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Role reversal: Becoming the hunter in Prey 2

Bethesda showed off Prey 2 for the first time in front of journalists earlier this month. We went eyes-on with the open-world shooter and speak to Human Head's Jim Sumwalt.

Remember when Prey 2 was first announced? It was back in 2008, three years ago.

Had we eventually got the Prey 2 announced back back then by 3DRealms Scott Miller and his IP incubation venture Radar Group, you would have seen Tommy re-emerge as the main character from the first game.

In the original design, he "escapes an Earth that no longer wants him for a future that cannot survive without him," with Miller adding in a subsequent interview that he would become "a hardened, take-charge character who’s learned fast from his previous experience, and is ready to accept his status as a galactic saviour."

Fast forward. The Prey IP and is now in the possession of Bethesda - Human Head signed with the publisher in July 2009 - and Miller's version of Prey 2 Miller no longer exists. What we have now is a much wider prospect than its corridor shooter prequel.

You play as Killian Samuels. He's a sheriff and a US marshall. We saw him in the game's first live-action trailer last month.

And it's exactly after that video where our demo begins, after we saw the stricken plane heading towards a blue sphere.

Project lead Chris Reinhart says that Prey 2 is all about answering three main questions left open in Prey 1. Where did these spheres and aliens come from? What happened to all of the people taken onboard the sphere? What happened to Tommy after he left Earth at the end of the story?

Killian wakes after the plane crashes. We're in the midst of the wreck, and we're not on earth, although where exactly we've ended up isn't known at the beginning. You're the only survivor. You go to check the cockpit to gather information, but you immediately encounter alien resistance.

"In Prey 1, you were pretty much the prey. If you walked into the room, everything would attack you on site. In Prey 2, we wanted to explore both sides and let you become the predator."

We start shooting and get a look at the new, “expanded” cover system. Killian still has his gun on him because he's a US marshall and he's allowed to carry weapons on planes. Why he was on the flight isn't made clear.

You're then shot by an enemy with the last thing you see and remember being a rifle butt to the face by slaver aliens. As Reinhart explains as we jump to a quarter of the way through the game, Killian's woken up and actually has been on the planet, Exodus, for years.

One side of Exoudus permanently faces its sun, meaning it has hot and cold areas. The demo was based at the midway point, an area of the planet in perpetual dusk.

Killian's taken his skills as a marshall and has now become a bounty hunter on the planet, and thinks he's the only human there. At least, that is until he runs into Tommy. We don’t see how this happens in the demo, and we're not told by Reinhart either.

But just how big of a role does Tommy have in Prey 2?

"I can't speak too much to the scope of his factor of the story, but I will say we are conscious of addressing questions such as, ‘What was Tommy doing? Where's he been? What's he been up to?" Human Head chief creative officer Jim Sumwalt told VG247.

The story will see Killian try to uncover his past, show what’s happening on Exodus and why he’s there. Killian in his role as a bounty hunter has made some friends, but largely made enemies.

The world of Exodus looks very similar to that of Blade Runner, which is one of the game’s inspirations. It’s also reminiscent of Deus Ex, not only in the look of the world, but also because the game is also centred around choice.

In fact, the style of the game Human Head is aiming for is something it's calling "alien noir."

"We decided we were going to take this place to a bounty hunter-type mechanic, flip the script as it were from being the one that's being hunted to being the one who's doing the hunting. So that led to bounty hunter. And then we thought, 'What would be a cool backdrop for a bounty hunter type of fiction?' And noir definitely jumped out there. The use of light and shadow as it were is great inspiration," he said.

"Then Blade Runner, in terms of using colour and the cyberpunk quality technology in noir, is very inspirational. You're on an alien planet with very similar noir tone, basically dog eat dog. There's no white hats and black hats, no good vs evil, everyone's out for themselves, no one's innocent, everything's seedy and backhanded. Perfect place for a bounty hunter to exist and perfect for noir."

No one's an angel. Everyone's a devil. Deus Ex is definitely another key reference, and it's something Sumwalt's heard before.

"We're a little bit more like RPG and a little more heavy on the action than Deus. But yeah, we've heard the comparison. Great game, great games," he says when asked about it. He's looking forward to Human Revolution too, don't you know.

Watch on YouTube

The game's only trailer to date, a Lost-like live
action affair.

Reinhart then shows us how some of the game’s parkour mechanics. Prey 2 takes some of its cues from Mirror's Edge, and Reinhart says that parkour in the game will be used to help capture bounties and surprise them, in contrast to running away from agressors in ME.

