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Prey

Prey

We travelled out to Arkane Studios to learn more about their upcoming sci-fi adventure.

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Arkane has been focusing on first-person shooters with compelling story and interesting universes over the last few years. They've definitely delivered the goods with Dishonored and Dishonored 2, so we were quite excited to find out if they're on track to deliver as they venture into space with Prey. After our visit we're still excited, but now it's because we want the finished product in our hands.

The presentation started in a long line of tunnels called GUT (Gravity Utility Tunnels). Ricardo Bare, the game's lead designer, wanted to show that there are multiple ways to get from A to B on the space station Talos 1. Morgan Yu, the game's playable character, had to find his/her way to the Arboretum section, but with a large part of Talos 1 destroyed some untraditional steps had to be taken to get there. Not that we were complaining. Even in alpha the game looked beautiful, and these tunnels really showed it off. Moonlight managed to find its way through small holes in the tunnels, while different objects were floating around due to the low gravity. What an atmosphere.

Unfortunately, Bare didn't get much time to enjoy the scenery, as the mysterious creatures called Typhons are roaming both inside and outside the space station. This specific kind of Typhon was called Cystoid, and were floating around the tunnels. These small buggers reacted to sound, and would explode upon contact. That can be quite a problem when you're floating around, as there is no way of getting past them. Luckily, Arkane wants the players to improvise, and come up with different ways of solving situations.

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As this was fairly early in the game Yu didn't have many powers to choose from, Bare decided on an old fashioned approach. He picked up a chair that was floating near him, and threw it into the left side of the tunnel. The Cystoids diverted from their designated patch, attached themselves to the chair and exploded. First area cleared. Now he used the silent thrusters on his spacesuit to get into a second part, with no floating objects to help him this time. Maybe his silenced pistol would divert this new swarm of enemies? Trying to shoot a pipe on the opposite side, his gun jammed. Weapons degrade over time. If you don't repair them they'll start to jam, and eventually break into pieces. This gun wasn't severely degraded, so it worked when unjammed. "You might want to use another method in the final game", Bare said. "Ammunition is hard to come by, so you'll have to evaluate your choices before making a move." Because one of the main things that differentiates Prey from Dishonored is that the former is what Arkane call a survival RPG simulator.

Your weapons will degrade, ammunition will be sparse, and you'll be affected by the damage your body takes. Break a leg, and you'll start limping while it also reduces your overall health. Most of these injuries can only be healed by using different medical bays, but a few can also be fixed by manufacturing healing items with a device called the Fabricator. It kind of sounds like an evolution of the 3D printer, where you insert specific resources into the device to make different kinds of weapons and items. These resources are mostly gathered by using a grenade-like weapon called the Recycler Charge. Throwing this will create something similar to a black hole that items and enemies in the area are pulled into. Items turn into small balls of resources. Enemies will also create balls, but might also survive so it's not quite like throwing out a smart bomb. Different kinds of items will give different kinds of resources, which means that you'll have to seek out different areas when looking for specific things. An interesting idea that incentivises exploration.

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Exploring a new area will also lead to new type of enemies, which again leads to new powers. This because you get new powers by scanning enemies with your Psychoscope. Scan them and learn more about them, including strengths, weaknesses and their different powers. Each individual enemy can only be scanned a certain amount of times before it's not effective any more. Do this enough times and you get to use the Neuromod (that thing you see Yu stick into his/her eyes in some of the trailers). These are the powers we got to see in action:

• Mimic: The game's most marketed power, and the first one you discover. It lets you transform into nearby objects of similar or smaller mass.

• Superthermal: Create a trap of super-heated plasma that deals fire damage within the target area.

• Kinetic Blast: Pretty much telekinesis. Create a physical blast that deals damage and pushes objects within the target area.

• Remote Manipulation: Use your mind to retrieve distant objects and interact with devices within a specific area.

• Leverage: Lift heavy objects with ease and throw them.

• Lift Field: Manipulate gravity to create a column of upward force that can trap enemies for a limited time.

• Psychoshock: Perform a psionic attack against biological targets. Negates their ability to use psi powers for a while.

