Prey 2, at it's core, is about letting you be the predator.
At least, that's what Human Head Software will have you believe. After a first look at the gritty homeworld of Exodus, it makes more sense to run and hide.
Those who played through the original Prey, perhaps forming an affinity with the lead character Tommy, will be pleased to hear that he will indeed make a return in Prey 2, although not in the same capacity. Despite learning what happened to our erstwhile Native American hero, he very much takes a back foot to Killian Samuels, the new protagonist.
Killain is a US Marshal, and was a passenger on the aircraft featured in the original game. The capture sequence of this aeroplane is replayed through his eyes to form the opening to Prey 2. When we join the story, Killian has no idea how he ended up on Exodus, and has decided to make the best of a bad situation by becoming a bounty hunter. Having occupied the tidally-locked planet for around a month, and entirely resigned to his status as token human, he's accrued friends and enemies during the course of his work.
The inspiration for this story of isolation, adaptation and conquest comes from multiple sources, yet ultimately manages to pay homage to Blade Runner above all else. The extensive use of vertical environments, the overly brutal society layered with a thin veneer of respectability, and the cyberpunk presentation screams "alien noir" at every opportunity, a phrase Human Head promote gleefully.
Reflections and camera angles within the modified id Tech 4 engine are specifically designed to infuse the world with a grimy layer. Expanded draw distances, physical based lighting, proper global illuminations, per-pixel visibility and occlusion all combine to form a realistic depiction of a world eternally locked to its host star; one side forever in darkness, the other doomed to bake in the glare.
The city, situated at the cusp of these environmental extremes, appears well fleshed for a title not expected to be released for another year or so. What isn't quite so set in stone is the way Killian will interact with the citizens of this otherworldly setting, although Human Head were more than happy to run us though an early mission.
Before doing so however, it's carefully explained that the true strength in the title is the ability to free roam throughout virtually every environment. Perhaps a decade ago, this might have been cause for an incredulous gawp, however these days it's barely fodder for a minor eyebrow reshuffle. That is, until the vertical freedom of movement is revealed. Killian can grapple virtually any surface, jump across ravines between buildings, and track down his victims in a straight line by making use of the terrain. Think Mirror's Edge, Assassin's Creed, et al.
It's evident that Prey 2 is no mere middle-grade shooter, no frathouse fragfest. There's intelligence lurking within, and a requirement to consider all three physical dimensions before acting. Upon finding a suitable path, Killian's hand will move slightly to indicate the possibility of a successful grapple, rather than presenting the player with an environment full of button prompts. It works in the opposite direction too – there's a controlled descent ability built into Killian's boots. Leaping from high surfaces, retro-rockets kick in, and Killian can glide with a measured amount of grace to a safer lower altitude. Or, miss-time it entirely, run out of fuel, and fall to his death.
Coupled with the parkour is an expectation that scenarios will be approached with caution. Raising your gun from a holstered position will cause alarm in whoever you point it at, which in turn becomes a useful interrogation method.
This is particularly important when partaking in missions fed down the "Bounty Wire" – a kind of electronic periodical offering jobs suited to a character of your calibre. We're tasked with finding Dra'Gar, "...one fat target the client wants alive". Stripped of our ability to simply shoot up most of the Bowery district in the hope that one of our bullets will find the correct target, we're tasked instead with tracking down Krux, an informant, who will provide us with the last known location of our bounty.
Krux is an opportunist alien with a brutal streak, a face only a mother could love, and a bodyguard. We locate him through transparent on-screen waypoints some ten metres above our current position. This is nothing that a few ledges and walkways can't assist with. Having made it to the high-roller himself, we're informed it'll cost 2000 credits to learn Dra'Gar's location. As we don't actually have 2000 credits, but instead happen to be equipped with a perfectly functioning weapon, the prudent course of action is to shoot Krux's bodyguard, and physically threaten him to roll over and give us the information we require.
Fortunately, Krux respects insane acts of random violence. He provides us with a new waypoint to Dra'Gar, and we part with a warning Scorcese would approve of; Krux will hit us up for a favour in the future.
Dra'Gar is located in a seedy strip club; the obviously holographic human performers a wasted opportunity to explore alien exotic dancing as a legitimate design avenue. Attempting to apprehend him results in a madcap chase across the city, as various aliens loyal to the bounty scramble to offer protection. Using a kind of visor overlay, we can detect our target as he passes behind walls, allowing new routes to be calculated on the fly. Dra'Gar has a tendency to teleport short distances, so the ensuing chase is hectic and drawn out.
Our weapon choices are limited for the demonstration, although Human Head make generous use of grenades for flushing out combatants from enclosed positions. In addition, a kind of gravity reversal gadget can be used on embedded targets, who will suddenly find themselves hovering several metres above the ground, entirely incapacitated. A handy target for our shoulder-mounted rockets, which can be fired independently from hand-equipped weapons.
Eventually, after Dra'Gar resigns himself to capture, we're presented with three options: either accept his bribe and let him go, interrogate him for additional information to be used at a later date, or send him immediately to the client. As the interrogation process risks killing our captive, and we're choosing an honest path through the game, Dra'Gar is duly sent to our employer, and we're instantly rewarded for our services.
For a world as obviously corrupt as Exodus, the inclusion of a fully functional morality system seems redundant. Human Head have specifically stated that Rockstar's Red Dead Redemption provided inspiration for the underlying management of this feature, more than that, we won't know until closer to release. Your choices have immediate consequences however, after throwing an innocent civilian from an elevated walkway, a sentry robot appears to monitor your activity. By opening fire at this hovering mechanical cop, you'll be attacked in turn – an obvious reminder that there's always someone watching somewhere.
Despite Human Head mentioning a light RPG structure for levelling, the ability to modify at least 40 different weapons, and around 15 hours of gameplay for this singleplayer-only title, we'll have to wait a while longer before learning more about how the core attributes of the game are structured. Details such as the health system, and the role of Keepers from the first title haven't been finalised. Quite why Prey 2 appears to have dropped some of the more admirable characteristics of the original – namely portals, modified gravity, multiplayer and the whole Native American tie-in was similarly glossed over during this media event.
It's clear we're looking at a Prey game in the spirit of the original, but redesigned to push the series in a new direction. Based on what we've seen, there's a good chance this gamble will pay off.