Put your hands to­gether for our hands-on with Arkane’s riski­est game yet

XBox: The Official Magazine - - START - Ben Maxwell

The orig­i­nal 2006 Prey (for those whip­per­snap­pers among you who missed it) was a big deal. De­vel­oped by Hu­man Head Stu­dios, it was a first-per­son shooter that used an an­cient, for­got­ten tech­nol­ogy to ren­der mir­rors with ac­tual re­flec­tions (a tech­nique most de­vel­op­ers since have failed to repli­cate, de­spite hav­ing con­sid­er­ably more pro­cess­ing power at their dis­posal). It did por­tals be­fore Por­tal. It did aliens be­fore… well, okay, no­body. But it did feature a sen­si­tive por­trayal of Na­tive Amer­i­can cul­ture and a non-white pro­tag­o­nist at a time when char­ac­ter di­ver­sity in games was even more of a prob­lem than it is to­day. Like we said, it was a big deal, and that makes it one hell of a hard act to fol­low.

En­ter Arkane Stu­dios. Prey 2 had been in the works for some time at Hu­man Head Stu­dios, but after it stopped work on the game in 2011, a new project was started by one half of the Dis­hon­ored team (while the other half got on with that game’s se­quel). There are loose con­nec­tions to the orig­i­nal nar­ra­tive– it’s set on a space sta­tion again, for ex­am­ple, and there is an in­scrutable alien threat, as usual – but this is very much a re­boot rather than a fol­low-up.

Who’s Yu

You play as Mor­gan Yu (who can be male or fe­male) and the game be­gins with you wak­ing up in a rather swish, high-rise apart­ment com­plete with all the usual videogame mod-cons – like use­able taps and open­able cup­boards – and a really lovely view over a fu­tur­is­tic city. Your brother is ex­pect­ing you at a space pro­gramme test­ing fa­cil­ity, and you head out to the roof, chat­ting with an elec­tri­cian as you walk, to get into your nice chauf­feur-pi­loted air­craft.

Once at the test­ing fa­cil­ity your bro of­fers some words of ad­vice be­fore you head into the first cham­ber and face a trio of dis­pas­sion­ate, dis­mis­sive sci­en­tists. It’s here that the game’s wry sense of hu­mour makes it­self ap­par­ent. We’re made to leap over a ledge to hit a button, and asked to hide in a fea­ture­less room with a huge win­dow look­ing in on it. (“He ap­pears to be hid­ing be­hind a chair… make a note.”) And we’re asked a se­ries of ques­tions de­signed to test our moral judge­ment – for the record, we chose to push the over­weight man onto the rails in ev­ery sce­nario it was pre­sented as an op­tion.

Some rather in­trigu­ing things hap­pen at this point, but we’re stick­lers for not spoil­ing it for you, so let’s skip ahead a lit­tle. We’ll sim­ply say that, through a se­ries of un­ex­pected events, you find your­self on the space sta­tion, Ta­los I, a lit­tle sooner than you might have ex­pected. It’s a sprawl­ing lo­ca­tion, but or­nately fur­nished – bronze stat­ues and op­u­lent flour­ishes com­bine with cathe­dral-high ceil­ings to cre­ate an awe-in­spir­ing interior.

There’s a pair of mal­func­tion­ing el­e­va­tors in the cen­tre, but there are also two per­fectly ser­vice­able, and ex­trav­a­gant, stair­cases. These pro­vide access to three sto­ries of of­fices and labs, open­ing out into bridge-linked bal­cony walk­ways.

Out­side the ship, beyond a mas­sive view­ing win­dow at one end, two loom­ing plan­ets hang in space, il­lu­mi­nated by an un­fa­mil­iar star. It’s quite the sight.

Un­for­tu­nately we’re not alone, and must share this grandeur with a host of shad­owy, spec­tral, shapeshift­ing alien hor­rors. We en­counter two vari­ants dur­ing our time with the game, but both are formidable. The first are called Mim­ics, and are a spir­ited bunch of crawl­ing mon­sters milling about like dark, ethe­real head­crabs. These things are bol­shy, and will rush you given the chance. They also like gang­ing up into packs and sur­round­ing you. Their most dis­qui­et­ing tac­tic is to take on the shape of any ex­ist­ing ob­ject in the world, a bin or a cup, for ex­am­ple, and then lie in wait for you to pass them or to try to pick them up.

