Prey is the latest reality-bending, RPG-tinged, first-person action game from Arkane, the folks who make Dishonored. First shown during Bethesda's press conference at E3 2016, the new Prey pits a man - or woman - with a tenuous grip on their sanity against a horde of nightmare aliens invading a near-future space station. Their means of fighting back? A dizzying array of interconnecting special powers and open-ended gameplay possibilities, some violent, some not, and all very, very creative. It's a lot like Dishonored in space, spliced with BioShock, and could well be a front-runner for Game of 2017.
Every time we've seen it, from its initial, enigmatic teaser trailer, to the world premiere gameplay reveal at Quakecon 2016, to our recent hands-on sessions (which showed us just how ludicrously free-form it is), the game has become bigger, and weirder, and smarter, and more exciting. Here's everything you need to know. Shall we crack on?
Update: April 12, 2017 - Prey demo is coming before launch
A Prey demo for Xbox One and PS4 has been announced, delivering the full first hour of the game for free, just over a week before the game's release. This is a good thing, because Prey looks to have a particular kind of brilliance: The kind that, being the product of many interlinking systems and myriad, freeform gameplay options, is really, really hard to grasp unless you've seen or played a good chunk of it yourself. So flex that download finger and get ready to give the Prey demo a go when it hits on April 27.
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Prey release date is... sooner than you think
The game is headed to PS4, Xbox One, and PC on May 5, 2017. That's way sooner than most expected, given that it was revealed relatively recently.
Prey gameplay trailer is dark, chaotic, and dripping with atmosphere
Here's the latest pure gameplay trailer for Prey, which highlights the action, but also shows off a great deal of Morgan's world-bending abilities and a fair old wave of the over-arching mystery. If you want more of that moody, enigmatic weirdness, check out the original reveal trailer.
Prey's story is under wraps, but we do know some choice details
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.
Prey's 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 the logo of the station. In whatever way he's embedded on Talos 1, Morgan has clearly been here for 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.
As if being hunted by swirling extraterrestrial wraiths wasn't bad enough, Morgan's clearly going through a tough time personally: either s/he's losing his sanity, being manipulated and deceived by his/her keepers, or has 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 back, even though Morgan 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 gameplay is an enticing mix of BioShock, Dishonored and brand new ideas
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 strategic gunplay in the aim of problem solving, while bringing 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 are a lot more, and all are open to radical reinterpretation by way of as many different combos as you can dream up. Want a fuller look at just how ridiculous Prey’s monster-freezing, gravity-boosting, diversion-baiting, wall-climbing, floor-exploding action gets? Check out the power combo demo above. And if you're more interested in pure, extraterrestrial action, there's a showcase for that stuff below.
Morgan is yours to shape as you wish
You won’t just grow your character by way of skill trees and weapon upgrades. In what sounds like a more complex, more personal evolution of Dishonored’s chaos system – whereby violent and pacifistic actions have varying effects on the aggression of the game world – your decisions in Prey (of which there will be many, as you meet the station’s various survivors and decide how to deal with their pleas and requests) will steadily affect just who your version of Morgan turns out to be.
He or she will start out as a relative blank canvas, but this isn’t some silent-protagonist cop-out. Morgan has lost his or her memory, but has a very involved past on Talos 1. A profile. Friends. A career. Maybe even a hand in the current, bloody mystery. As you reconnect with the world you once inhabited, you’ll discover more about these connections, but you’ll also colour and reshape them with your present-day actions. You’ll discover the raw material of a life, but you’ll sculpt it into something new with every choice you make.
This will affect the endings (of which there are many potentials), but more organically, it will also alter the reactions of everyone you meet. Human survivors will respond differently depending on who you’re turning into, and the station as a whole will change its attitude based on what you’re turning into. Choose to adopt enough alien power, for instance, and security turrets will start classifying you as a threat. And then there’s the small matter of giant hulking alien beasts who will become aware that there’s an imposter in their midst trying to make a name for itself…
The aliens aren’t simply random monsters. Each has specific purpose
But don’t go thinking Prey’s monsters are just a series of fantastical, swirling nightmares, designed by the rule of cool alone. Serious thought has gone into what they are, why they exist, and what they do. Just as Talos 1 is built of decades of intricate alternative history, so too has Arkane put a lot of planning into the Typhon as a plausible, comprehensible species.
Behaving somewhere between plant pollen and an ant colony, they apparently use those aforementioned Mimics as seeders, sent out in a raw form to try to get a foothold in any new world they attempt to invade. If that works, the environment is deemed viable, and the Mimics then start to produce ‘coral’, a sort of organic building structure. Then the coral starts to repurpose the dominant life-form in the area into soldier units called the Phantom. In Prey, the Phantoms take on a humanoid shape because, well, they used to be human. Enjoy that thought when you’re shotgunning them in the face.
Whether any of this evolutionary interplay will be open to manipulation in the game is currently unknown, but on the other hand, this is Arkane. Systemic cause and effect is what the studio just does.
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 dark new, space-themed, 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.