The first-person shooter genre is very different today than it was a decade and a half ago. Back in the early 2000’s first person shooters were everywhere. Science-fiction, historical period pieces, horror games with guns, puzzle-oriented experiences, and a ton of things in between. One of those weird, quasi-experimental genre-defying games was 2006’s Prey. Prey was received well and quickly became a notable cult classic among the PC gaming community and would later add to its lineage of false-starts and cancellations with a reboot in 2017 that was also, received fairly well. Unfortunately, not much else has surfaced about the series, and it seems to have returned to the same storage closet of gaming that this IP, and many others, have become so familiar with over the last many years. This leaves us asking what we always ask in these situations; why? What the hell happened to Prey?
Developed mainly by Human Head Studios after 3D Realms decided they had bitten off more than they could chew after monkeying around with it for nearly a decade, Prey would prove to be a rather interesting mish-mash of science-fiction, horror, brutality, and presented with an H.R. Giger flare that few games used at the time, and even fewer were able to pull off nearly as well. The game quickly took a hard left turn to alien abduction, and then reveals it’s true form as a story about escaping from a massive alien spacecraft and it’s various horrifying inhabitants. But wait, there’s more. Throughout the course of the journey, the main character, Tommy ends up using some spiritual powers of his own to help level the playing field against his technically superior enemies such as astral projection, to great effect.
Other elements that were ahead of their time like actual portals and tinkering with security systems were also thrown in. In fact, even the simple act of dying was innovated upon here, with death not really being a thing that Tommy ever experiences, but rather, just has to deal with being temporarily transported to a realm where he needs to take out some flying spirits before returning to the actual game. So the game ended up being quite the adventure, and quite the package overall. This wasn’t attained easily though, as Prey was a project that was started and stopped several times between the time of its inception way back in the mid 90’s and the time that the wizards at Human Head Studios were contracted to take over and fill in the gaps that 3D Realms could not.
Simply put, this game is lucky it ever got to see the light of day, let alone end up being good and adored by fans all over the world. Prey was and is a great game, despite all the stumbles it needed to go through in order to exist. It would eventually launch on the PC, Mac, Linux, and the Xbox 360. I suppose getting the thing to run on the PS3 was just asking too much after everything the game had been through up to that point. Towards the end of 2006, the year of its launch, 3D Realms would confirm that the game sold over a million copies and that it was indeed a success on all fronts. Plans for a sequel were also announced, although Prey 2 wouldn’t get the various strokes of luck that its predecessor enjoyed.
Sadly, this is where the world of art and passion would once again clash with the realm of business and intellectual property management. 3D Realms wasn’t doing so hot in 2007 and entered into a series of sell-offs and shared ownership agreements with different companies that existed for this very purpose to help bring struggling projects to their desired conclusions. This shuffling around of rights and properties would eventually land Prey 2 under Bethesda while still supposedly being developed by Human Head. After a re-reveal of Prey 2 in 2011, several years after development of the game was reportedly started, Prey 2 would eventually wind up in a foggy state of so-called “development hell” and would get pushed around to different levels of priority at Human Head, as they juggled various other projects with Bethesda that were shorter-term and helped keep the lights on.
Eventually, Bethesda would attempt to acquire Human Head with an offer that would be refused. This would land Prey 2 in the hands of Arkane Studios, but would take a back seat there as well as that team were primarily focused on finishing up Dishonored. The rumor goes that Arkane ultimately would scrap everything that had been done with the game up to that point, and start fresh with their own vision for the game. Unfortunately, the game still wasn’t meeting Bethesda’s standards, and would itself become prey to the various trappings of game development, and would be officially cancelled sometime in 2014. This was a gut-punch to many, as fans were excited to see more of the game that was announced several years before, not a cancellation.
However, Prey 2’s cancellation would pave the way for a path that ultimately made more sense for the series anyway: a reboot. A clean slate. Seeing as how Arkane studios wanted to take a fresh approach to the series anyway, a reboot was a more fitting way to do it than an abrupt shift in tone for a sequel. As a result of this creative freedom, Arkane blew the doors off of the original setting by changing it into something that felt completely different; a setting in an alternate timeline where an accelerated space race led to a huge expansion in interstellar travel, and ultimately, a precarious situation where the US and the Soviets worked together to contain a mysterious alien species they had encountered on a space station dedicated for that very purpose.
At this point, you couldn’t be blamed for failing to see any remnants of the original Prey’s concepts in the reboot. 2017’s Prey has almost nothing in common with the original aside from the name and aliens being involved. Some common denominators did manage to sneak in though, like various powers for the player to experiment with and a dark science-fiction setting. That said, the influences of Arkane’s flagship Dishonored games was more prevalent than anything. Prey 2017 would release to mostly favorable reviews, and was by all measures a great game in many respects. But Arkane Studios has moved on to its upcoming project Deathloop, which also seems to embody a lot of Dishonored elements.
In that case, where exactly does Prey fit in? Who could take the baton and run with it at this point? With Tango Gameworks, perhaps Bethesda’s most qualified studio for the franchise currently toiling away with Ghostwire: Tokyo and MachineGames almost certainly working on a third Wolfenstein game, it’s tough to say. We’ll probably need to get out from under all of the current projects being worked on currently before a new Prey game can really be considered. At that point though, I think it probably has a good chance of coming back in some form.
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