3D Realms and Human Head's Prey - released in 2006, and in development, would you believe, since 1995 - had one breakthrough idea: portals. Loopholes in the fabric of reality, they allowed you (and your bullets) to move instantly between areas. There was a problem, however: portal travel was also a component of Narbacular Drop, the quirky 2005 indie hit that would serve as a basis for Valve's magnificent Portal. In the wake of the latter's release, Human Head's relatively limited spin on dimension-tunnelling was all but forgotten.
Rather than attempting to claw back possession, Prey 2 elects, wisely, to strike out afresh. "At the end of Prey 1, Tommy basically flew our world into the sun, and we basically had the ability to start over," explains chief creative officer Jim Sumwalt. "We realised early on that we wanted to expand the franchise, open up the universe so we could tell more stories about different characters experiencing this fear, these alien abductions and what's going on in the larger picture."
If you caught our preview in April, you'll know exactly what "larger picture" entails. Where Prey saw Pantene-powered Tommy clambering over the innards of a biomechanical starcraft, the sequel gives amnesiac lead Killian Samuels a whole planet - the benighted Exodus - to play with. The lone human survivor of a botched abduction, Samuels works as a bounty hunter, chasing down an assortment of extra-terrestrials with the aid of a crowd scanner, a dusting of Mirror's Edge acrobatics and (of course) some very hefty guns. Once tightly wrapped, the action is now open-ended. Dialogue choices hit almost as hard and fast as tactical ones: whether to capture a cornered mob boss or accept his bribe, whether to pressure a recalcitrant contact or pay for info.
Franchise fans were displeased by the wholesale change-up when Prey 2 was announced, and particularly by the new art style, with Killian looking rather greyscale and grizzled alongside his predecessor's pulpy Native American good looks. The two games have more in common than you might suspect, Sumwalt reassures us. "We may not have all the gravity stuff, or the portals to the degree we had before, but we're still all about roller coaster rides, mind-bending experiences. Even though it's open world and all about multiple choice, we have mechanisms to lead you into more linear storytelling, where we can take control."
"It is still about self-discovery," he goes on. "Killian's the only human on this planet, he doesn't know how he got there. So part of the game is unravelling the mystery. And also he discovers Tommy later in the game. So he also has to figure out what Tommy's role is, what both of their roles are, and what's happening in the overall thing on Exodus - because there's also a narrative that's happening on the planet, there's change happening there - and how they all fit into it."
Talk of separate character and world narratives puts us heavily in mind of Mass Effect, but Sumwalt buttons up when we say this aloud. "We don't like making comparisons but that's a great game. We're still a shooter, it's still high action." He does, however, cite Assassin's Creed as an inspiration, explaining that Exodus's three main regions are comparable to the urban sandboxes of Ubisoft's game. Like Assassin's Creed, Prey 2 will occasionally veer off into a "dungeon" to road-test some particular approach, ability or gadget and drive the story.