Content Type: Gaming Reviews
Date: May 16, 2017
Prey or at the very least games called Prey have a long history. The first game to bear this name had been in development since 1995. It was eventually released in 2006, for the PC and Xbox 360 looking very different. I never played much of that title, so my memories of it are hazy at best.
After the original developer, Human Head Studios was acquired by Bethesda’s parent company Zenimax studios a sequel was announced formally by Bethesda in 2011. In 2014 Bethesda would cancel Prey 2, citing that it did not meet expectations. In 2016 they announced a reboot of the series under development by Arkane Studios, and so, Prey (2017) was born.
As I said above, I didn’t play much of the original Prey. This game is no sequel so don’t feel like you have to. The name and presence of aliens seem to be the only thing these titles share. 2017’s Prey has more in common with Bioshock or fellow Arkane property Dishonored than it’s namesake. Prey takes place on the space station Talos I. You play as Morgan Yu, whose gender you choose at the start of the game.
Talos I has been infested with aliens known as the Typhon. After waking up in a simulated version of his apartment on Earth, Morgan learns that he’s been aboard Talos I all along, having lost his memories by using Neuromods, a form of gene splicing. Prey quickly becomes a game about second guessing everything you think you know. You’ll have to decide who you can really trust in order to find the best way to stop the Typhon and potentially save any remaining crew aboard Talos I.
Prey takes place in an alternate future in which Kennedy survived his assassination attempt and was inspired to dump money into the space program. The game may take place in 2032 but the rooms full of robots and high-tech computers are crawling with 60’s decor. I guess Kennedy really pushed to keep 60’s interior design alive as well.
The story of Prey has one great weakness. It seems to be trying too hard. Prey would have you believe its a stealth game about moral choices and Shyamalan level twists, and if all you do is follow objective markers that’s the experience you’ll have. Prey’s story gets in the way of how much fun it can be. If you follow nothing but main story objective’s, you’ll finish Prey in about nine hours. Doing so would rob you of everything the game has to offer. Take your time and explore every inch of the amazing environment the team at Arkane has crafted. There are far more interesting stories and experiences to be had in the nooks and crannies of Talos I than the main plotline would have you believe. Prey is amazing if you choose to ignore its overly guiding hand. Prey want’s to have the interesting narratives of its predecessors; the result is a story that’s complex for the sake of being complex.
One of the things that Prey nails like few other games is tension. Bioshock is one of my favorite games ever, and the similarities Prey has to the classic are what drew me to it in the first place. A story about the downfall of a city, (or space station) never truly feeling safe, and smart, deliberate storytelling through audio logs all while gameplay carries on. Prey’s storytelling doesn’t hit the high notes Bioshock did, but it’s enemies, while rather one note can be pretty terrifying. One of the first enemies introduced in Prey has made me more methodical in my approach to exploring a room than any other game. The aptly named mimic can transform into any object in the environment, and until you get your hands on the Psychoscope the only way to tell the difference is to pick up the object or shoot it. I’ve found myself standing in doorways for five minutes pondering why someone would need three coffee cups on their desk.
Prey’s enemies are tough, not in a way that seems unfair but it makes it clear that you’re supposed to feel helpless, particularly in the games early hours. Morgan is armed with little more than a wrench and a Gloo Cannon, a device that shoots some sort of expanding foam. You can use the Gloo Canon to temporarily holds enemies in place or even patch holes in piping or put out fires. As you progress, you’ll unlock an arsenal of weapons, but ammo is scarce. You’ll need more than just firepower to survive the Typhon; you’ll need Neuromods.
These eye poking portable gene splicers will allow you to enhance your strength agility and what not via multiple skill trees. A few hours in Morgan will come across a device called a Psychoscope, using this device, you can study different forms of the Typhon in doing so, you can use Neuromods to unlock abilities using Typhon DNA. From kinetic blasts, to turning into coffee mugs (seriously that’s an ability) these Psi abilities are your best shot at staying alive on this nightmare filled space station.
Certain branches of the Prey’s skill tree will also allow you to equip more chipsets. Chipsets can be found or created using Prey’s elaborate crafting system and offer passive boosts to your suit and Psychoscope. Yes, by the way, I did say elaborate crafting system. Everything you pick up in Prey, from plastic tubing to banana peels can be broken down in devices found throughout the station called recyclers. Recyclers break down anything put into them to their most base form; these materials can then be placed in a second device, called a fabricator to make anything you have a fabricator plan for. Weapons, medkits, psi hypos, you name it. I even used my first one to make a nifty nerf crossbow.
On the technical end Prey seems to have a few problems across all platforms. I was playing on a PS4 Pro, and the easiest one to notice was insane load times. On occasion, I’d be looking at full on two-minute load times when switching areas aboard Talos I. PC players have reported some save corruption issues that seem worrisome as well. It’s worth noting that with the right hardware the PC version can cut down on the PS4 and Xbox One’s load times significantly. The Ps4’s greatest sin seems to be severe input lag. I grew accustomed to it after a few hours, but that doesn’t make it any less infuriating. In Prey’s opening hours while particularly low on ammo, some input lag spelled my demise a number of times.
Prey feels like a modern incarnation of System Shock 2 or it’s successor Bioshock. It has a ton of good ideas and Talos I is one of the best open world environments I’ve ever seen. There’s a ton of room for customization, and the large scarcity of supplies makes your upgrade choices matter. The biggest flaw is how long it takes for some of these systems to be introduced. I was somewhere around eight hours in before I was able to get my first Psi power. The amount of Neuromods I had used by that point limited how much I was able to explore those skill trees. Prey tells a muddled story that can bog down otherwise fun gameplay. Prey is at its best when the player is building their own story and ignoring the narrative.