Tomorrow, Bethesda Games Studios is releasing Prey, a title the publisher likely hopes will kick off a new franchise for the studio. The game comes from Arkane Studios, the team behind Dishonored and Dishonored 2. It will be releasing for PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.
The thing is, taken on its own, what Prey is can be rathering confusing. Once you add in the title's long history, it's still pretty mystifying how we've gotten to this point. I'm here to help you understand what Prey is and was.
So What Is Prey?
Prey is a science fiction horror title. It's a first-person action adventure game with some RPG elements. If Dishonored was Arkane Studios paying loving homage to the old Thief games from Looking Glass Studios, Prey is the developer creating a spiritual successor to the System Shock games. You probably heard that phrase before because it was used for 2K Games' Bioshock series. Yeah, 2017's Prey isn't all that far from that series.
What Is the Game About?
Prey takes place in the future of an alternate timeline where President John F. Kennedy was not assassinated in 1963. Given the attempted assassination, Kennedy decides to move forward, giving more money to the space program. Humanity gets to space much faster, where a collective alien race called the Typhon quickly smacks us back to Earth. Eventually, we trap them on the moon and build a space station, prison, and research facility to keep them there: Talos I.
You play Morgan Yu, the latest employee of the TransStar Corporation, a private company that takes control of the station from the government in 2025. The name is gender neutral, because Morgan can be either male or female, depending on player choice. Events conspire to trap Morgan on Talos I with an unknown alien race called the Typhon. You have to survive, determine what went horribly wrong on the station, and escape.
You have a whole host of weapons at your disposal, like the Gloo Cannon, which freezes enemies and builds structures. There's also Neuromods, human augmentations that give you new abilities, like super strength, better aim, hacking capabilities, and much more. Think of Neo pulling up new abilities in the Matrix, but through handy dandy science syringes.
What Does This Have To Do With 2006's Prey?
Oh. Well, not much really.
The original Prey came out in 2006 for PC, Mac, Linux, and Xbox 360. It was developed by Human Head Studios and published by 2K Games. It had its own issues reaching the market, starting development all the way back in 1995. 3D Realms saw the game as an engine showcase, like Unreal was for Epic Games.
Early builds of Prey used portal technology as a primary feature of the game, letting players build portals to move around and solve puzzles. Technical issues caused development to grind to a halt. It was revitalized with new engine development in 1998, before dying again a year later. Finally, in 2001, 3D Realms kicked off a new version of the game using the id Tech 4 engine and Rune developer Human Head Studios handling the project.
It launched in 2006, with players taking on the role of former soldier Domasi "Tommy" Tawodi, a man of Cherokee descent living on a reservation. He, his girlfriend, and his grandfather are abducted by aliens and taken to The Sphere, a massive starship. Tommy has to fight his way through The Sphere, using weapons, portals, and the ability to spirit walk to survive. Yeah, it was weird, but good.
The game was a commercial success, with 1 million copies sold worldwide, and a sequel was greenlit pretty quickly. Prey 2 was planned as a direct follow-up to the first game, with a release on PC and Xbox 360. Human Head Studios was slated to be on development duties again.
Wait, Did Prey 2 Ever Come Out?
Nope. So the first pitch of Prey 2 followed Tommy again, as our hero left Earth after being accused in the disappearance of his grandfather and girlfriend. (Spoiler alert: They don't survive the first game.) This Prey 2 was planned as the first game, but bigger.
In 2009, the rights to the series shifted from 3D Realms to Zenimax Media: 3D Realms' CEO Scott Miller transferred the rights to his brand-management organization, the Radar Group, who transferred it to ZeniMax. ZeniMax got the trademark, filed a few more, and took at look at what Human Head Studios was working on. Apparently, there wasn't much at the time except for pre-production work.
With the shift, Human Head Studios scrapped the version of Prey 2 starring Tommy. Instead, players would be U.S. Marshal Killian Samuels, who finds himself on a passenger jet that crashes into The Sphere. He survives and the game would have jumped forward a few years, with Samuels as a bounty hunter on the alien world of Exodus. Yeah, big change there.
