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