When asked if Prey, Arkane Studios Austin’s forthcoming first-person sci-fi action game, has anything to do with the 2006 Xbox 360 shooter from developer Human Head Studios, or its canceled sequel, lead designer Ricardo Bare was very clear. Other than the name, Arkane’s take on Prey — due sometime next year — borrows “nothing at all” from the games we’d heard of before.
“We did Arkane’s version of Steampunk; let’s do Arkane’s version of science fiction.”
The original Prey was far from a smash hit, but its Native American every-man hero, gravity-defying level design, unique spirit powers, and alien-abduction plot earned it a respectable cult following. The team announced an ambitious sequel in 2011, but publisher Bethesda Softworks subsequently canceled it for not meeting their standards. Aside from abundant rumors and speculation, the fate of the once-promising series was unknown… Until a brand new, Arkane Studios-developed Prey popped up at Bethesda’s E3 2016 media briefing.
While this Prey sports the same name as those games, it shares more DNA with Arkane’s other franchise, Dishonored. “We did Arkane’s version of Steampunk,” Bare said. “Let’s do Arkane’s version of science fiction.” As anyone who’s possessed a plague rat, blinked through time, or reduced enemies to fleshy ribbons with a spring razor might guess, “Arkane’s version” of a game includes the ability to unleash and layer an arsenal of skills that enable dynamic gameplay systems and mechanics. In a behind-closed-doors demo, Arkane Studios showed off how Prey gives players the tools to utilize quick wits and imaginative weapons to survive on a space station that’s apparently awoken on the wrong side of an alien infiltration.
Superpowers in space
In the demo, protagonist Morgan Yu arrived in the lobby of Talos 1, a space station orbiting the moon, to discover a species of aliens, dubbed the Typhon, running amok. It was only hinted at during our demo, but Prey also features an “open space station” setting, according to Bare, as well as exterior zero-gravity environments packed with secrets and side-quests.
Prey‘s character-progression is fueled by “neuromods,” sinister looking medical devices that grant human and alien powers when graphically injected into Yu’s eyeballs. In an early encounter, Yu fought a group of black, spidery, smoke-like baddies called “Mimics,” which can shape-shift to avoid detection. Just as Mimics can ambush players by taking the form of, say, a trash can, Yu used a mimic neuromod to cleverly escape a hairy encounter by turning into a coffee cup.
Of course, morphing into a cup of Joe is just the beginning. Bare said Prey features a deeper, RPG-level of character-shaping potential. “You can build them around being good with weapons or being good with stealth. Or you can decide, ‘Am I going to spend all my energy and resources on scanning aliens, getting their powers, and being more of a psionic type character.’”
A creative space-age toy box
Much like Dishonored‘s brimming weapon wheel, Prey‘s will host as many clever gadgets and weapons as it does RPG-flavored powers and abilities. Upon evading a Phantom — a frightening, teleporting foe that leaves a small tornado of chaos in its wake — Yu armed the “gloo cannon.” In addition to encasing enemies in a solidifying formula, the tool can create platforms, plug flame-spitting pipes, and, when coupled with a pyrokinetic-style neuromod called “superthermal,” turn a trio of Mimics into ash.
As satisfying as it is seeing the baddies barbecued in the nuked goop, the demo showcased Prey‘s true potential for emergent, improvised gameplay with another tool; a sort of reverse grenade called the “recycler charge.” “[It’s] a little singularity,” Bare said, “you just chuck it into a room and it sucks in everything that isn’t nailed to the ground, then it spits out material fragments.” In an especially inspired moment, Yu threw the charge, used mimic to change into one of these fragments, then propelled himself up to a seemingly unreachable ledge with a second neuromod called “kinetic blast.”
The scraps created by the recycler charge can also be used to craft new tools. In the demo, Yu fed a scrap he recovered from the blast into a fabricator to create a propulsion pack, which could help Yu move around in zero-gravity environments. Yu can toss items, including weapons or tools you don’t favor, into stationary recyclers to break them down for valuable resources. With the proper recipe, you could, say, scrap a shotgun to make a life-saving med-kit.
The demo closed with Yu staring down a much meaner, larger, lumbering version of his extraterrestrial siblings. The aptly named “Nightmare” approached Yu with the likely intention of opening him from brain-stem to belly button before cutting to black. Bare was hesitant to share many details beyond what was showcased in the demo, but reiterated that players who know and love Arkane’s work should get excited for Prey.
“I hope people understand that this is really true to an Arkane game,” Bare said. “So if you love the stuff Arkane loves … the kind of games that we love to make, like Dishonored, you’re going to love this.”
Updated on 08-15-2016 by Mike Epstein: This article originally said that Morgan Yu trapped the an enemy using the gloo cannon during the demo. We’ve clarified that he used the gloo cannon after Yu evaded the enemy.