Arkane brings its immersive-sim know-how to space
PC, PS4, Xbox One
Prey’s lead designer, Ricardo Bare, is clear about his upcoming game’s relationship to the 2006 firstperson shooter of the same name: there is none. “In terms of a highlevel concept, it’s aliens on a space station – survival stuff,” he says. “But there’s no fictional or universe connection.” This isn’t a reboot or remake, and it certainly hasn’t anything to do with Human Head’s nowcancelled Prey 2, which was about a bounty hunter on an alien planet. No, Arkane Studios wanted to make a sci-fi game, and Bethesda happened to own the name to a sci-fi series. Square peg, meet square hole.
Whatever the internal politics behind Prey 2’ s cancellation and Arkane’s acquisition of the name, the key point remains: Arkane Studios is making a sci-fi immersive sim. That’s an exciting prospect given the studio’s calibre at forging open-ended systemic playgrounds. “Arkane specialises in one kind of game,” Bare says. “We make firstperson immersive sims. Games with depth.” The Prey team has the credentials to back up that claim. Bare got his break at Ion Storm, as a designer on Deus Ex. Prey’s creative director, Raphael Colantonio, is Arkane’s CEO, and has had a key role in all of the studio’s games, including Arx Fatalis, Dark Messiah Of Might And Magic and Dishonored.
All great immersive sims build on the concepts and systems of what came before. With Prey, Arkane is channelling System Shock. “Players take on the role of Morgan Yu,” says Bare, who also reveals that players will be able to select Yu’s gender at the start of the game. “When you emerge onto the space station, it’s just moments after the disaster has happened. Most of the people are dead, and the aliens are running around and taking
over. They’re up to something. You don’t know what, and you don’t know why you’re on the station, how you got there or what the hell is going on.” Yu’s first job will be to figure these things out, before ultimately working out how to escape.
The space station, Talos-1, is involved in human experimentation, and that research will be available to Yu. It would be a poor immersive sim that didn’t let you upgrade strength to carry large crates and items, and here such enhancements are available through the Neuromods that Yu injects into his (or her) eye. Prey then goes a step further, letting you scan the shadowy alien presence to learn and utilise their own strange powers.
In an off-stream presentation at QuakeCon, the audience is shown one of those powers: the ability to transform into an object. In the demo, Yu passes through a security window by mimicking a mug and rolling through. It’s an amusing moment, at odds with Prey’s otherwise dark tone. “The tone is grounded and serious, mostly,” says Colantonio, “and then there are, as with any of our games, a few little notes – a few funny little things. But the mug thing is funny because the player makes it funny, right? The power itself is that you turn into an object. If you bounce around as a cup, it might look funny, but, hey, you did it.”
The power needn’t be so passive. Yu could instead transform into a turret to gun down approaching aliens. Similarly, though, the aliens might become unassuming pieces of furniture, waiting for you to pass in order to set up an ambush. “We wanted to have something that wasn’t your typical two or three archetypes of aliens,” Colantonio explains. “It took a while to really define what they were, and so we went with these paranormal, sonic, ghostly figures that morph into things.”
“Their ability to imitate objects is not driven by a level designer’s scripting,” Bare continues. “We have some scenes like that at the beginning because we’re teaching you the game, but it’s just something that the aliens have as a behaviour. When they walk into a room they go, ‘OK, there are 20 physics objects in this room that are on my list of things I can turn into… Oh, god, the player’s coming – hide’, and they just pick one. Even we on the team are surprised when we’re just running the map. We’re not sure which thing is the Mimic until we shoot it.”
Such action may lead to silliness on par with Garry’s Mod’s PropHunt, or Dark Souls’ multiplayer trolling, but it also means an emergent and surprising experience. In other words, it’s the perfect set of systems for a new Arkane game.
The aliens might become pieces of furniture, waiting in order to set up an ambush
The space station will be completely open for exploration. “It’s like one big facility,” Bare says, “and sometimes you can go into an area and get your ass handed to you”
Ricardo Bare, lead designer of Prey
TOP LEFT You’ll meet bands of survivors throughout Talos-1. “The way that you treat them has a significant impact on the end of the game,” Bare says, promising multiple conclusions.
ABOVE Weapons will be scarce in Prey, but not because Arkane is interested in making a survival horror. Rather, it forces the player to experiment with Yu’s full suite of tools and powers
Dishonored’s design director, Viktor Antonov, consulted on
Prey’s design, helping the team craft the backstory with an eye to how the world’s past would affect its present visual style
Yu is able to collect resources to use a fabricator station that allows him to craft a Zero-G pack, along with many other items