Consoles: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Arkane Studios
After I played the demo for Prey, I immediately rushed to preorder the game. I rarely preorder games. I preordered it not so I can have the tacky bonuses, but because the game’s first hour left such an impression on me that I had to see what else the game had to offer.
Not since Half Life 2 have I seen an opening sequence in a game that weaves in tutorials in such an organic and narratively-cohesive way. It shatters (quite literally) all of your expectations and immediately kicks in the unnerving tone felt throughout the game. Prey sinks it’s black, smoky tendrils into you right from the beginning. And while those tendrils occasionally detach, it’s still an engrossing adventure throughout.
You play as Morgan Yu, who was the subject of a very mysterious experiment aboard space station Talos-I. Now that the station has been overrun by a variety of murderous aliens known as the Typhon, it’s up to you to fend them off and either escape or destroy Talos-I.
Prey is dripping with atmosphere. Whether you’re walking through the grand halls of Talos-I’s lobby lined with disfigured corpses frozen in terror or making your way through decaying, dark laboratories, you feel a constant sense of dread and loneliness. This leads to some well-executed scares in the environment. The station is plagued with tremors that sees objects knocked about and enemies are waiting to jump where you least expect them. The sound design and soundtrack accentuates every moment at just the right time. There’s even some funny moments to round out the experience. Apparently a group of employees on the space station are huge Dungeons and Dragons (or should I say Fatal Fortress) fans. And all the engrossing side stories you gather from the logs you read and the few humans you interact with show the human side to this disaster. Oh, and the Looking Glass Simulations still fascinate me with how they pulled off the effect.
While Prey is a semi-open-world, semi-linear first person shooter, there’s more than enough survival-horror thrown into the mix. You’re very vulnerable starting off and you have to constantly keep tabs on resources like health and ammo. This makes even the standard enemies an absolute terror to fight without the survival mechanics being too overbearing.
Speaking of, the Mimics are a masterclass in standard enemy design. Much more threatening than your typical starter enemy, Mimics scuttle around the floors and walls of Talos-I transforming into everyday objects to ambush you. Even one can take you down if you’re not careful. But if you don’t panic and you’re observant of the environment, you’ll be able to sniff them out and destroy them. Mimics embody the spirit of the game, offering a unique challenge that only the level-headed can get through.
It’s a shame that a lot of the enemies aren’t nearly as interesting to fight. A lot of them, like the Telepaths and Technopaths, are just bullet sponges that rely on high damaging attacks for their challenge. And you take them on in arenas that are not conducive to taking them on. That means you’re going to die over and over again. While there are some thrilling battles to be had, these baddies can make the second half of the game a chore to get through. And that turns them from being scary to just being annoying.
While the standard yet punchy firearms are fun to use, it’s the tech weapons that steal the show. The GLOO Gun, this game’s iconic weapon in the same vein as Half-Life 2’s Gravity Gun, can not only freeze enemies in place but can also create climbable platforms on walls. Like the Gravity Gun for Half-Life 2, it’s the central pivot of the combat system of Prey as you weave around or sneak up on enemies to disable them and get in a few hits before retreating. The Disruptor Stun Gun is also fun to use for taking down robots and stunning enemies.
In addition to that, you also have a variety of abilities unlocked via skill trees. Such abilities include being able to repair machines, sneak easier, life heavier objects, increase health, and more. But then there are the Typhon abilities. Such abilities include being able to transform into different objects like Mimics to sneak past enemies or get through tight spaces or just straight up shoot lightning. The catch is that you need to scan enemies in the environment to unlock Typhon abilities, which can feel a bit annoying at times but fits in well with the risk/reward gameplay as there are many ways to go about scanning safely.
I do wish that Morgan Yu was a bit less sluggish when fighting, especially with how quickly the enemies can dart around the area and how much running away you have to do to avoid enemies and projectiles. You can sprint around with just the right amount of stamina, but you can’t shoot while sprinting. I also would have liked a bit more range in the beginning with Typhon powers and scans without needing to upgrade.
The multiple pathways are a big part of why I like this game so much. While the game encourages you to fortify a few skills instead of unlocking all of them due to the challenge and lack of resources, there is always a way to get around obstacles with the few skills you have. If you can’t get past a heavy object blocking an entrance, maybe you can climb up the air ducts and over the wall. If you can’t charge an enemy head on, maybe you can sneak past and hack a turret. If you can’t open a door, maybe you can blow up the windows. A lot of these options also require some deducing to figure out, too; they’re not all so straightforward like in other games with multiple options to progress. Even when it feels like all the odds are stacked against you, there’s always a solution.
That extends to the exploration and quests. Many environmental clues encourage you towards hidden nooks and crannies for rewards like chipsets to further improve abilities. More importantly, side quests, door codes, keycards, and side quest clues can be stumbled upon simply by reading emails or listening to phone calls. Rather than just following a bunch of markers, the game has you memorizing locations and passwords and working out how to solve each quest. One clever puzzle has you reading an email about a pressure plate being calibrated to 170 grams and then another unrelated email about how this guy wanted a coffee tumbler that was exactly 170 grams. Then you find the tumbler and place it on the scale to unlock a stash of items. Even little quests like that are exciting to complete.
That being said, there were a few quests that were a bit too vague and had me stuck. One key card I needed to get was on a corpse hidden behind fire. It took me maybe 15-20 minutes of running around before I gave up and looked at a guide. One particularly frustrating platforming challenge filled with enemies awaits you towards the end, testing both your abilities and your patience.
Other sections of the game I didn’t really like were the space walk sections that had you floating around the outside of Talos-I and in anti-gravity tunnels. While initially breathtaking, the controls have you flying around like a submarine in molasses and boosting too fast can take away huge chunks of health if you run into things. These sections can go for long stretches of time. They also feature some of the least fun enemies to fight, the Cystoids, which are basically homing missiles that can swarm and chew you up.
One of my biggest problems with Prey is that it can feel very one-note. While there are a lot of surprises to be had, the vast majority of the adventure doesn’t really change much in terms of tone or even gameplay. You’ll pretty much be doing the exact same thing throughout the same smoky, dark corridors and fighting the exact same enemies. By allowing the player to use quick saves instead of checkpoints, while convenient (especially for the aforementioned platforming bit), it can lead to a lack of impact for failure and a diminishing of scares as a result. Nevertheless, I was still compelled to go through the game because the moments that did stick out along the way drove me to see what other clever things the game had to offer. And the game didn’t disappoint for the most part.
Arkane Studios had a lot to prove since the cancellation of Prey 2, and they have more than demonstrated that they were up to the task. While Prey is flawed, most of my complaints boil down to wishing that the game was even more brilliant overall than it already is. Though not as groundbreaking as its inspirations, Prey’s immersive and clever environments and gameplay grows on you like an alien virus.
- Amazing opening sucks you in
- Dripping with atmosphere
- Brilliant survival-horror gameplay with tons of toys to play and experiment with
- Every obstacle always has a satisfying solution
- Interesting exploration and quests with minimal hand holding
- Can be rather one-note throughout which can diminish scares
- Combat can be a bit too clunky and sluggish at times
- A few quests were a bit too vague and got me stuck
- Some overpowered enemies and platforming sections can make the game feel like a chore
- The space walk sections are dull and annoying to control