I'd suffered through too many bad Predator movies to get excited about Prey, but now I'm an evangelist spreading the good news: this is the best Predator movie since Arnie flexed his muscles in the jungle. It's striking but understated, leaving plenty of room between the lavish violence to build tension and develop not just Naru, played by the superb Amber Midthunder, but her alien adversary as well. And now that we've finally got another great Predator movie, wouldn't it be nice if we got a game to match?
Predator hasn't exactly gone ignored by game developers: there's a long list of adaptations going all the way back to 1987, though in most of them the spotlight is shared with the xenomorphs. This was the case with the best Predator games: 1999's Aliens versus Predator and its 2001 sequel. There was even an AvP RTS in 2003. But aside from an appearance in Mortal Kombat X, there's not been much Predator love for years.
When Predator: Hunting Grounds came along in 2020, then, my interest was piqued. There were no xenomorphs this time—just a ruthless alien hunter and a bunch of clueless human soldiers trying to do their job while being picked off. The setup was great, and it had moments where it perfectly captured the first film's tension, with the squad nervously walking through the hostile jungle, twitching constantly, scanning the trees for anything—but those were the exceptions.
For the marine players, it was mostly an iffy co-op PvE affair, with lots of gormless AI grunts to mow down and repetitive objectives to complete. Things picked up whenever the Predator entered the fray, of course, but without a skilled player at the helm they could quickly fall to concentrated fire, leaving the rest of the players to mop up and head to the extraction area.
Live service games like Hunting Grounds might be easier to pitch to publishers these days, but they're not a good fit for a series that is all about these long, tense hunts with both hunter and prey getting more exhausted, desperate and creative. It's extremely hard to replicate that in 15 minute matches.
Prey makes such a good blueprint for a Predator game, even more so than the original, not just because of its simplicity—two warriors hunting each other down in a forest—but because of the emphasis on survival. Dutch is no slouch in this regard, but Naru is a hunter rather than a soldier, and thus relies on her wits even more. She's very capable, but she's no muscle-bound marine, and her arsenal doesn't get much more advanced than a broken flintlock pistol. She's also a healer, and her knowledge of the flora of the Great Plains not only saves lives, it helps her neutralise one of her adversary's main advantages.
Given the immense popularity of survival games, this would translate very well to the other medium. It creates a greater contrast between the Predator and their human quarry, too, with one relying on their powerful sci-fi toys while the other uses the environment and their wits. One of the reasons most Predator games let us play as the monster is, simply, because he's the one with all the fun stuff. But creating traps and weaponising the forest sounds just as compelling as hanging out in the trees as an invisible assassin.
While this could work in multiplayer, human opponents are just too random to play a convincing Predator. I don't want to fight a goofy alien who keeps fucking up when they're trying to jump from tree to tree, but I also don't want to fight someone who's played for 200 hours and knows all the tricks. What I want, really, is the xenomorph from Alien: Isolation.
The xenomorph had just the right level of AI to give the impression of life—a dynamic, intelligent stalker—while still being beholden to rules and scripted to act in very specific ways. Just like a movie monster. It was terrifying and surprising, but it always did things I'd expect a xenomorph to do. It's killed me many times, but not once has it tried to dunk its balls on my face.
And like Prey and Alien: Isolation, the Predator should seem unstoppable at first. Surely, right? You can't see the Big Bad getting his alien ass kicked in the first 15 minutes. But, unlike Alien: Isolation, you've still got to be able to hurt him a bit. In Prey, it takes a few close calls before Naru figures out a strategy that'll take her enemy out, but she and her fellow Comanche get some good licks in before that. This makes sense as a progression system: each encounter with the Predator allows you to learn more, if you can survive, getting you one step closer to decapitating him. There's weapon progression, too. Naru starts out with just a bow and spear but eventually discovers new, deadlier tools.
Wild animals and French trappers could serve as additional obstacles when you're not facing the Predator, as well as being a source of weapons and materials. Furs to keep you warm during those night-time hunts, or gunpowder to use in explosive traps. Where Hunting Grounds made those ancillary threats stupid and toothless, I much prefer Alien: Isolation's approach, where it made the Working Joes nearly as intimidating as the xenomorph. Combat should feel like a big risk. This is in keeping with Prey, too, where nobody gets out of a fight without at least a few scrapes—including the Predator.
My brain is probably just broken from critiquing videogames for over a decade, but there's hardly any part of Prey where I couldn't see it working extremely well in a game. Granted, that's in part because of its simplicity, but there are also plenty of specific elements that feel tailor-made for this era of gaming, with its asymmetric conflict and focus on survival. Also the bows. We go wild for bows.
This makes sense, since director Dan Trachtenberg was actually influenced by games, specifically God of War, which he noted on Twitter (opens in new tab) when Kratos's latest adventure hit PC. I can see it, but it equally reminds me of The Last of Us Part 2, Hellblade and the Horizon series, not just because they feature some tough ladies, but because of the shared theme of survival, the seemingly insurmountable odds, and the constant juggling of stress and exhilaration. It's pretty much begging to be adapted. But failing that, simply a good Predator videogame would suffice. One without matchmaking and microtransactions, preferably.