E3 2016: Prey Tell, What Prey Is This?

Do you remember Prey?

It came out in July of 2006, when the Xbox 360 was just a little electronic baby. It had some pretty cool set pieces, most notably an alien abduction with Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” playing diegetically to your doom. Gameplay-wise, it was a standard first-person shooter with some cool tricks up its sleeve and dare I say it, the first game to make portals a viable game mechanic before Portal made it all about cake. While it didn’t sell gangbusters, it did well enough to warrant talks of an immediate sequel.

Do you remember Prey 2?

First announced soon after Prey’s release, Prey 2 quickly took its subject to heart and disappeared off the face of the earth. No news about the game surfaced until 2011, when it was revealed to be an open-world science fiction shooter and yes, still a game in development. Until it wasn’t, as was confirmed in 2014. Now, all of the rumor smoke and dust has cleared and on June 12th, 2016, when Bethesda showed their first trailer for Prey.

The Prey they announced this evening is not Prey 2, but it’s also not the original Prey. Such is video games in 2016. The Prey they showed is one very different from the original’s Cherokee badass-stops-an-alien-invasion and the sequel’s don’t-you-want-to-play-a-Blade Runner-game vision. Players will take on the role of Morgan Yu, a man trapped on a spaceship and subjected to questionable experimentation for the sake of mankind or so he’s told. In the meantime, some crazy unknown aliens start trying to make this spaceship their spaceship, and all sorts of chaos ensues. Sounds like the status quo for a AAA game. But it begs the question: Why call it Prey? Why name it after a franchise with more false starts than my 1997 Toyota Camry?

It’s pretty clever, actually. It’s not a sequel, and I would argue it qualifies as a resurrection more than a reboot. But the Prey Bethesda showed off tonight is very much in the same spirit as the original. Do you remember Prey? You played as a Native American that somehow managed to be both a badass and a culturally appropriate representation of a people. This was in 2006, when Lara Croft was still the only notable woman in video games. (Well, her and Aeris, but Aeris is dead, so get over it.) You jumped through (at the time) mind-warping portals and used your inherent Cherokee powers to stop an alien menace. Something that very easily could have backfired became a pretty compelling selling point for a game that had been in development as far back as 1995.

Now, in 2016, players are being asked to look at the world through another pair of underrepresented eyes. In an industry that is still struggling with the word “diversity,” we have a franchise that did it mostly right back to show us how it’s done. Is part of this an attempt to cash in on a recognizable name as opposed to creating an entirely new IP? Sure, because we all know how the industry runs on nostalgia. And there’s a chance this could be just another run-of-the-mill first-person horror shooter. But if Bethesda’s recent track record with “classic” IPs is anything to go by, I have a feeling the team over at Arkane Austin knew what they were doing when they decided to call this game, “Prey.”

At the very least, you’re a man being chased by predators, so if it wasn’t meant to invoke the plucky spirit of the original, it makes sense on a literal level. You are literally the prey.