Prey has a long and seriously convoluted history. First announced way back in 1995 by 3D Realms, the original game went through multiple iterations before it was passed on to Human Head Studios, who finally completed and released it in 2006 under the auspices of 2K Games. The first-person sci-fi shooter was a success: It was favorably received by critics, and went on to sell over a million copies.
A sequel was announced in August of 2006, but unfortunately seemed to fall into development hell. After several years of silence, the Prey trademark rights were picked up by ZeniMax Media in 2009 and transferred to Bethesda Softworks. Again, very little was heard about the project until it was revealed at Bethesda's BFG 2011 event, with Human Head Studios announced as developer, and a release date of 2012 mooted.
A year later, amidst rumors of a rift between developer and publisher, Prey 2's release date was indefinitely pushed back, with Bethesda stating that the game wasn't meeting their quality standards. That same year, the development contract between Human Head Studios and Bethesda expired, and both companies parted ways. Development of Prey 2 was handed over to Arkane Studios, who scrapped the work that had previously been done, and essentially started over. Prey 2 was officially canceled in 2014, while Arkane Studios continued to work on the project, which was now considered a reboot of the original game.
This "re-imagining" was announced at E3 last year as a first-person sci-fi shooter with role-playing elements, and fortunately, development seems to have finally gone well – because here I am, sitting in front of the game at a preview event in San Francisco, playing through its first hour.
So far it's been an interesting experience. After choosing the gender of my character, Morgan Yu, I've woken up to find myself inside an apartment in the year 2032. Apparently, this is an alternate history timeline – a world in which President Kennedy survived the assassination attempt in 1963, and where the US and USSR have joined forces to investigate an alien threat to their space programs. Together they've built a space station called Talos I, where captured aliens, known as the Typhon, are housed and experimented upon.
Following a fatal incident that kills all the scientists on board Talos I, the project is abandoned until, decades later, the space station is acquired by the TranStar Corporation. Thanks to advances in neuroscience technology, the company is able to control the Typhon, and studies on the extra-terrestrials resume apace. The fruits of TranStar's labors are neuromods, technology that can restructure a human's brain and grant their users super-human abilities.
This backstory is far from my mind as I wander around the apartment, picking up and examining objects, turning on and off the faucet, flushing the toilet, and rummaging through the refrigerator for items – a couple of bits of food that I add to my inventory. There are various notes, magazines and books lying around that I can pick up and read, and what looks like a space suit hanging on the back of the apartment door. I reach up and automatically put it on, triggering a waypoint that tells me that a helicopter is coming to pick me up from the roof of my building.
I exit the apartment, stroll down the corridor in the marked direction, pass a technician working on some pipes in the wall, and take an elevator to the roof, where the helicopter awaits. I'm whisked to a nearby building, a journey that's ostensibly the game's opening credits. Turns out I'm being taken to a testing facility, where I move through a series of four rooms, completing a quartet of simple tasks that initially seem to be designed to help me get familiar with the game's controls. However, the final task is answering a set of rather bizarre psychological questions, and then looking at a Rorschach test.
As I ponder the reasons for this, one of the scientists looking through the room's window is suddenly attacked. The coffee cup he's holding turns into what looks like a four-legged spider made out of smoke, and it chews his face off. As the other scientists scatter, green smoke fills the room, and I pass out.
What the hell is going on?
I wake up in the same apartment I started in. Did I die? Did I do something wrong? I'm a little confused, but wander around again, picking up the odd pieces of wire and technology that are situated on the sideboard before heading for the door. This time, though, something is different. The corridor has no exits other than a trio of locked doors, and the technician is dead. There's a wrench next to her body, and I pick it up – and automatically wield it. Aha! My first weapon.
I receive a call from someone called January, whose face is obscured by shadows. I'm told that I need to escape, so I look for a means to do so. I bash the doors with my wrench, which proves pointless, but then I notice an aquarium at the end of the corridor that's in the wall. It breaks the first time I swipe at it, and I'm able to clamber through to a passageway on the far side. It leads to a room that appears to be the back of some kind of set, and I realize that the apartment I woke up in isn't actually real. I see some sliding glass doors, but they don't open. That turns out to be good luck for me – someone approaches the door from the other side, but ends up getting attacked and killed by more of those smoky spiders. Another incoming call from the mysterious shadowy individual tells me that they're called Mimics, and can transform themselves to look like everyday objects. Apparently, I need to be careful.
As I continue to explore, I'm impressed with the number of objects I can play around with. There are terminals on desks that enable me to access their user's emails, and items I can pick up and drop – and use for leverage. I return to the room with the sliding glass doors, and they open, allowing me to walk through to the area beyond – which contains several Mimics that I end up swiping at with my wrench as they attack me. It's fairly straightforward melee combat, but I notice that there's some kind of stamina meter that depletes with every swing, and refills very slowly. I make sure every shot counts, and I eventually splatter the trio of Mimics – but my health bar has taken a bit of a beating.
Fortunately, there's a med kit in a nearby dispenser, and that restores my bar to its former glory, and I continue onwards, finding a pass that eventually leads me to a lobby area. There's a corpse on the floor, and nearby is a GLOO gun – a weapon that fires gobbets of sticky material that I use to slow down and freeze the Mimics that are in the next area. It doesn't kill them, but I'm able to finish them off by whacking them with my wrench.
Mimics dispatched, I walk across to a display case marked "neuromod", and break the glass so I can grab the piece of tech contained within. As I do, the game pops up a skill tree that lets me select an ability from three different menus labeled "Scientist", "Engineer", and "Security". I choose one of the two initial skills from the Engineer menu that enables me to carry heavier objects, and continue on my way. I eventually reach a huge open area, whose windows reveal a view of the Earth. I'm actually on Talos I.
I subsequently learn that the Typhon have escaped from their confines, and are running loose around the station, and I'm the only one around. Another waypoint pops up – Morgan's office – and I slowly fight my way through the fairly labyrinthine space station until I reach my destination, where I watch a video that reveals some really interesting details about who Morgan is, and what's happening to her. And no, I'm not going to spoil it, because it's a key part of the early plot.
At this point, I'm told that I've reached the end of the demo, and I spend the remaining time I have retracing my steps and experimenting with the myriad of objects and items lying around Talos I. It appears you can construct things with a kind of replicator-type device, the GLOO gun can be used to create pathways up to inaccessible areas, and I find a shotgun that I somehow missed the first time around. That would have been quite handy had I found it before.
I must say that the demo left me highly intrigued. Prey reminds me a little of Half-Life, and has elements of the old 1994 game, System Shock. Its sophisticated environments are filled with interactivity, there are multiple paths through the space station, items to find and use, and plenty of different types of Typhon to battle. For want of a better expression, it seems like an intelligent first-person shooter – a combination of semi-RPG and FPS that features environmental puzzles to solve as you work to secure Talos I, find out about who you are, and discover what's gone wrong.
Graphically, the game is quite impressive. While the human character models are a little on the weak side, I love the architectural styling of the space station, which feels like some kind of Art Deco throwback. There are tons of neat little details everywhere, making Prey feel very rich and giving it a really interesting atmosphere. I could definitely get very lost in this game.
Indeed, I wish I could have spent more time with Prey. I'd love to know more about the combat aspect of the game, and what sort of weaponry you're able to get your hands on. I'm also really fascinated by neuromods and how they'll enable you to develop your character. Prey just seems to be very well realized, and I'm looking forward to seeing if the game is as deep and robust as it seems.
Fortunately, we don't have too long to wait: The game is set for a May 5th release on PC, Xbox One, and PS4.