Before you start this article, watch this.
Good. Now, that you’ve done that we can begin. I’m going to assume you’ve done it. I’m trusting you here. If you haven’t watched it yet, you’re missing out. Scout’s honour? Anyway, here it is again and then I’ll proceed unimpeded.
So, recently there’s been some hubbub about that new Prey game by Arkane Studios. You might have heard about it. Prey (2017) was teased last year at E3 during the Bethesda E3 press conference. The trailer for that game is alright too, now that I think about it. Link here. The trailer is part-Groundhog Day, part-The Matrix, part-System Shock, part-The Thing, and so on. Prey (2017) blends these influences well and altogether looks like a decent game.
It’s absolutely not my cup of tea. I’ve never been one for horror games or horror adjacent games. The bravest I’ve been has been playing Bioshock and owning Outlast on Steam. I’m not big on horror movies either. It might be that I don’t derive much enjoyment from fear. I was a rather scared teenager watching the scarier parts of I Am Legend (2007). Now that I’m older I can generally stomach a good scare but I suspect that the pop culture tastes I developed as a scared kid shaped my personal preferences in adulthood (I do remember fearing the Basilisk in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets when that film came out).
Some might have been rather pleased when the rebranded and rebooted Prey found its way onto the screens of E3 in mid-last year. Not I, though. I was slightly dejected, knowing that this new beast which didn’t appeal to me had replaced a game that I had been excited for many years prior. E3 2011 was probably the first time I sat up and paid attention to E3. For most of my early gaming life, I’d grabbed whatever game I could, creating a bizarre gaming history with nostalgia for all the wrong franchises (I have little faith that Wallace and Gromit in Project Zoo will receive a sequel).
E3 2011 was probably the first time I woke up as a gaming consumer and dived into the murky hype machine that E3 and the gaming industry can sometimes be. Prey (2017) has brought all of this back as I remember the game that this game usurped. As I remember the first game I was hyped for, becoming vapourware. Prey 2 was a sequel to a game I hadn’t even heard of but every part of that trailer scratched an itch that wasn’t being scratched for me in my gaming life. First off, it was probably the first time I’d heard Johnny Cash’s ‘Rusty Cage’ (My Dad was somewhat of a Cash fan but for whatever reason, that song didn’t receive much air time). Now, I’m going to talk about all the elements of that trailer from E3 2011 that show the sort of game that Prey 2 could’ve been, why there’s no game quite like it in gaming today, and what elements a legally distinct game could draw from it to make a potentially great game.
Ok, so from the outset of the trailer we experience a familiar scene that is totally incongruous with the rest of the trailer. Presumably, the character we would have been playing as is involved in a plane crash, in a crash that was seemingly caused by aliens. The plane crash feels like a familiar opening to any of us who played Bioshock (As I understand it, the plane crash is actually a reference to the original Prey game). Anyway, you crash and find yourself surrounded by aliens and brandishing a Deputy Marshal badge, a sign of your former life.
The trailer moves into my favourite aspect of the trailer. We get a sense that some time has passed and now you are working as a bounty hunter with some cool tech. You begin pursuit of some alien figure, wanted for ransom, as you shoot every enemy you encounter. The concept of bounties as a core quest giving mechanic feels like it hasn’t really been done before. Many games feature bounties, but as nothing more than a message board with a wanted poster. In the world of this hypothetical game that might never exist, it’s easy to imagine each bounty as a unique quest with its own unique challenges. I’ve not played it, but the comparison could be made to Monster Hunter, or more closely perhaps to Shadow of Mordor. You can imagine being kitted out with various different gadgets and skills, with an arsenal akin to a Ubisoft game.
The setting is interesting as well. Dingy back alleys with all sorts of creatures, feeling like a mix of Coruscant and the Mos Eisley Cantina from the Star Wars universe. This setting hasn’t really been explored in games, with its closest comparison being the dingy streets of Jak II’s world (I told you my past was eclectic, I’ve never even played Jak 1). One can imagine the effortless parkour of some Ubisoft games (it’s weird that that keeps coming back) fitting into this world as you chase your targets across a bustling city. Perhaps even the sharpshooting of a Red Dead Redemption. In fact, if there is one flaw in the presentation of this game, it’s that the protagonist with his beanie and whatnot feels like he’s trying to be too cool. Perhaps leaning into a Wild West parallel and the lone gunman archetype would result in a more dynamic character design, rather than looking like a random NPC in the Division.
Why am I so hung up on this game you might ask? I feel like it’s because there’s nothing quite like it in the gaming world today. Not many games have tried the Space Western concept which is so rich in other media (Firefly and Star Wars, for example) and there’s a real market not being served here. Done well, this game could be for Space Westerns what Red Dead Redemption was for actual Westerns. So, that’s why the new Prey, despite being well acclaimed and looking fine, just won’t be able to enrapture me like it might others. It’s like if I was Tywin from Game of Thrones and someone told me Jaime was dead. Tyrion’s still alive but he’s not exactly what I’m looking for in a son. I miss the old one that the new one supplanted.
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