You might have played around with similar powers in games before, but what fascinates us about them in Prey is that they can be used in so many different ways. Mimic won't only hide you from enemies, but can also be used to get into new areas by transforming into small objects. Lift Field can also lift you, so you can use it to get to areas you otherwise inaccessible. This makes scanning enemies both interesting and rewarding. Arkane has also said that getting new powers will have consequences. They have yet to say in what way, and when we asked senior producer Susan Kath if it could potentially affect the story she just gave us a teasing smile and said "Maybe, maybe not".

Either way, you end up with your own interpretation of parts of the game's story. She said that the core story will be the same for everyone, but that the "Metroidvania" aspect of the game might lead you to discover things in a different order. As the case is in the Dishonored games, the number of people you kill will also affect the story. The fact that most humans on the station are controlled by a Typhon type called Telepath doesn't make this easy. We got to see an encounter with one of these challenging enemies.

A Telepath has multiple powers, including Kinetic Blast and Psychoshock. Obviously, getting thrown around wasn't a nice experience, so Bare found himself in a bad situation. He tried using the much talked about GLOO cannon to immobilise the giant shadowy figure, but strong enemies can easily break out of mysterious substance, which caught Bare "by surprise". Getting thrown into the restaurant's bar left him with a broken leg and a sliver of health, while the mind-controlled humans swarmed him. If you want to save these humans you'll have to stun them with an electrical weapon or something, which turned out to be difficult when they swarmed in from all sides. Telepath: 1 - Developer: 0.

Time for a more sneaky approach. Transforming into a nearby plate, Bare made his way around the big restaurant and stunned all the humans. Then he turned his attention towards the Telepath. Using a mix of Mimic, Psychoshock, shotgun, GLOO cannon and Recycler Charge he managed to wither down its health bar. Breathing a sigh of relief, Bare reiterated that this was just two of a multitude of ways to fight strong enemies. Some of them can even be avoided by taking different routes to your goal, or doing side-missions.

Talos 1 is more open than the Dishonored games. If you have access to the powers you need, you can make your way to most areas in no-time. Lead system designer Seth Shain said that balancing the powers has been very challenging. They don't want to restrict the player, but don't want them overpowered either. Therefore, he's been working quite a lot with the level design team to ensure that players will never be stuck in an area due to not having a specific power, while also making room for a few shortcuts for those who have rare powers. He made it sound like what some like to call a "Metroidvania", where players might want to keep going back to areas they've visited before because they've learned new powers or received items that gives access to new areas. Who doesn't like that?

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Speaking of the level designers, they seem to yet again deliver the interesting and atmospheric environments we expect from an Arkane game. You might fear that being set on a space station, Prey will consist of sterile and repetitive areas? Fear not. Due to the fact that it's been expanded through the years, it will offer a wide variety of places to explore. Areas near the centre will mostly consist of labs and controls rooms. However, explore the outer parts of the cylindrical station and everything starts getting more lively and diverse. Apartments, restaurants, bars, recording studios, cinemas, parks and so much more is contained within the station.

It was very interesting to learn about the art team's design philosophy regarding these areas. Being set in an alternate history universe, they want to reflect how architecture and design might have been different if the circumstances had been different. This lead to them going for a more Neo-Deco style. Imagine 60/70s shapes with warmer colours. It really makes the areas stand out from most other FPS games. There's also the incredible amount of detail in the world that we have learned to expect from an Arkane game. Every area feels lived in, and hints to what might have happened there in the past. Find a voice recorder, and you can bet there's something in the area that reflects what the person(s) on it is talking about. It might even lead to secret areas, side-missions or other interesting results.

All in all, we really liked what we saw of Prey. Our fear of the game's setting getting repetitive was eradicated. Comparing a game to another is always a quick path to misconceptions, but we really got Bioshock/System Shock vibes after the presentation. The environments feel just as immersive and interesting, and really begs us to explore every nook and cranny to learn more about the universe. Meanwhile, the gameplay itself seems deep and varied, allowing players to do pretty much all they want. It'll be interesting to see if the game is as balanced and well-design as they claim. If it is, Arkane might have a new huge success on their hands.

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