When the dust finally settled after the E3 videogames expo in May, it was obvious that one of the biggest hits of the show was Prey - a triumphant return for the sci-fi shooter that has now been in development on and off for nearly a decade. We caught up with the Human Head Studios team in LA, who showed us an extensive demo of some of the innovative features in the game and talked exclusively about its development.
"We know that the Doom 3 engine is not very good at having lots and lots of creatures on screen at once," said CEO Tim Gerritsen, dropping a rather large bombshell. "You can either fight that, or you can come up with ways to use it. We decided to focus on more entertaining combat, making creatures that are more interesting to fight, so they'll use the world around them - such as portals that can open up anywhere, allowing them to jump in around you."
HUMANS FOR LUNCH
Prey's lead character is a Cherokee Native American called Tommy, who at the beginning of the game is stuck on a reservation in a dead-end job and has turned his back on the ancient beliefs of his people. Tommy becomes the reluctant hero when his girlfriend Jenny is abducted by aliens bent on turning the human race into food and material for genetic experimentation. The action takes place in various dimensions, the main one being a massive spaceship called the Dyson Sphere which is inhabited by a menagerie of nightmarish monsters.
"The sphere is a living spaceship," explained Gerritsen. "It harvests people and divides them up into those who actively want to work for it, food, and those to experiment with genetically. It's a mish-mash of all different races." You blast your way through creepy-looking, technologically advanced future-scapes, with some hugely innovative uses of 360-degree levels, including gravity walkways (allowing you to stomp up walls and across ceilings), and fiendish puzzles that require the use of gravity switches that flip the entire world instantly on its head.
In an amazing sequence, Gerritsen showed Tommy taking control of a 2001: A Space Odyssey-style pod, that you can manoeuvre around the open 3D space, grabbing hold of any nearby monsters with an energy beam and hurling them into oblivion. "There'll be free-roaming areas where you can go anywhere you want with the vehicle and land on planetoids, for example. Also there are transporters, where you can fly your vehicle into a ring that locks you into it and takes you through some sections, before releasing you to free-roam again. We wanted to mix it up and constantly keep it interesting."
SPIRIT IN THE SKY
With the aid of his wise old grandfather, Tommy eventually learns several spiritual powers: Spirit Walk allows Tommy to leave his body for a short time to walk through force fields or past enemies and fire his Spirit Bow, while Death Walk is the ability to fight your way out of an eerie ethereal dimension that you are transported to if you get killed in the game. You also have a spirit totem, basically a hawk that sits on your shoulder and can also fly around the world to point out interesting things for you, translate indecipherable alien text and language, and even attack enemies.
As for weaponry, the only item Tommy can use from back home is a pipe wrench. "He's basically a mechanic, and as the game progresses, he discovers the alien armoury - which consists of different types of organic weapons. There's a lot of fun to be had figuring out how they work," said Gerritsen. One such weapon is a creature with crab-like legs, that when pulled off, can be thrown and used as improvised grenades.