Prey 2 Impressions [E3 2011]

Formally presented at this year’s E3, Bethesda Softworks and Human Head Studios gave us a closed presentation on Prey 2, the sequel to 2006’s award winning first-person shooter. Rumors on Prey 2 have been circulating around the industry since the first title’s release and it wasn’t until March that gamers finally got some tangible proof about its existence in the form of a brief trailer. Now three months later, Bethesda Softworks brings us into their booth for an exclusive demo of the upcoming title.

The original Prey title was a story-driven FPS that put players in the role of Domasi “Tommy” Tawodi, a Cherokee-born mechanic and ex-soldier kidnapped by aliens. Much of the story in the game was centered around a theme of self discovery and movement (in the first Prey, Timmy moved around via portals and traveling to/from the spirit realm). These themes carry on into the second title, although in different forms. Rather than spending the game as alien prey, the new protagonist seems to have taken up the role of hunter, or more specifically, bounty hunter.

Without spoiling anything for those that haven’t played Prey, the sequel opens up with a plane crash caused by events Tommy set forth at the end of the first game. The game itself starts up with your character, U.S. Marshal Killian Samuels, defending himself against a hoard of alien beings that have taken over the plane. One interesting to note is that throughout this first level, the only weapon to be found is the gun Killian carried aboard the plane. Needless to say, you’re certainly lacking in firepower and since you’re unable to hold off these aliens for too long, you’re captured and taken to their home, Exodus.

Flash forward a few years later and Killian Samuels has established himself as a bounty hunter in one of the central towns on Exodus, Bowery. Bowery is the focus of the demo and according to the devs, it’s only one of the many various locale. The whole city has a dystopian feel to it, like something ripped straight out of Blade Runner. Buildings extend for what seem like miles overhead and most of the scenery is illuminated by neon and luminescent green lighting. Each of your missions are offered by various shady folk or information dealers throughout the city, although there are times when you’ll just be walking along and stumble across a shakedown or murder in progress.

With such an expansive environment, it only makes sense to have a movement system to help traverse the cityscape. Gone are the portals from the first Prey. Instead the game is centered around a system that the developers are calling “Agile Combat.” True to its namesake, this new type of run-and-gun gameplay really makes it feel like the action is a lot faster than other FPS titles. Killian can vault over obstacles, climb along ledges, and slide into cover with relative ease. With just a couple simple button presses, he was able to jump over a handrail and take a couple of blind shots at his target. Other games have done a snap-in/out system for cover, but none have done it as fluid and seamless as Prey 2.

Beyond the gunplay, we were also shown some of the other gadgets in Killian’s arsenal. One of these was a set of electrified boladeros. Some of Killian’s missions (including one from the live demo) involve taking down a target with non-lethal force and these bolas are definitely one of the better tools for the job. One attack was enough to bring down a common thug, but we didn’t get a chance to see if some of the later bounties would work the same or if they’d need to be weakened first.

Another tool they focused on was a set of hover boots. Killian was able to jump off of a catwalk on one building and glide across to another. The boots looked like they stayed active, so they’ll hopefully be a handy way to get around Bowery. One of the developers mentioned that the boots may reduce or negate falling damage, so it’ll be good to see if they keep that feature when the game launches.

When the question was raised about a multiplayer component, Human Head Studios unfortunately denied the possibility of having anything more than a single-player experience. As a whole, the game itself just feels too focused on Agile Combat for anything resembling a deathmatch mode to be balanced. They wanted to focus mainly on developing solid story and gameplay.

While much of the story has yet to be revealed, the gameplay itself looks incredibly polished, especially for how early in the development cycle it is. There were a few oddities, particularly involving enemy A.I. and pathfinding, but they were problems that the team was already aware of and hope to have fixed by the release.

When Prey 2 was first announced with a reveal trailer and scattered details earlier this year, the change to an open world seemed to garner mixed reviews, fearing this deviation from the previous formula would lead to an inferior title. After finally getting a first-hand peek at the direction Human Head Studios is taking the series, this is easily one of the releases I’m most looking forward to in early 2012.

Prey 2 will be released by Bethesda Softworks for the PlayStation 3, XBOX 360, and PC.

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