‘Prey’ Is More Freaky Sci-fi, Less Horror
‘Prey’ Creative Director Raphael Colantonio on making Arkane’s latest immersive sim
Warning: the story contains story spoilers for the first hour of Prey.
I am really, really digging Prey so far. It's an immersive sim with plenty of Dishonored and BioShock influences—which the game proudly wears on its sleeve—a mind-blowing sci-fi premise, and a distinctive visual style. In it, you play as protagonist Morgan Yu, a far-future neuroscientist undergoing some kind of weird experiment, who wakes up to find that not all is as it seems in the world.
You can read what Senior Editor Mike Diver and I thought of the game here, and even though it's early, Prey shot to the top of my 2017 "most anticipated" list on the strength of its first hour.
"We wanted to do something in Space," said Arkane Creative Director Raphael Colantonio, speaking to a small group of journalists assembled after playing the demo. Bethesda had the Prey property, Arkane had the desire to get sci-fi, and the process was very organic from there.
Though there are no narrative ties to the first Prey—this is an entirely new universe, where protagonist Morgan Yu finds him or herself (you can make that choice at the beginning of the game), Prey takes plenty of inspiration from other games, particularly those in the Looking Glass lineage. Colantonio was happy to list the System Shock (and later, BioShock) games, as well as Thief and its own spiritual successor, Dishonored, as direct inspiration. "There's definitely a vibe there," he said of BioShock in particular.
But there's plenty new here—wrench combat, art deco flourishes and Dishonored-style level and character design aside. "Dishonored is a different power fantasy. It's mission-based, and there's always a target," said Colantonio. "In the case of Prey, it's more of a space dungeon.
"It's a continuous space, an open station. You can explore the station any way you like. In Dishonored, it's about the moment-to-moment. In the case of Prey, it's a case of surviving and finding out what happened to you."
That wide-open design is apparent from the first moments you set foot on the Talos 1 space station, with several apparent ways to approach every obstacle. You can upgrade Morgan to be an engineer (focusing on hacking, repair skills, and getting machines to do your dirty work), a scientist (who can use elements in the world to do "research" and craft unique tools and weapons), or a security specialist (the combat build). I saw satisfying (and very different) solutions to problems immediately, and environments that spoke much more to Dishonored's freedom than the original BioShock's more linear nature.
I got some serious SOMA and Alien: Isolation vibes from my time with the game, too. There's a weird, gorgeously rendered space station here, with emails to read, audio logs to listen to, and menacing creatures lurking in the dark. A sense of beauty and intense danger in equal measure.
"Isolation was cool, it was one of those games that did a few things very well!" Said Colantonio. And while it ended up going in a different direction in the final game, one enemy type took a direct line from Isolation's horrifying, too-real AI creature.
"We had a creature called the nightmare, that appears dynamically," he said. "It ended up being its own thing, but originally, it was very much like the Alien."
On that note, one in the group asked if Prey was going to lean into body horror, and be a "true" horror game. "The setup is horrific, by nature," he said, "but we are not specifically trying to make a horror game."
Much of that comes down to the design: Morgan is pretty powerful in this world, even if you build out the character to avoid direct combat. Say, if you get the machines on the station to do the dirty work for you, as Colantonio prefers to do.
"I always take hacking," he said, when asked how he likes to play the game. "I just like to hack things, to shortcut challenges," and make the turrets do the killing. "That's my playstyle, being tricky!"