Post Script

Through the Look­ing Glass


Prey is in­fused with re­spect for the videogames that in­spired it. The im­mer­sive-sim genre has al­ways gen­er­ated an un­usu­ally de­vo­tional fol­low­ing in both play­ers and de­vel­op­ers, and that rev­er­ence is ev­i­dent through­out Ta­los I. The sta­tion’s holo­graphic-mes­sag­ing tech­nol­ogy is ac­cessed through ‘look­ing glass’ ter­mi­nals – a not-so-sub­tle nod to Look­ing Glass, the cre­ator of the orig­i­nal Sys­tem Shock games. Mean­while, early on, 0451, the ‘ Deus Ex code’, shows up on a cru­cial key­pad.

Given the shared DNA be­tween Look­ing Glass, Ion Storm, Ir­ra­tional and Arkane, there is a sense of a small group of de­vel­op­ers get­ting bet­ter and bet­ter at mak­ing a spe­cific game for a larger and larger set of play­ers. Prey is, without a doubt, a Sys­tem Shock suc­ces­sor – but not un­think­ingly so. It has an eye for ac­ces­si­bil­ity that the in­tri­cate shoot­ers of the late ’90s never con­sid­ered, and orig­i­nal art di­rec­tion that tran­scends the sci-fi/cy­ber­punk pas­tiche com­mon to both of the orig­i­nal Shock games and Deus Ex. Its script is bet­ter writ­ten, and bet­ter per­formed, as a con­se­quence of decades of ad­vance­ment in the stan­dard of sto­ry­telling across the in­dus­try at large.

It’s to Bethesda’s credit that the pub­lisher has, in Prey, Dis­hon­ored and MachineGames’ new Wolfen­stein se­ries, given skilled de­sign­ers the re­sources and free­dom to re­claim and reimag­ine so much of the legacy of the ’90s PC shooter. These are games that have al­ways seemed to be in the process of be­ing dis­cov­ered; in­deed, Prey’s luck­i­est player is the one for who these ex­pe­ri­ences are com­pletely new, for whom the thrill of solv­ing a prob­lem through ini­tia­tive and creativ­ity, rather than de­signer-man­dated Si­mon Says, changes the way they think about games. For those who have been play­ing these games for decades, the feel­ing is more like re­lief: thank God they’re still mak­ing these, and mak­ing them well.

The ele­phant in the room, of course, is Prey – not this one, but the game to which this is osten­si­bly a suc­ces­sor. Arkane’s Prey ar­rives 11 years af­ter Hu­man Head be­gan the ‘se­ries’ with its own Prey, which was it­self in de­vel­op­ment for 11 years. That first Prey had its ori­gins in 3D Realms and Duke Nukem, ty­ing it to an en­tirely dif­fer­ent branch of the shooter fam­ily tree. In its ear­li­est ap­pear­ances it was touted as the next big thing in the genre (a du­bi­ous hon­our it shares with Ion Storm’s dis­as­trous Daikatana) only to have the rug swept out from un­der it by the emer­gence of a stu­dio called Valve and a game named Half-Life. The Prey that emerged in 2006 wore Valve’s in­flu­ence openly, a lin­ear, nar­ra­tive- heavy FPS with in­creas­ingly high-con­cept sci-fi set-pieces.

Hu­man Head’s can­celled Prey 2 starred a hu­man bounty hunter who stalked alien cities in­spired by Star Wars and Blade Run­ner. Af­ter years of work Bethesda trans­ferred the game from Hu­man Head to Arkane, be­fore can­celling Prey 2 and giv­ing Arkane free reign to do what it wished with the ti­tle. Arkane chose to make Sys­tem Shock. “These im­ages re­main as a re­minder of what might have been,” read the words ac­com­pa­ny­ing a small set of Prey 2 screen­shots on a bare page on Hu­man Head’s web­site. “Hu­man Head Studios crafted a game we re­main quite proud of.”

It would be a stretch to say that this new Prey owes much to Hu­man Head’s work. Both games con­cern an alien at­tack and both are shoot­ers, but that’s not much to go on in the game in­dus­try. The de­ci­sion to call the game Prey, then, is odd – a purely sym­bolic act of brand­ing, a re­boot of a se­ries that wasn’t tremen­dously pop­u­lar in the first place which re­tains al­most noth­ing of the orig­i­nal. Peo­ple who were play­ing shoot­ers in the late noughties are more likely to think of Arkane’s Prey as a suc­ces­sor to Bioshock than the game whose name it shares. So the ques­tion re­mains: why call it Prey? Per­haps it’s sim­ple: Sys­tem Shock 3 was taken.

Zero-G en­vi­ron­ments in­side and out­side of the sta­tion are nav­i­gated real­is­ti­cally us­ing your suit’s built-in thrusters

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