Prey 2 preview: Alien sequel

Prey 2 is so radically different from the first game in terms of look, gameplay and feel that it should really be approached with entirely different expectations. Though the universe may be the same and is set to include an appearance from Prey's former protagonist, Tommy, this isn't the straightforward sequel you may have expected from Human Head Studios.

The hands-off demonstration at Bethesda's BFG 2011 event emerged from a downed airplane on an alien world. From there, you -- playing as US Air Marshall Killian Samuels -- begin a frantic battle with strange aliens amid the wreckage of his plane, using only your standard issue pistol. After you're knocked out by one of the aliens, the preview jumps forward a few years to a point where Killian is a talented bounty hunter in an open, alien city. In an interesting turn of events, neither you nor Killian have any idea of what transpired during the interim. Killian is aware of his profession and has retained his skills, but beyond that it's up to you to piece together the missing years.%Gallery-121460% The American Indian storyline of Prey 1 is gone, along with the portal system and topsy-turvy changes in gravity. In fact, none of the game takes place on a sphere, the main setting of the first game. The sphere has instead been replaced with a futuristic alien city, complete with crime, casinos and ... loose women. The crime-ridden environment is an attempt to create what was referred to as "alien noir," a nod to James Cameron's term "tech noir" used to describe his film, The Terminator.

And how does a bounty hunter, looking to ask questions the hard way, behave in such a place? Like many open-world games, there is a police-like presence that keeps you from indulging in serial killer tendencies, as well as a morality meter similar to that of Red Dead Redemption. You don't have to be nice, but somewhat mindful of the long, alien arm of the law.

The city is deliberately built with verticality in mind and exudes elements of Mirror's Edge. Freerunning is a very important feature, and it looks to be some of the most fluid yet presented in a video game. When he is able to jump either sideways or upward from a ledge, Killian lifts his hand in the appropriate direction to let you know the action is safe. If you're obviously aiming for a certain ledge and miss it by just a bit, the game will compensate with forgiveness, so as not to interrupt the flow of parkour. This is important, since you spend a lot of time sneaking up on characters from up high -- the possible frustration in getting to these locales seems to have been blunted. Killian also acquires a nice pair of hover boots that allow him to quickly descend from the great heights of the city.

With the parkour components comes a snap-to cover system that helps when things get loud and messy. You can shoot while hanging from ledges, using them as cover and then dropping from them as a quick exit. Enemies use cover as well, though you can counter with a gadget that levitates them out of their hiding spots and creates an instant shooting gallery.

Another gadget available to you is the visor (think: Arkham Asylum's detective mode), which highlights objectives, potential bounties, DNA trails and other points of interest. After consulting the visor, Killian tails a low-end bounty inside a scummy casino, gives chase and eventually tackles him. At that point, you're given the option to capture or kill their bounty, depending on where you want to fall on the spectrum of morality.

Prey 2 has a unique touch with how it deals with weapons. Your gun is holstered, and only pulled out in situations that call for shooting. This makes the game feel much more realistic, as you aren't pointing a gun in someone's face as they try to thank you for saving their life. If you decide to pull the gun anyway, people shy away, quiver, or start shooting -- no one ignores a gun pointed in their face.

Later on, I saw Killian pursue a story mission in which he needs to find an informant that can lead him to an important bounty. After tracking the informant down (thanks, visor!), Killian is asked for monetary compensation. Instead of complying, however, he throws the informant's bodyguard over a railing and is consequently given the information at no charge. This kind of choice promises to be a common aspect of Prey 2, and it is revealed that the informant now feels that Killian owes him a serious favor for killing his bodyguard (go figure).

In capturing his next bounty, Killian is faced with a dozen entry points into a building, all with different advantages and disadvantages. Ultimately, he chooses to take the bounty's first lieutenant hostage and attempt to use him as leverage, but the unamused bounty kills the hostage in an attempt to shoot Killian. Although using a meatshield as collateral failed in this instance, there are times in which it is the perfect approach. After failing to kill Killian the bounty makes a run for it, just like every stupid criminal in every video game.

Chasing the crook is made much more difficult by the fact that he can teleport short distances, forcing the pursuer to find a unique path instead of simply following in the bounty's footsteps. Once captured, the bounty offered the player more money than the bounty was worth, creating a distinct decision – take the money or maintain Killian's upstanding reputation.

Prey 2 was not without faults, however. Some of the interactions with NPCs were a bit sloppy and in one instance, an alien looked as if he wasn't interacting with any of the environment around him. The game is running on a "heavily modified" id Tech 4 engine instead of the new id Tech 5, so we may begin to see the limits of the id Tech 4 with a game as ambitious as Prey 2.

Also, it now relies on a checkpoint system following death, instead of the innovative portals of Prey that would dump you right back into a firefight. I didn't see any missions other than finding a bounty and chasing them, so I hope that's just one of several different tasks. With 20 upgradeable gadgets and 40 upgradeable weapons, however, there likely won't be a lack of creative ways to capture creeps.

Even though Human Head is playing fast and loose with the term "sequel," Prey 2 looks very promising. For those expecting more portals and wall-walking, you won't find them here. Subtle hints were dropped indicating that we can expect to learn more about the Prey universe, but beyond this, it is basically an entirely new IP. Regardless, for anyone who loved Mirror's Edge and Blade Runner, Prey 2 is something to keep an eye on. Let's just hope Prey 3 isn't a music game.


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.