on the case, it was always going to be a very different end result. Having seen the new trailer and an extended hands off presentation at QuakeCon, we've got a few new details to share and a tantalising glimpse at a potential sci fi classic in the making.
The new Prey is set on a space station. It's not quite open world, but it is much more open ended than Dishonored, the studio's last (and next) game. It looks stunning, and it bears the Arkane touch; a dash of opulence and excess throughout the world design, in this case we noticed gold trim on the stairs and other subtle hints that once again point to an exploration of wealth and power that we've seen previously in Dunwall.
But this isn't Dunwall, far from it. Steampunk stylings and Victorian mythology are left behind in favour of the blackness of space and an alien enemy more mysterious than anything we've seen from the studio so far. The design of this new adversary is unique enough that it avoids easy comparison. There's hints of Soma in their ghostly composition, but that's as close as we can get; Arkane has done a good job of coming up with something that feels different in the sci-fi space (and that's no mean feat).
There's something otherworldly about them, and as the hands off demo advanced we got to see more developed enemy types. Later on in the demo there was a creature called a Phantom that looked like it could shapeshift, which would certainly create a problem for players, especially considering the fact that weapons are going to be rare. As Arkane explained, there are going to be multiple ways of solving problems, and weapons are just one of them.
One potential solution to multiple problems is the gloo gun. Part weapon, part tool, you can use it to freeze your opponents into place before dispatching them with something more deadly. Alternatively you can find other uses for it. One straightforward example from the demo was when the player used the gluey foam to seal off the flames spewing from a burst gas pipe. Another more emergent option saw them using the foam to make an impromptu ledge that allowed them to climb previously inaccessible areas.
But this is Arkane, so you can be sure that there's a lot more tricks up the proverbial sleeve. The most exciting is Mimic, an ability the player can learn from the aliens (how we're not sure) that allows them to take the shape of an object in the world. During the demo we saw two examples of the ability in use. In the first the player accesses a room through a small hatch by assuming the form of a mug. In the second we saw the player transform into a recycle charge (a grenade like device that can be used to clear debris from a room by making it disappear) and then use a second ability, a kinetic blast, to launch themselves up onto a different part of the level.
There's more abilities that we haven't seen, as well as upgraded skills that are unlocked and accessed via Neuromods, a device that you stick in your eye. Using them will no doubt help, but we've also been told that they might attract unwanted attention.
It's hard to say exactly how ambitious (or even outrageous) Arkane are planning on being in relation to their gameplay systems, and our ability to update and augment them (for example, in Dishonored 2 there's a crafting system of sorts; will we get something like that here?), so we're going to have to wait and see what they've got planned across both the upgradable skills and the alien learned abilities.
Another unknown is just how integral the zero gravity sections will be. The inside of the space station will be more open ended than the linear missions of Dishonored, and we got the impression that it might well take the form of something akin to a metroidvania type experience. It sounds like you'll be able to access the station from the outside too, although we're not sure to what extent and how it will be utilised during the campaign.
What we do know is that there'll be other people in the station. Survivors to encounter and interact with. They'll have their own stories to tell, and presumably errands that need running. We anticipate a mixture of story missions and side quests, but ultimately we'll have to wait and see. For obvious reasons Arkane are keeping their cards close to their collective chest, but with Prey not landing until sometime next year, there's plenty of time for the studio to tease out more details.
While our immediate attention is switching back to Dishonored 2, what with the steampunk sequel dropping later this year, we're still very much looking forward to seeing more of Prey, and eventually getting our hands on it. It looks great, full of the kind of detail and the sense style we expect from the studio, and it's overflowing with emergent potential if they can balance it right against the more open environment and science driven setting. There's a way to go, but seeing more at QuakeCon has our interest piqued. Arkane could well be cooking up another great immersive sim, and we can't wait to see more