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Human Head Studios made a big splash at E3 2011 by unveiling
the sequel to Prey, its hit 2006 sci-fi shooter. Not only was Prey 2 marking
the return of a series that was met with both critical praise and commercial
success, but it was setting out in a completely new and compelling direction. Starring
a gun-slinging bounty hunter stranded on an alien world, Prey 2 represented the
open world sci-fi bounty hunting game Star Wars fans had hoped for long before
Star Wars 1313 was announced. Unfortunately, Prey 2's development, much like
LucasArt's now seemingly doomed next-gen Boba Fett adventure, has become
shrouded in a mist of nervous anticipation.
Journalists and gamers alike were nothing but impressed by Prey
2's blockbuster CGI trailer and debut gameplay footage. Both made hunting down
alien scum in a dark neon light-lit cityscape of seedy night clubs and black
market vendors look like a blast. Abundant gadgets, including augmented
targeting systems, deployable energy shields, anti-gravity grenades, electric bolases,
hover boots and shoulder-mounted rockets, promised to make each player into a one-man arsenal. Meanwhile, agile combat, including the ability to
slide between cover while firing, and fluid first person platforming, made traversing
Prey 2's vertical cityscapes look effortless and energizing.
Intense action wasn't the game's only highlight. Gathering
information and tracking bounties would have added strategic layers to each
hunt. Stealth options for more subtle hunters were also a rumored possibility. Regardless,
Prey 2 seemed to have something for every sort of gamer imaginable to latch
Unfortunately, Prey 2 now seems to be jostling for the
position of the next game industry enigma. New information on it has been hard
to come by since its major showings in 2011. Even the game's once enthusiastic
developers have seemingly gone underground with possible updates. Human Head's
Twitter account has been silent since September. Additionally, the last update on
the studio's website was in December, and concerned the release of an iOS
Prey fans yearning for even a morsel of news have grown used
to being let down. A website once thought to be a teaser for the game, complete
with cryptic imagery and a countdown, was revealed to be a fan site hoping to
promote the game. Likewise, every rumor of a major Bethesda announcement on the
horizon has raised hopes only for them to be crushed. Most recently, Bethesda launched
a teaser that led to the reveal of a new Wolfenstein game. Though new game announcements
are always welcome, Prey fans are still waiting for an update on a game that was
originally set for launch in 2012.
Although it was unlikely from the start that any of these
internet rumors would result in a Prey 2 update, the fact that fans latched
onto them is proof of their desperation. A petition on the Prey 2 Alien Noire
fan website has garnered 3,909 signatures supporting the game, despite the site's
obscurity. Furthermore, Bethesda's official forums for the game remain an active
meeting ground for fans to voice frustrated dissent.
Game cancellations can be messy affairs, and usually the publisher
or developer will want to promptly clarify their position moving forward. The
fact that Bethesda is not being open about what's going on with Prey 2 suggests
that they either have not made a final decision on the project's fate, or have a
future announcement planned. Lending credence to this theory is the continuing
presence of Prey 2 media being hosted on official sites. Not only does the game
remain front and center on Human Head Studio's website, but Bethesda has yet to
close the game's official Bethesda Softworks hosted forum.
All this does not mean the game's development is going
smoothly. Human Head Studios still lists the game on their web site for a TBA
2012 release date, which suggests they aren't preparing for launching the game
anytime soon. Bethesda's last update on the game affirmed that the game was not
meeting the company's quality standards at the time. A Tweet from Human Head level
designer Nathan Cheever again stated that development was in limbo. Back in
April 2012, Game Rant reported that Human Head deliberately stopped working on
the game to protest their contract. Although all these sources agree the game
hasn't been cancelled, none have stood out to resolve its fate.
The wrangling between Human Head and Bethesda seems to have
continued without resolution up until the present. Cheever has continuously
posted on his Twiiter account that "the ball is in Bethesda's court" as far as Prey
2 moving forward is concerned. In one of his most recent posts on Twitter, from
May 1, 2013, Cheever voiced clear frustration with the situation.
— Nathan Cheever (@NathanCheever) May 1, 2013
All of this suggests a strained relationship between Human Head and Bethesda. Conflict isn't altogether uncommon between developers and publishers. Bethesda has previously been known for holding their second party developers to rigid standards. The publisher refused to pay Obsidian royalties due to Fallout: New Vegas missing a score of 85 on Metacritic by one point. Prey 2's stalled development could therefore very well be the result of a disagreement over compensation or royalties. This would at least be more likely than the game making a jump to next-gen systems, like some have suggested.
It is, however, strange that negotiations with a major publisher like
Bethesda would become drawn out over such an extended time. What makes it
especially odd is that the parties involved are sitting on a potential AAA
game that made a strong impression in 2011. Gamers have continually shown
interest in Prey 2 despite the lack of updates, an interest that seems to
exceed that of its sponsors.
It would be a terrible
shame if Prey 2 became vaporware because of obstinate business shenanigans. For
all appearances, the game seemed far along in development when it was last shown
at E3. Many of the game's features were on display, and its detailed
graphically rich environments were proof of the effort Human Head had put into
the game. Furthermore, according to this Tweet by Cheever, there is possibly
loads of content, "cities, aliens, gadgets" that has been kept behind the
Zenimax, Bethesda's parent company apparently extended the
Prey 2 trademark in April 2013, so the company likely hasn't disallowed all
interest in the game. A troubled development cycle certainly isn't unfamiliar territory
for Human Head Studios, or the Prey franchise itself for that matter. The first
Prey was in development in one form or another starting in 1995 before finally
being released in 2006. During this time the game jumped not only systems and
iterations, but entire generations. Still, its stay in development hell did not
stop Prey from being released triumphantly. There is nothing to suggest the
same wouldn't be true for its sequel.
Secrecy, although sometimes a necessary consequence of
strained development, will never make a company popular with its followers. Likewise,
surrounding a project with ambiguity is never ideal. Someone eventually needs
to step forward to settle the confusion pervading Prey 2's development.
In a world where Duke Nukem Forever can see the light of day, it's still too
early to lose all hope for this promising game. However, the time for
misleading and frustrating fans has long passed.
Email the author Parker Lemke, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.