Platforms PC (reviewed), PS4, XBO
Developer Arkane Studios
Publisher Bethesda Softworks
Release Date May 5, 2017

Prey is a first-person action/adventure game set aboard the Talos I space station in an alternate future where the Soviets and United States worked together, rather than against each other, during the space race. Playing as Morgan Yu, the subject of some sort of experiment, you awaken on the station to find it overrun with hostile aliens. You’ll need to scavenge the environment for the tools to survive and put a stop to the alien threat before it reaches Earth.

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I can see what Arkane were aiming for with Prey, a “sequel” that bears no relation to its predecessor besides its name and your trusty wrench. There are some elements of Prey which work fantastically well, making you feel like you’re playing one of the best games of the year so far. Without fail, however, you’re inevitably brought crashing back down to Earth by some of Prey’s dodgier, less well thought out elements that see you banging your head against a metaphorical wall out of very real frustration.

There’s a phenomenal atmosphere to the first hour or two of Prey. After a brief introduction that sees you witness the very first moments of the Typhon invasion, you awaken in your “apartment” to find everything not as it seems and a need to survive. The initial story hook is quite interesting, but it’s the game’s atmosphere that’s the real, initial winner.

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You begin by exploring the space station with no real clue what’s going on or what you’re actually supposed to be doing. Prey’s initial antagonists are Mimics. These little skittering bastards can take the form of objects around them, using them to hide in plain sight and launch ambushes on unsuspecting players.  Any object in Prey’s impressively rendered environments could potentially try to kill you. Did that coffee cup move? Was that towel always there?

The paranoia is real in those first moments. It’s also coupled with some excellent environmental storytelling. Wandering the corridors and rooms of Talos I and piecing together what happened to the poor souls who once called it home, as well as seeing what their lives were like before aliens messed everything up, is the high point of Prey. This is where the game’s best storytelling takes place.

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The smaller, almost incidental details are really cool. Reading email chains and learning about the day to day lives of the crew enhances the already excellent exploratory elements of Prey’s gameplay. A diversion through the crew quarters, as you learn about the members of a fantasy roleplaying group whilst looking for some specific information, is phenomenal. It helps that the station feels lived in, with a sensible layout and a real sense of being a place rather than just a collection of levels that are strung together.

It’s the aliens themselves that are the real problem. For starters, their design is very basic. While the Xenomorph is an iconic design, for example, the various forms of Typhon are about as generic as they come. Inky black masses that vaguely resemble spiders or people. They’re neither memorable nor particularly scary or intimidating, which becomes a drawback as this seems to be what Prey was shooting for.

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Fighting them feels particularly clunky. This is due in part to how hard it is to kill them. Prey seems to want to make resource management a big part of its core experience, but without actually making resources scarce. Ammunition and supplies are quite easy to find, as are the crafting materials you can use to make them. To compensate, the Typhon are tough as nails, which just makes it feel like you’re shooting peas at them in combat.

Fighting should be something that can be avoided. Prey boasts many times about the ability to “play your way” – much like Arkane’s other game series Dishonored. While it is possible to play any way you like, it’s not really recommended. Finding and spending neuromods in one of the three available skill trees will unlock abilities you can take with you into the world at large.

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In theory, you should be able to specialise in a multitude of different ways. If you don’t spec your character with hacking and repair skills, and the ability to lift heavy objects, the game isn’t going to be all that much fun to play. Skills that boost health, damage, crafting and scavenging all look useful, but they limit your exploration options and essentially funnel you towards encounters and set pieces that lean heavily on combat, which is Prey’s weakest link.

Having more exploratory options in the early hours makes the game feel more open and taps into Prey’s biggest strength, allowing you to find alternate paths and access a ton of content you wouldn’t otherwise have easy access to. While you can play Prey any way you like…you probably shouldn’t. At least until you get a neuromod plan. Being able to craft the game’s “skill points” flips the entire game on its head. The core crafting materials are easy to find and you’ll suddenly have skill points to spare, eliminating the need to carefully choose what to invest or specialise in.

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Later on you’ll unlock an extra three skill trees revolving around alien powers, which are mostly generic and don’t really do much to offset the massive drawback of having the station’s automated defence systems register you as an alien and try to kill you. Aside from the hilariously overpowered Psychoshock, the only really interesting alien skill is Mimic – allowing you to morph into small objects to hide or squeeze through small gaps to explore otherwise inaccessible areas of Talos I.

Basically, everything worth getting is stuff that lets you explore the wonderful environment of Talos I. Whilst the smaller stories are more engaging, Prey’s main story leaves a lot to be desired. The interesting setup is squandered by dull characters who aren’t given any time or room for development and an uninteresting, by-the-numbers plot. Intrigue quickly gives way to boredom.

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It doesn’t help that the entire main story basically sees Morgan as a glorified space repairman/woman. You have to go to X, but first you need to fix Y by taking a detour through Z sums up every main mission in the game. Not only is this pretty boring, it also becomes repetitive. Side quests, which generally involve finding the corpses of station crew members, can alleviate this somewhat, but their objectives are mostly as uninspired. Most essentially boil down to fetch quests.

Like the rest of the game, there are some smaller interesting moments hidden in Prey’s mission structure. There are engaging moments sprinkled throughout and the choices the game asks you to make are pretty thought-provoking. This means very little, however, in the face of a truly terrible ending that does all it can to render your entire journey completely meaningless.

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There are some neat ideas elsewhere in Prey. Fast travel is handled really well. Instead of pushing a button and watching a loading screen, here you’ll need to actually do the travelling yourself, by repairing airlocks and nipping outside to travel between them. Being hunted by Nightmare’s, who spawn into levels with timers to hunt you down, are an interesting idea. You’ll need to either kill them (which is tough) or evade them for a set amount of time. The electronic sci-fi music that hums along in the background is really cool, too.

Summary

Prey is a bit of a letdown. It starts out well enough – laying down an interesting story hook and playing into the paranoia inherent with its Mimic adversaries. Exploring the station in the aftermath of the Typhon attack is interesting and, for a brief few moments, it feels like Prey is really going somewhere. Unfortunately the further into the game I went, the more I just wanted to stop playing. It didn’t help that I built my character “wrong” at first.

Focusing on skills that aid exploration is a must if you want to have any sort of enjoyment from the game, which is a situation that shouldn’t arise in a game that boasts you can “play your way” as much as Prey does. Both the combat and storytelling are lacklustre, so while the environment is compelling and the smaller details are fun to find, there’s very little in the core gameplay to keep you engaged in the experience. If you do make it to the end, Prey will slap you in the face and laugh at you for wasting your time.

5v2


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