The original Prey was id Tech 4 and that's what Human Head Studios had been modifying for Prey 2. This was seen as a bit odd, because ZeniMax Media also owned id Software, which had the newer id Tech 5 engine available. Regardless, Prey 2 was re-announced in March 2011, with a planned 2012 release. By the end of 2011 though, development had quietly stalled and Human Head Studios was in limbo. Prey 2 entered development hell, neither in development nor actively cancelled.
"Development of Prey 2 has not been cancelled but the game will not be released in 2012 as planned," said Bethesda in 2012. "The delay is due to the fact that game development has not progressed satisfactorily this past year, and the game does not currently meet our quality standards. Prey 2 has shown great promise and we regret disappointing our fans. We have made a substantial investment in game development to deliver the experience fans want."
IGN would later report that the collaboration between Human Head Studios and Bethesda stumbled when the latter decided it wanted to buy the former. Bethesda began pushing for harder milestones on Prey 2's development. Human Head wanted more time with Prey 2 and Bethesda was refusing, using it as leverage for a potential buyout. So Human Head essentially went on strike, riding out its contract. Prey 2 went back to Bethesda and Human Head Studios was free to do its own thing.
So How Did Arkane Get Involved?
Well, Bethesda and its parent company still wanted a Prey sequel. They had already spent money on Prey 2's development, so this was a thing that was happening. Kotaku reported in May 2013 that the publisher was shopping the game around to different developers, including Obsidian Entertainment and Rebellion. In the end, Bethesda doubled-down on another partnership, choosing Dishonored developer Arkane Studios to handle Prey 2. Bethesda threw out everything Human Head Studios had done, letting Arkane to make something new in the vein of System Shock.
So that's what they did.
Since the game was no longer Prey 2, Bethesda cancelled the game officially in October of 2014 at PAX Australia.
"It was game we believed in, but we never felt that it got to where it needed to be - we never saw a path to success if we finished it," Bethesda VP of marketing and PR Pete Hines said. "It wasn't up to our quality standard and we decided to cancel it. It's no longer in development. That wasn't an easy decision, but it's one that won't surprise many folks given that we hadn't been talking about it. Human Head Studios is no longer working on. It's a franchise we still believe we can do something with -- we just need to see what that something is."
So Why Is Its Still Called Prey?
The latter statement also explains why this is still a Prey game. Bethesda owns the trademark. They've spent the money on a Prey game, so by God, this will be a Prey game. 2017's Prey is a complete reboot of the series under the same concept: one person fighting to survive against a host of aliens.
"We talked to Arkane, and they were like, 'Look, if we can just treat this as a reimagining, and sort of distill this IP down to its very basics, and go nuts with it, and make it our very own, we're totally on board with just doing Prey,'" Hines told Polygon later.
"'Not as a reboot, we can just reimagine it. We'll keep the basic principle of 'Aliens are hunting you,' and do what we envisioned - that's what we should do. We like the name; if you distill and take out everything you know about the previous game, or the canceled game, and just said the name Prey, it's a cool name. We think it really fits what it is that we're making.'"
Arkane Studios wanted to make a sci fi action adventure; Bethesda had the Prey rights and some sunk costs. It was a match made in heaven.
"We're like, 'Alright, then we're just gonna swallow the bullet of people either A, asking us about the canceled thing or B, asking us what this has to do with the original Prey, and just go with the thing we think fits from a tone and vibe standpoint, with what we're making," Hines added. "Ultimately, where we ended up was that it was a cool name that fit the vibe of the game that they're making, so let's go with that, and own it. And eventually, all anyone's really going to care about is: Is the Prey game that Arkane is making that comes out in 2017 really good? Because if it is, that's what everybody's going to associate Prey with."
Which brings us back to Prey.
So Is It Any Good, Mike?
No clue. I've already posted my impressions of the Prey: Opening Hour demo. Per Bethesda's review policy, I just received review code for the game today. We're flying blind on this one. I will reiterate what I said in my preview:
"I'm tentatively excited about Prey. More games in the 'Shock' style isn't something I'm ever going to tire of. This demo just gives me a bit of pause for the final product. Prey is the kind of game that needs a bit of time to fully open and come into it's own and the demo just doesn't give enough that. Here's looking forward to the full game," I wrote before.
This evening, I begin my Prey journey in earnest. We'll see how it goes.