The original 2006 Prey is among one of my all-time favourites due to its immense level design and compelling horror elements. My hopes were crushed for a sequel as it never came to light. But ten years later and now we have a re-imagining and the possibility of a new series brought to us by the talented Arkane studios. It’s clear that Dishonored was homage to the Thief series, now bringing forth what is to be their System Shock for a new era. Prey is to be an inspiring and intelligent Sci -fi action/adventure which allows players an immense sense of freedom and choice in completing objectives.
Prey centres on the story of Morgan Yu, either a male or female protagonist that awakens on the Talos I space station that’s been overrun by a terrifying alien race known as the Typhon. Morgan soon learns that he/she have been the centre of a complex experiment and as a result have lost their memory. Morgan is against the clock to learn the truth behind her memory loss and to stop the Typhon from expanding and consuming all life.
Prey delivers a emotional connection by presenting a gathering of interesting mini stories, diverse side characters and branching plots that deliver endearing and genuinely heartfelt experiences. There’s also a fascinating alternative history which gives insight to the advancements of humanity of JFK survived his assassination. Prey carries a frightening examination of the unknown and what happens if humanity would to take advantage of it. There’s plenty of interesting themes on discovery, abuse of power and tampering with the unknown. It’s a shame the main plot itself becomes very formulaic and predictable which finalises into something we’ve seen dozens of times already. There’s even the inclusion of objectives such as stopping the reactor from overloading which we’ve seen in games like Dead Space, Bioshock, System Shock and many more.
The world of Prey is highly immersive with its beautiful art style, attention to detail and of course it’s excellent soundtrack presented by the awesome Mick Gordon. Prey is surprisingly a terrifying game at times as with the mimics and certain other enemies who act like sinister poltergeists. There’s an actual enemy named poltergeist that does everything to upset the environment, throw objects and scare the life out of you. The music again is superb as it can give a sense of claim and then switch to something foreboding, creepy and unpleasant to truly unnerve you. The horror elements, like in the original Prey are very strong making this genuinely scary.
What will divide opinion from gamers will certainly be the ending. Personally I found it to be predictable but with substance and thought thanks to the complex morale choices you made in the game. These decisions will indeed impair your sense of judgement as they blur the lines on what’s right and wrong, often difficult in seeing what the best path to take is.
Prey offers a compelling sense of freedom to players with an immense variation of choice for combat, exploration and general problem solving. The only restrictions you’ll encounter are the limits of your imagination as each problem whether it’s a locked door, traversal puzzle or powerful enemy can be resolved in a number of ways. You can progress through many of the obstacles through different methods, such as finding a key card, pass-code, vent access, creating a makeshift staircase from the GLOO canon or my favourite, transforming yourself into a mug and squeezing through an opening.
The nature to completing tasks only expands as you progress through the game, learning new powers, tricks and obtaining new equipment. There’s always a method at your hands to completing any number of tasks whether you learned a certain skill or not. Unlike certain other games which halt your progression simply because you didn’t learn Hacker level 3 isn’t a problem here. Within the first few hours Prey might seem to be a slow burner, taking you by the hand for a short period. But reaching the Talos I lobby, you soon discover that experimentation with the different elements and exploration opens a bold and fascinating world. Talos I will grant lucrative rewards to players who are eager to engage with the unknown. For advanced players, back tracking with different equipment and abilities opens new paths and those lucky enough will find some of the best loot early in the game. Where the campaign will take you is only 50% of the game world, the rest is up to you to go and explore.
One of the major discoveries early in the game was a blueprint to create Neormods, which otherwise would come much later in the game. The area I explored never gets prompt for the player to visit throughout the entire campaign, meaning you could miss this important item very easily. However this was no easy task as I had to deal with a tremendously powerful enemy with little resources. But the reward was so worth the risk and this is one of a few examples when Prey executes this style of play so well. Prey is a game that demands your devotion, experimentation and effort in order to succeed and enjoy. There’s great reason to play Prey multiple times and plenty of different factors in game to encourage it. Experimenting with different Neuromods, taking alternative paths and completing side quests you can easily miss.
