E3 2011's Most Anticipated: Prey 2
18th May 2011 | 13:20
The games on show at E3 2011 are some of the best in living memory. So you really owe it to yourself to vote in CVG's inaugural E3 2011 Awards... in the Most Anticipated Title category.
Shortly before the show, we'll work out which of these 60 special E3 game previews have enjoyed the most page views, Facebook 'Likes', ReTweets and poll votes (see below) and crown our first victor of the Los Angeles event. Show your favourites the love!
Game: Prey 2
Likelihood of E3 2011 showing: Certain
It might not have been a title which troubled the Top Ten lists, but Prey was a game way ahead of its time. Set aboard a reality-warping alien mothership known as the Sphere, the game tricked out its corridor-shooter core with all manner of mind-melting gimmicks.
It pipped Portal to portals and set the player's stomach spinning with abrupt switches in gravity and scale. The sequel, you might expect, would take these ideas and run. But you'd be wrong.
Prey 2 is an entirely different beast, and the physics-bending tricks have been left behind in the smouldering husk of the Sphere. So too has the first game's Native American hero, along with all his cool (if cringingly caricaturish) spiritual powers.
Normally, ditching such defining qualities would be a disappointment, but devs Human Head have more than enough ambition to plug the gap. Instead of the Sphere, we get Exodus: a distant alien planet, teeming with criminal ETs.
Instead of the usual linear progression of corridors, we get an open world: at least three bustling cities, each the size of an Assassin's Creed II level. And instead of portals, we get parkour.
Borrowing some of the moves from Mirror's Edge, Prey 2 lets the player vault across its environment with fluid first-person acrobatics. The towering, sprawling urban expanses of Exodus are the perfect playground for such skills - crammed with gantries and girders, walkways and underpasses, every inch of the world is seeded with alternative routes that a beady eye and a nimble gait can easily pick out.
But whereas in Mirror's Edge these would be used to get you out of trouble quickly, Prey 2 is all about getting you into it. As bounty hunter Killian Samuels, you use your agility to locate, pursue and capture alien targets. Few of your marks are willing to go quietly either - and many have spectacular otherworldly abilities.
You never know quite what you're up against: super-speed, teleportation, flight, or simply a host of henchmen to hamper your pursuit. You'll need to make smart use of your parkour skills if you want to keep up - exploiting every short cut to shave off the metres between you and your paycheck.
Samuels has more than free-running at his disposal, he also has a grab-bag of futuristic gadgets: hover boots that allow him to glide across otherwise impassable gaps, shoulder-mounted rocket launchers and fizzing electric bolas which wrap round a target to immobilise them.
There are more than 20 such gadgets in the game - from passive night-vision modes to decidedly not-passive anti-gravity waves which send enemies pinwheeling through the air in slow motion; the idea is to give the player so many options that they're able to carve their own play style into each combat encounter.
When combined with parkour, gun-battles become frenetic affairs, with the player darting around the scenery like a monkey, getting the drop on entrenched enemies from on high, ripping them out of cover with the anti-gravity device, or simply outflanking them with a Bulletstorm-style slide.
But it's not all shooting - this is not Far Cry 2's tirelessly hostile world. There's an RPG-lite flavour to the hustle and bustle, with a strong emphasis on the hustle: the alien city shown during our demonstration was The Bowery, a seedy hotbed of strip-bars, backroom deals and sin that exists in a perpetual twilight.
Advertising blimps float above the flickering neon-lit streets, which instantly recall the wet, steaming alleys of - what else? - Blade Runner. With so many dodgy denizens on the make, it's no surprise that Samuels' services are in high demand, as he's asked to capture fleeing debtors or simply settle their tab with a few bullets.
Samuels can pick up bounties in one of two ways. He can simply walk into an area and scan it - the HUD outlines nearby lifeforms and identifies them. Stumble across a wanted man, and Samuels can take on an impromptu mission. There are plenty of other randomised world events in which Samuels can choose to intervene: maybe some poor chap is getting roughed up by thugs - lend him a hand and he might bung you some cash.
Equally, you may decide tussling with heavies isn't cost-effective. There are easier pickings to be had; poke your gun into a cowering civilian's face and they will keenly part with their money. The other way of getting work is to call up a handy menu of available jobs on your HUD.
These are generally meatier, multi-part affairs than the impromptu chases. The one we witnessed saw Samuels tasked with taking down a local mafioso - but without a fix on his location we need to first coax a lead from an information broker.
The guy drives a hard bargain, but he's more compliant after we blow a hole through his bodyguard's face - which, incidentally, also demonstrates just how flexibly the world reacts to the player's freedom.
It turns out that the target is hiding in a grubby little club downtown. We are able to gain entrance by taking a nearby gang member hostage and walking him at gunpoint through the locked doors.
Things become messier shortly thereafter, with our inhuman shield rapidly punctured by his fellow gang members. The chase spills out across the city. Our bolas don't work, as this target can teleport short distances - so we chase him until he has nowhere left to run, dispatching the goons that flood in to protect him along the way.
Finally, at the edge of the spaceport, facing a sheer drop or incarceration, he begs us to let him go. He can pay us double what the other guy is paying, he says. We could accept his offer - sometimes you may even choose to kill the original mission giver - but in this instance we decide to stand by our word.
Fizzing bonds pin the goon's body in the air, while a portal emerges from behind and swallows him whole, whisking him away to our paymaster's lair. It may seem strange that a game that first made its name with portals, would then consign them to such a small bit-part in the sequel.
But it's to Human Head's credit that, after that delirious, freeform chase, it doesn't feel anything like a disappointment. Few other videogame series dare to depart from the known formula - Prey 2 does that and then some, tying it all together in an ambitious open world.
At a time when the bleating herd of shooters seems content to simply follow in Call Of Duty's supremely linear footsteps, Prey 2 could well turn out to be a killer.
[Words: Xbox World 360]