Bethesda has an excellent track record of taking a chance on fresh ideas like Dishonored and The Evil Within to complement its tried-and-true series like The Elder Scrolls, Doom, and Fallout. The latest game to fit in the former category is Prey, a first-person sci-fi thriller that's entirely new in everything but name. First shown during Bethesda's press conference at E3 2016, this total reboot, from Dishonored developer Arkane Studios, pits a man - or woman - with a tenuous grip on their sanity against a horde of aliens that have invaded a space station.
Even though the public glimpse of Prey has so far been via an enigmatic teaser trailer, we have plenty of details from subsequent demos - the most significant being the world premiere Prey gameplay reveal at Quakecon 2016. So, here's everything you need to know about Prey, then. Shall we crack on?
Prey release date
Prey is headed to PS4, Xbox One, and PC in 2017; the exact date is still TBD.
Here's the cryptic cinematic trailer for Prey, which first debuted at E3 2016. It's as perplexing as it is exciting, but, having seen an extended demo of the game at Quakecon, we've got the details to help you make sense of it all.
Prey is set on the Talos 1 space station, in the year 2035. In Prey's alternate history and future, John F. Kennedy was never shot, and subsequently fuelled the space race with a great gusto - and a huge pile of money. As a result, there was an American-Russian co-designed space station orbiting the moon by the late '60s. But Talos 1 did not remain static. Built upon over subsequent generations, it is now a vast, multi-layered space history lesson, its shiny, neo deco exterior levels housing floor upon floor of less sophisticated technology, with yet another stratus of bulky, clunky, utilitarian '60s Russian tech at it core.
Of late, experiments have been happening on Talos 1. Experiments of which it seems you have very much been a part. As you awake from whatever state you've been in, for however long, you find the station is in disarray. Disarray of the screaming, bloody, surreally twisting nightmare variety. Monsters are afoot on Talos 1. They are strange, they are initially indefinable, and they are very, very dangerous indeed.
The protagonist is Morgan Yu
At the beginning of the reveal trailer, Morgan seems to have a pretty good thing going. A swanky apartment with an amazing view, a nice corporate gig, and a spiffy red spacesuit. But it becomes clear that there's something wrong with this idyllic existence, as Morgan seems to be stuck reliving March 15, 2032. Whether this is a Groundhog Day time loop or a glitch in some kind of augmented reality chamber is still undetermined.
Morgan's coffee mugs and the skyscraper across from his pad are emblazoned with a gigantic 'T', almost definitely branded with the logo of the station. In whatever way he's embedded on Talos 1, Morgan has clearly been here some time, and is - voluntarily or forcibly - entirely naturalised.
Actually, Morgan isn't necessarily a 'he' at all. Because rather excellently, Yu comes in both male and female versions, both equally canon, a la Mass Effect's Commander Shepard. Bethesda has even put out a second version of the reveal trailer, identical in all ways but that it features the female version of Morgan. Obviously it's good - and just entirely bloody sensible - to offer a choice of protagonist genders in 2016, but to compound that fact with a trailer unapologetically cementing female Morgan's legitimacy? Good job, BethSoft.
You shouldn't trust everything you see
As if being hunted by swirling extraterrestrial wraiths wasn't bad enough, Morgan's clearly going through a tough time personally: either he's losing his sanity, being manipulated and deceived by his keepers, or he's been infected in some way by a mind-warping virus (or perhaps all three). This is driven home by a scene in the reveal trailer where a mirror shows Morgan's reflection take a seat and start talking to him, even though Morgan himself is standing motionless, silent and stunned. There's a lot of unusual stuff going on in Prey's story, the whole mess on Talos 1 caused by an experiment intended to accelerate the human experience. It seems that said experience has changed for the worse, and is going to get rather confusing.
And in addition to such dreamlike, existential conundrums, there's also a very real, tangible threat hidden in plain sight. One of the many alien types on the space station is the Mimic, a tricky, skittering, spider-like beastie that has the ability to disguise itself as any object that might be lying around. That bin over there? Don't trust it. That soup-bowl? Better shotgun it into dust, just to be sure. And if a crate seems to move on its own while your back is turned, you'd better get ready for a fight. Because, well, it probably did.
Prey's gameplay could represent a landmark in freeform, immersive, RPG action. A spiritual continuation of the lineage that runs between System Shock and BioShock - both series have shared staff over the years, and some of Prey's top talent has also worked on the similar Deus Ex - Prey looks to expand and evolve those series' concepts of player-led invention, creative use of powers and weaponry in the aim of problem solving, and dense, environmental storytelling to a brand new level. You know, exactly the way that BioShock Infinite, for all of its excellent qualities, didn't.
Here, you have a single, open-world space station - exploration is only gated by abilities and the power of enemies in certain areas - a protagonist on a mysterious quest, and a legion of puzzles, battles, hazards, and miscellaneous dangers to overcome. Your tools in this trial? A growing set of Psi powers, learned from the station's ethereal alien horrors, limited weaponry, and your imagination.
And make no mistake, Prey is going to give your imagination lots to play with. Maybe you'll want to use a kinectic charge grenade to knock a useful item closer to you, past a hazard. Or maybe you'll use the Mimic skill to turn into a small ball - you can transform into pretty much anything you can see, or drop from your inventory if you're stuck for options - and use the charge to launch yourself to your goal like an enthusiastically-struck golf ball.
Or how about considering the gloo gun, a hose of adhesive goop whose 'ammunition' quickly sets fast, freezing anything it hits. You can use it to slow down enemies if you like, before unloading a few barrels of buckshot into them, or you can freeze them and use their stricken forms as cover or even platforms for a handy terrain advantage. Actually, forget that. If you're trying to get upward in a hurry, you can just paint gloo right up the wall in a diagonal streak and use it as a handy, improvised staircase.
And these are just the first two key abilities we've seen. There will be a lot more. Prey is going to be ridiculous.
Prey 2 is gone. This is a whole new game, and a whole new start for the series
Prey 2 - a direct, but gameplay-wise very different, follow-up to 2006's Xbox 360 original - was revealed at E3 2011. It looked lovely, but it's time to forget its gleaming, futuristic, Blade Runner-styled parkour. This Prey is an entirely new game, unrelated in all but name. The story goes that developer Arkane had an idea for a new, space-themed, dark action-RPG, Bethesda had the name free - having cancelled Prey 2 in 2014 - and both parties agreed it would be a good fit. Part reboot, part naming-of-convenience, the main thing you should take away is that this is another great-looking, high concept sci-fi game with a familiar, single-syllable title.