Prey 2 creative director sets the scene for an 'alien noir'

Prey 2 drew a lot of quick comparisons to games like Mirror's Edge and Mass Effect following Human Head's gameplay presentation at Bethesda's "BFG 2011" media event last week. Afterwards, I talked with Human Head co-founder Jim Sumwalt, creative director of Prey 2, about another big influence on the game -- film noir.

Set in a futuristic, hyper-vertical alien city, Prey 2 features some essential nods to the kind of classic Hollywood film noir that was inspired by German Expressionism. "The obvious is the use of light to create dramatic, long shadows," Sumwalt pointed out. "There's a really awesome use of color and reflective surfaces and distorted images." He cited newer neo-noir films, such as Sin City, as the inspiration for Prey 2's use of shadows. In an alien city, with a confused protagonist (he's got amnesia!), this effect almost guarantees a frantic, stressful tone, which is exactly what Sumwalt and company hope to achieve.

At the start of Prey 2, the main character, Killian, wakes up in an alien city with no recollection of who he is or where he is. He soon discovers that he's a skilled bounty hunter of sorts (back on Earth, he was a US Air Marshall) and has to use his hunting skills to piece his life back together. While amnesia is not an express element of film noir, the back-biting and cagey characters that color the scene in the game certainly are. "We came up with the bounty hunter plan and we needed a backdrop for that," Sumwalt explained. "He needs lots of targets. He needs a seedy environment, and noir just jumped off the page and it was perfect." Sumwalt added that the often brutal nature of the film noir genre is a perfect fit for a violent, open-world game.

"Noir just jumped off the page and it was perfect." - Jim Sumwalt, creative dir.

While Rockstar's upcoming LA Noire features the classic film noir elements of the '40s and '50s, Prey 2 looks to build off of more contemporary sources to create the game's "alien noir" aesthetic. Unsurprisingly, Sumwalt revealed that "tech-noir," the term coined by James Cameron to describe his 1984 film, The Terminator, is a key inspiration for Prey 2. (Think also: Ridley Scott's Alien and Blade Runner flicks.)

In Prey 2, we can expect to encounter plenty of clear-cut, self-interested villains, but more importantly, many of the characters we might at first perceive to be good guys will end up staring down the barrel of Killian's gun. Such is noir. And then, too, added Sumwalt, "A lot of times there's a power conflict going on that's bigger than the protagonist." Yeah, like that Sphere lurking out there in the galaxy abducting people. That's pretty big.


Nationally acclaimed freelance writer Jonathan Deesing has been covering video games for dozens of weeks. His professional knowledge ranges from skiing to Peruvian history, and, of course, anything with buttons.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.