Bug con­trol

Arkane glee­fully toys with this de­sign, and the player, by mak­ing sure you lose trust in ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing that sur­rounds you, even health packs. When you’ve seen a stor­age crate turn into a smoggy quadruped and then skit­ter up the next stair­case you need to climb, surely it’s en­tirely un­der­stand­able that, when you reach the top, you shoot in panic at the bin rolling your way. Fine, turns out it was just a bin, but it shouldn’t have been rolling like that. Don’t judge us.

Mim­ics move with alarm­ing speed, but they’re soon put down by a shot­gun, or even a few blows from a wrench if you get your aim right. How­ever, a more re­li­able tool against their swift, un­pre­dictable move­ments is the GLOO Can­non. This stubby weapon fires globs of ad­he­sive foam in rapid suc­ces­sion, which quickly ar­rests ad­vanc­ing aliens. Once they’re stuck fast, you can smash them with a heavy tool, bul­lets – or even that once ter­ri­fy­ing bin, if you’re into po­etic jus­tice (or just petty jus­tice). The GLOO Can­non isn’t only a de­fen­sive gad­get, though. It’s also key to solv­ing some en­vi­ron­men­tal puz­zles. It can seal burst, ig­nited gas pipes, en­abling you to make your way down what was pre­vi­ously a swel­ter­ing death trap. And you can also use it to build plat­forms and ramps, to help you get around the mal­func­tion­ing space sta­tion – a func­tion that comes in par­tic­u­larly use­ful when we find the door­way into Ta­los I’s weapon labs is blocked. A se­ries of sticky steps gets us on top of some dan­gling cor­po­rate art, and from there we leap onto an­other bal­cony and are on our way.

Which is where we meet the Phan­toms. These ghouls are the wan­der­ing re­mains of Ta­los I crew mem­bers whose bod­ies have been cor­rupted by an alien en­ergy. Per­haps not as lucky as the peo­ple at­tacked by Mim­ics, who are left as dried-up, mo­tion­less husks, the Phan­toms are forced to act as sol­diers, fight­ing against their for­mer species. They come in a va­ri­ety of flavours: some throw flames, some emit toxic clouds and du­pli­cate them­selves and oth­ers shock you with elec­tric­ity. They’re not shy, ei­ther, and will launch at you on sight. On the bright side, given their lack of mimicry pow­ers (at least in the ex­am­ples we en­counter) they would still be rather vis­i­ble even if they crouched down in the cor­ner and pre­tended to be a bin.

Though we weren’t able to toy with them in this demo, there will also be neu­ral im­plants, which al­low Yu to scan the aliens. He (or she) can then adopt their pow­ers for him­self, and turn them against their for­mer own­ers. Like the GLOO Can­non, these pow­ers will en­hance both your at­tack­ing and nav­i­ga­tional abil­i­ties. The in­fa­mous cof­fee mug ex­am­ple, in which Yu turns him­self into a bev­er­age con­tainer be­fore rolling through a gap in a se­cu­rity win­dow, is still the best illustration of how won­der­fully silly Arkane in­tends to make them. This is in no way a po-faced sci-fi shooter, and it’s all the bet­ter – and all the more true to its roots – for that.

Prey is shap­ing up to be an ex­cep­tional, and lib­er­at­ingly imag­i­na­tive shooter. Its dark sense of hu­mour, va­ri­ety of smart gad­gets and hor­ri­fy­ing crea­tures drum up mem­o­ries of the Half-Life and Por­tal games, as well as its own oth­er­worldly pre­de­ces­sor. Prey also feels like its own dis­tinct beast, how­ever. One we can’t wait to tan­gle with.

Main The mys­tery of why Mor­gan is go­ing through this hor­ror will likely push the plot for­ward.

be­low Alex, your brother, is a kindly pres­ence dur­ing train­ing.

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