If you're not an enthusiast like me, you probably haven't heard of PREY. Created by Human Head Studios, the game spent ten years in development hell, bouncing from publisher to publisher, existing only as vaporware. Then finally, in 2006, the game found its feet and staggered out onto the stage, where it won critical acclaim, with a standing 83% score on Metacritic. Using a heavily modified version of the id Tech 4 engine, it featured support for dynamic portals and gravity-shifting, which it made considerable use of in its numerous and clever puzzles. I personally loved it for its very campy, but human story, and its incredibly respectful and non-stereotypical portrayal of Cherokee culture, something I have yet to see satisfactorily repeated anywhere else. It did so well that it caught the attention of Bethesda studios, who purchased the rights to the property from the game's original publishers, the ill-fated 3D Realms, rescuing the franchise and its developers from going down the drain with the floundering company.
The first PREY ended in a cliffhanger, and it was made clear that despite its turbulent development history, Human Head planned to make a sequel. They almost succeeded too. E3 goers in 2011 were wowed by a cinematic trailer featuring parkour mechanics, nifty gadgets, and a new story placing the player in the shoes of U.S. Marshal Killian Samuels, a man stranded on the alien planet of Exodus after being abducted in the events of the first game. The plot would've featured Killian making a living as a bounty hunter while trying to recover his memories, before coming into contact with Domasi Tawodi, aka 'Tommy', the protagonist of the first game. Unfortunately, despite being apparently ready, the game was never released and slipped back into development hell like its predecessor.
Eventually, Human Head stated they had ceased work on the title and not long after, PREY 2 was officially announced as cancelled by Bethesda Softworks in 2014. For a while it seemed that was that…until a few months ago. During E3 2016, Bethesda released a new trailer featuring a man named Morgan, trapped in some kind of Groundhog Day-style time loop, followed by shots of futuristic architecture and shadowy, amorphous monsters flitting about in dark rooms. When I watched it and saw the reformatted title 'PREY' appear at the end, I was baffled. Immediately I looked up details. It turned out that after Human Head had abandoned work on its creation, the title had been handed over to Dishonored developer Arkane Studios, whose first act was to wipe the slate clean, throwing everything out the window in favor of a new story in a roughly similar vein to the original game.
At first I was somewhat indifferent, given that the endless rumors and passage of time had squashed my thirst to go bounty-hunting among the alien-noir streets of Exodus some time ago. However, as the reality sank in, I began to feel cheated. So far, it seemed like Arkane had removed everything I loved about the original PREY and replaced it with what I could only describe as a lovechild of System Shock and Dishonored, at least according to their descriptions. Furthermore, given the fact that System Shock was already getting a remake, it seemed doubly worrying.
I have done my best not to be disappointed, but I cannot help but feel that if Arkane is set on changing things so thoroughly, then there isn't much point in keeping the title. If it truly has virtually no ties to the original game, then it should be treated as a new property, not an extension of an existing one. Leeching off the original PREY's popularity without retaining any of what made it popular is a recipe for bad things. That no one seems to have noticed this is bad news. I can readily understand why so many fans of the franchise feel unhappy, since I am among them.
Regardless, I will not deny that the game is intriguing. The new trailer, released on July 4th at QuakeCon, seems to indicate that there are potentially more temporal shenanigans are afoot than just time loops. The flowing, almost gaseous monsters and implications of the panicked dialogue in the second half made me think of Michael Crichton's book Prey, where an intelligent cloud of nanites begins to break constraints and hunt its human creators. Arkane has mentioned they will be retaining some superficial elements of the original PREY, including alien involvement, but to what extent they aren't saying, which again makes me very worried. I don't doubt that they can make a fun game…but will it be a game that fans of both faces of the franchise will want to play?
At this point, it's too early to tell what direction this is going to go. I wish this reborn franchise the best of luck, but I also pray it does its best to be more original, and sticks closer to what made the first incarnation so fun. If it does turn out to be too much like System Shock, this reboot might be doomed to the same fate as so many other 'reboots' of recent years that tried to hard to get away from their roots, and I'd really rather that didn't happen here.