The first Prey was about Tommy, an American-Indian man fighting his alien abductors using portals and out-of-body experiences. It only makes sense that its sequel should be an open-world alien noir about a freerunning bounty hunter who looks like the result of a night of passion between Commander Shepard and a beanie.
The bounty hunter is the terribly named Killian Samuels, a US Marshall abducted from a passenger jet mid-flight in the same incident as Tommy. While Tommy fights back, eventually destroying the sphere that swallowed him, Killian is knocked unconscious by his captors. The game then skips forward several years. In that time, Killian has become a tracker of scum and villainy on an alien planet named Exodus, but has no idea how he got there.
“We wanted to flip the predator/prey relationship, from where Tommy was preyed upon by the sphere, to where you're preying on the aliens,” says art designer Jim Sumwalt. “That led to a new protagonist being a bounty hunter.” Tommy will still feature in the game, but it's a mystery as to how.
Exodus is tidally locked, meaning that one half always faces the sun and the other is always in darkness. The demo I'm shown takes place in the Bowery, a multilevel city on the border of the two, with coloured lighting, black buildings and flying cars.
Killian goes looking for trouble at a local strip club. On stage, two holographic ladies dance. The first game's Keepers are there, along with a lot of new alien races. They look like the extraterrestrials in every other game, except some of them wear sweaters. This makes them 60% more adorable.
In the course of his bounty hunting work, Killian can acquire around 20 gadgets, the most basic of which is a visor that highlights alien criminals. It marks one watching the show, wanted dead or alive. In this situation, the player can either shoot him in the back, capture him or threaten him. Killian does the latter.
The perp runs. Killian takes off after him, shoving pedestrians aside. It's a brief chase before the criminal is tied up in electric bolos, and Killian shoots him dead.
This guy was an optional 'ambient bounty'. If you're not in the mood to pursue the story's core missions, you can spend your time taking jobs from locals or searching for marks on your own. Or, if you're a dick, you can mug aliens for loose change and shove people from ledges. This isn't as robust an open world as Skyrim – it's not a place you could live, but there's enough to make you want to holiday here.
To pursue a more official mission, Killian pulls up the Bounty Wire. There are a few options, but Killian selects “Capture Dra'Gar”, presumably for crimes against apostrophes. The first objective is to reach the informant on one of the city's upper levels. There are probably stairs, but you don't need them. Like all good science-fiction cities, the Bowery is filled with small ledges and pipes, and Killian has the parkour skills to shimmy up them. He's soon face to face with his informant and his cute ferret-looking bodyguard.
The informant wants money for the information, but Killian pulls his pistol. A couple of bullets send the huggable ferret tumbling over the ledge, and the informant gives over the information. Dra'Gar is at the city's nightclub.
There are multiple routes inside, and Killian uses a side window, grabbing an alien from behind and taking him hostage. He doesn't provide much cover; when Dra'Gar sees you, he teleports toward the door while his bodyguards start firing. The combat is fast – even with a first-person cover system – and Killian's shotgun rips the bodyguards apart.
Back in the streets, Dra'Gar is teleporting ten feet at a time, shifting between the city's levels. Killian follows, leaping from object to object, climbing up pipes and firing the whole time.
“Other games have you run away from the combat with parkour, while we want you to run towards the combat,” explains Sumwalt. The controls sit at a mid-point between Mirror's Edge and Brink. You'll be pushing buttons to perform each move, but no matter what you're holding onto, Killian can keep blowing shit up.
After blowing up more guards in a casino with a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher and using anti-gravity grenades to take down a chaingunner, Dra'Gar reaches a dead-end. Killian captures him in an electrical field and is given a choice: send him back to the client, or interrogate him. The latter might provide information, but it could kill him. Killian plays it safe and sends him to the client.
Human Head and Bethesda aren't playing it safe. There's plenty that's familiar about Prey 2's art style and fiction, but it throws out everything people knew from the first game in favour of an ambitious and compelling new fantasy. I can think of no other game character I'm more looking forward to being than a free-running bounty hunter in an explorable alien city. It's a shame about the beanie, though.