Prey has been dubbed a spiritual successor to its 2006 namesake and, strangely, to System Shock. Once you’ve played the game it’s a lot easier to see the latter. Prey (2017) has a lot more in common with a plethora of other games than it does its predecessor. You’ll find yourself comparing it to BioShock, Half-Life and of course, Arkane’s own Dishonored. Good titles to draw influence from, but is the new Prey good?
Playing as Morgan Yu, male or female, you will set to work saving your space station Talos I from an alien infestation. These aliens are known as the Typhon and for the most part look like shadowy humanoid fellas. Their ghost-like design is initially awesome but loses something when the different variants are just the same basic design but with electricity or fire surrounding them. It makes sense within the context of the game, but that doesn’t stop each new archetype feeling overly familiar.
There are some exceptions though like the Mimics, little four-legged spider-like creatures that can transform into nearby objects in an attempt to get the drop on you. You’ll certainly remember. They give Prey a horror vibe as you enter new rooms wondering if that stapler is actually an alien that wants you dead. You gain a way to identify hidden Mimics later in the game but there are still going to be times you forget to check and end up with one doing its best to become a permanent part of your face.
In general, the game does an excellent job of making nowhere feel safe. Rooms that would look secure in other games aren’t in Prey, with the exception of your office. The places where you can craft can easily become overrun and the electric variant of Typhon can even break these machines, forcing you to repair them. Even travelling in the elevator carries a risk of one swinging by to say hello. It keeps the game tense even when retracing your steps through areas you once knew to be clear.
Alongside Typhon you’ll also be fighting corrupted Operators. These are basically little cuboid robots that were designed to be helpful but have gone rogue because of the Typhon’s psychic abilities. For the most part, they can simply be swatted away with your wrench. But in later stages a new variant of them spawns that are obnoxiously powerful and ramp up the difficulty exponentially unless you’ve built your character to deal with them, potentially making the last few missions feel like a drag.
It certainly begins to falter towards the end, particularly narratively. Prey’s story promises to be excellent after the fantastic intro. There’s a twist within the first hour that’s jaw-dropping in its execution and rivals other memorable opening sequences, like arriving in Rapture for the first time or working your way through City 17. Sadly, after that, it becomes fairly run of the mill with the ending being especially bad. It throws in yet another twist, only this time it was ill-advised. It makes your efforts aboard Talos I inconsequential, seemingly just so it can set up a sequel. It’s incredibly unsatisfying.
How much this will ruin the experience largely depends on how much you value story. If you’re the type of person who values mechanics over narrative you’re unlikely to be disappointed. Prey is all about letting you choose how to approach an encounter. By using Neuromods you will be able to upgrade various skill trees to suit your style of play. If you don’t fancy scrambling around for key cards then you can focus on hacking, if you want a more sneaky approach then stealth is a viable option.
Initially, there are only three trees available but after you obtain the Psychoscope you will be able to use it to research the Typhon by scanning them. This unlocks new abilities that utilise the alien’s powers. You can gain the mimics talent for transforming into objects and sneak past Typhon whilst disguised as a cup or wield electricity to damage and stun them so they’re easier to take down. There’s a good amount on offer.
The Gloo Gun is the gadget that epitomises variety the best. This non-lethal gun can be used in a number of cool ways. You can freeze enemies in their tracks, making them easy to kill, create staircases to access unreachable areas and douse fires that are blocking your path. Its potential usefulness is astonishing and when you look back on the game it’s probably the device you’re going to remember the most.
So there are plenty of options available but it’s unlikely you’ll rampage through the station without a care in the world. Prey isn’t Doom, though the gunplay is solid, it’s intended to be more methodical. Sure, you can charge into a room and blast through enemies with a shotgun but you’ll find yourself short of shells very quickly doing this. Instead, it encourages you to consider the weaknesses of each enemy, which you learn by scanning them and preparing appropriately. Here Prey is at its best, it’s incredibly satisfying to prepare an attack on a room full of Typhon and pull it off without wasting ammo or losing much health.
It will also favour those who search the station from top to bottom for resources. Junk is an incredibly important part of Prey. All those coiled wires and plant leaves lying around can be made into raw materials which can be thrown into a fabricator, which is basically a 3D printer, to make ammo, health kits and other goodies. You’ll need plans before you can do this but you’ll most likely find them while exploring anyway.
The plodding playstyle of Prey is great, it’s enjoyable scavenging around in Talos I to make sure you have enough resources for that next big skirmish. However, the narrative is at odds with the slower paced nature of the game. You’ll often have your next mission objective delivered to you with a sense of urgency, making you feel like you need to hurry, even though you don’t. There’s even timed missions to further give this impression of haste, but you’re given more than enough time so you still don’t need to rush.
It’s a minor issue but Prey is plagued by a few of these that stop it from being an outright classic. Load times on consoles are abysmal, often taking a minute and a half to get back into the action. Once the areas do load they are quite sizeable but it does become frustrating when you need to pass through multiple areas to get somewhere. The PC version is recommended to alleviate this.
If you don’t have a decent PC however, this can be mitigated by making sure you open all the exits into space. This allows you to float around the entire station to the area you need to get to, which can cut down on the number of loading screens you have to endure. It’s incredibly impressive to be able to see the whole station from space and it’s a testament to Arkane’s excellent world building ability.
The only problem is being outside Talos I isn’t an enjoyable experience, mostly because it’s too realistic. Your movement is cumbersome and having no sense of up or down will be quite nauseating for some people. This makes fighting in space and moving around feel like a chore. It becomes something to dread rather than relish for the change of pace it promises.
NPCs can also be a minor drawback. If you enter an area with more than one survivor they can all start talking to you simultaneously, resulting in a cacophony of ‘Hello Morgan’s’. This can lead to you missing a lot of interesting conversations. They’ll also chat to each other but will abruptly cut off their dialogue to greet you, meaning you’ll never hear the whole thing.
Prey could have been an instant classic but a few niggles hold it back and the story ends terribly after an excellent start. But the methodical combat is engaging and the constant hunt for resources makes you feel like you’re truly scrambling to survive a perilous situation. It’s definitely worth buying, it just could have been so much better.