"We like to say other titles use it to run away from combat, and we want to use it to run toward combat," says Sumwalt.

"We think that it's just a natural extension. We love the first-person genre and we've always continually tried to find new ways to kind of push that experience.

"I think creating that freedom to go over something, to climb up onto something, is the next evolution in the first-person experience and something we've wanted to push."

We then see a weapon wheel and a gadget known as the scanner selected. When using the scanner, things of interest will start to glow, in this case a group of aliens beating up another alien. It's up to you if you want to save him or let it be. Reinhart decides for the latter.

After showing he can go down the evil route by pointing his weapon at an innocent alien - you can holster or pull your weapon by choice in the game - Killian heads inside an alien strip bar to capture a bounty.

It's up to you to bring him in dead or alive. He finds the target using the scanner, but Killian's been made and he starts running off. As he heads out one way, Killian tries cutting him off and then decides to shoot him dead.

As teased in the previous section, Killian can be a bad guy as well as a good one. To demonstrate this, Reinhart pushes an innocent, not-doing-anything-wrong-at-all alien over an edge to his death.

To collect credits, you collect bounties, mug other aliens and take on missions. As the demo starts to wrap up, we're given a story quest by our runner, known as Ec'Lora. We're tasked to find someone known as Dra'Gar alive. His whereabouts are unknown, so we go to see a regular informant known as Krux to find his location.

Just to give a little background, Krux is a high roller. He's got a lot of money and his finger on the pulse, and he’s a constant throughout the game. He offers Dra'Gar's location for 2,000 credits. Killian can't afford it, so as Prey 2 is about choice, Killian chooses to send a message: by shooting Krux's bodyguard.

Krux gives you the location of Dra'Gar, but in return, he'll call on Killian for a return favour later on.

We buy some grenades from a vendor (200 credits), and arrive at the location given to us by Krux to find Dra'Gar's lieutenant outside. We then grab him. It's up to the player if he wants to kill him or use him as a bargaining chip. We take him as a shield, but it’ to no avail: Dra'Gar kills him right there, and we sprint towards cover.

Following a massive gunfight, in which Reinhart uses his grenades, we chase our bounty into a darkened bar, trying to spot Dra'Gar and his remaining cronies using night vision.

Once they've been taken out, Dra'Gar makes a run for it as we give chase under fire. He teleports across some train tracks. We eventually catch him.

It's put-up time for your bounty right? Not without bargaining one last time. Dra'Gar offers to pay over the bounty if we let him go, but Reinhart decides to capture him, opening up two further choices: interrogate him for more information - at the risk of killing him - or send him to the client. Killian gets a bit of information out of Dra'Gar before sending him on his merry to the client.

"Blade Runner, in terms of using colour and the cyberpunk quality technology in noir, is very inspirational. You’re on an alien planet with very similar noir tone. It's basically dog eat dog."

Simple and clean? Wrong.

In a final twist, Ec'Lora appears on comms. Dra'Gar's brother’s made you a target and another alien is tracking you down. He comes out of nowhere and our demo ends.

Reinhart promises we've seen only a quarter of one of three maps within the world of Exodus, and that missions are split into a number of segments, although wouldn't get specific about it.

Expect it to last about 15 hours if you're looking to just bust through the story. There won't be any multiple endings according to Reinhart, and there’s no multiplayer at all as Human Head is looking to "focus on a single-player experience."

What about added value? As mentioned, DLC is planned post-release, with Sumwalt hinting to us that it'll go down the narrative route.

Sumwalt’s not worried about the lack of multiplayer.

"I think people want high executed entertainment value and they want an immersive experience,” he says.

“And whether it’s a multiplayer experience or single-player, I think it's a flavour of entertainment. But they want high level of executIon. And often times based on what it takes to make content and development cycles, if you've got the time, money, manpower and portfolio to do both, more power to you.

"But often, if that's not the case, it takes so long to make content that you basically have to decide, 'Do you want to focus on a multiplayer experience and a high execution or do you want to focus on a single-player experience and a high level of execution?' I think people just want great entertainment, and if you give them watered down either, gamers are too sophisticated now. They're gonna sense it and be like, 'Eh?'.

"The trend now is to split the two. You can tell what games are focussed on multiplayer. They have a single-player component, but… you know what I'm saying."

Sumwalt continues: "Multiplayer used to be this kind of off-side thing that people get together and that's cool. But now it's sophisticated, and gamers play multiplayer religiously and they expect a certain level of quality. It cant just be a side thing anymore, it's got to be the focus."

Prey 2 releases next year for 360, PC and PS3.

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