Neuromods are Prey’s methods of upgrades and special attributes. With 6 branches for Human and Alien abilities including Security, Science, Engineer, Energy, Morph and Telepathy. The number of different powers is staggering, seeming a little overwhelming at first but simply this encourages re-playability. Human abilities tend to be useful for the environmental actions such as hacking and lifting heavy objects while your Typhon abilities will have greater impact on combat along with some neat traversal manoeuvres.
In the first couple of hours of Prey, Morgan will obtain a device that allows them to scan Typhon NPCs, granting an insight on weaknesses and strengths which unlock new abilities in the skill tree for Morgan too. Much like Bioshock, combining firearms and Typhon abilities is the most effective methods of winning any combat situation. The selection of weapons isn’t impressive as you get the standard shotgun, pistol, particle beam and of course a classic wrench. But it’s the variation of methods again you can use to take out the Typhon along with how strategic you can be. What is impressive is the addition of the “GLOO” canon which helps in combat situations and also as a traversal tool. You can freeze most enemies where you can finish them off with a kinetic explosion or close up blast with the shotgun. You can even use items such as a recycling charge (gathers and recycles nearby objects into raw materials) to finish off the job.
There’s a refreshing sense of challenge to Prey as players most accustom to Call of Duty running and gunning will have a bad time here. Prey can be a demanding experience for those who don’t bring thought and planning to many of the encounters yet is highly rewarding to those who do.
This is not to say the game can be fair all the time to even the most considerate. Certain enemies will infuriate you, Mimics often become an annoying jump scares, losing their impact and likeability after a few hours of playing while Crystal nests just become a nuisance when you’re travelling through the zero gravity segments. It’s mostly due to the clunky controls in these segments which aren’t as refined as Dead Space 2. This is also true for the stealth aspect of gameplay. Mechanics are overly simplified and thus offer little means to successfully progress without being seen with no means to hide and there’s not even a power to make you invisible. Also, enemies carry loot so to not engage with any Typhon would be maddening as you risk missing vital gear, resources and Nueromods.
There’s also the small matter of recycling which sounds like a neat idea but at times, this process of recycling and crafting new items just becomes tedious. So you’ll have to gather junk and other items such as food which you can recycle into raw materials. Then these raw materials can be processed into vital loot like Medkits, shotgun ammo and Neuromods. The problem is that crafting items is just slow as you can’t make multiple items in one go, it about making one item at a time. The process to create a single item takes only about 10 seconds but this adds up quickly, plus you need to keep returning to the menu each time. It’s just a slow and seemingly pointless process.
I feel my biggest concern with Prey is that there’s little offering on original gameplay. It doesn’t expand on the formula System Shock 2 created back 20 years ago nor does it add new dynamics. Even the title is a bizarre choice as it has nothing to do with the original. Needless to say Arkane have yet created an enthralling journey of brain and brawn that’s rarely seen nowadays. There’s thought-provoking survival gameplay at heart with brutal yet intelligent action. Above all exploration has been beautifully engineered to create a risk and reward factor that keeps player’s invested along with a immersive game world. I spent a good 12 hours on a single day of playing Prey, through anger, joy and relief as I couldn’t let go.
Prey is far from perfect yet it’s an experience we need to see more of in gaming. From its pacing, excellent horror elements and the encouragement and reward in combat and exploration is something gamers have not seen in a while. It’s odd to see the title as this has nothing to do with the original 2006 cult classic (which I love!) but this is an experience greater than a corridor shooter. Arkane are doing well and I hope this series grows further in the future.
++ Immense survival gameplay
++ Enthralling sense of exploration
+ High replay value
+ Great sound track
+ Freedom of choice in gameplay
- Lack new ideas or original dynamics
- Recycling becomes a tedious aspect of gameplay
- Crude execution of stealth and Zero Gravity gameplay
An Xbox One copy of Prey (2017) was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.