I was a huge fan of the original Prey when it released on the Xbox 360, so you could imagine my surprise when Arkane Studios announced the reboot of the franchise. Unlike the original game, this new Prey goes for a more intelligent and slower approach to its science fiction experience. In fact, the setting and inclusion of aliens is about the only connection to the original game, as Prey is a wholly different experience from its namesake. This is funny as well, because Prey is a combination of a lot of mechanics we’ve seen in previous Arkane games, with a dash of inspiration from games like Bioshock and Deus Ex. It’s a doozy of a game, with a lot of potential. Does Prey deliver?
The Mystery of Morgan
Prey‘s biggest draw is its narrative. Taking place aboard Talos 1, a large research space station, you play as Morgan Yu. Morgan Yu is a researcher who works on Talos 1, and after losing their memory, you must explore the seemingly abandoned station and find out what has happened. Talos 1 is infested with the Typhon, a biological entity with mysterious origins. The entire motivation behind Prey’s narrative arc is figuring out the history of Talos 1 and the Typhon’s involvement.
This mystery is a good container for the individual moments you’ll have while exploring the vast space station. My initial intrigue for the story skyrocketed after a fantastic introduction. Prey has one of the most confident and engrossing introductions in recent memory. Before starting, you choose whether you want to play as a male or female Morgan. I really liked this inclusion, and hope it becomes common practice when applicable. The story starts simple enough, with Morgan waking up in their apartment and starting the work day. I won’t spoil anything, because Prey is really good about playing off your expectations and subverting them. Well, in the introduction, anyhow.
After the attention grabbing introduction, the game settles into a narrative structure similar to Bioshock, a game which it also borrows some gameplay design from. You’re led across the space station as various characters give you instructions via radio. As you bounce from area to area, you’ll explore the environment and find audio logs and documents to read. Prey is teeming with backstory, with each additional piece of information usually providing decent lore. Talos 1 feels lived in, and full of detail.
For the most part, the narrative stays intriguing throughout its run. The story has a tendency to “push the goal post” so to speak; giving you a simple objective and then 4 roadblocks around completing it. However, this allows time to familiarize yourself with Talos 1 and dig into the surrounding lore. The kind of story Prey tells and the topics it deals with are quite intellectual, so I had hoped for a grand pay off. While there’s a twist ending, it’s predictable and feels like an accessory to the larger picture. There are moments in the game where you’re tasked with making pretty big decisions, and it was nice to see these choices recognized later in the game. Generally speaking, Prey‘s narrative is interesting and fleshed out, but falls short of the payoff it deserves.
There main narrative is also boosted up by the interesting side objectives that pop up as your exploring, often leading to some interesting events. Some of my favorite content in the game is within the side objectives, so I highly recommend seeing most of these optional missions through to their conclusion.
Extended Space Station Exploration
The majority of Prey has you running across Talos 1 completing a variety of objectives and missions. You’ll often revisit areas, retracing your steps and accessing new areas that were previously unreachable. Areas are large and open, expansive as they are detailed. The space station is comprised of quite a few sections, from the Cargo Bay to the Arboretum. Since the areas are large and you are encouraged to explore in your own way, gameplay is also tuned to your liking.
This is where the comparisons to Deus Ex start to pile up. There’s a decent chunk of gameplay that’s reminiscent of Bioshock, but the bigger picture approach screams Deus Ex. When you’re given an objective, there are often several ways to go about it. For instance, an early objective faces you with a locked door. You can find the body of the person who last held the keycard, use maintenance vents to bypass the door, or hack it. A simple door presents three different approaches, all representing a different play style. As the game progresses and areas get more expansive, the options become more numerous. Mission objectives feed into this “play how you want” format, often containing several solutions with no clear “correct” path.
Additionally, you upgrade Morgan much like you upgrade the protagonist in the Deus Ex series. By installing Neuromods, implants that change the way the brain works, you can gain new abilities. There’s six skill trees to deposit your Neuromods into, three representing Human powers, and three representing Typhon powers. The Typhon powers are mainly used for combat, but Human powers allow you to explore the station with ease. Some skills let you jump three times the normal height, lift items that are normally too heavy, and more.
Exploration isn’t just for narrative enjoyment, as an observant eye helps gameplay as well. Neuromods can be found in the environment, and almost every item you can pick up has use. Besides the obvious items you’ll want to collect like health kits and ammo, you’ll find bits of junk scattered across the space station. Anything deemed junk can be broken down into crafting materials using a big machine called the Recylcer. Materials can then be used to craft blueprints you’ve aquired by using a Fabricator.
These big vending machines are found around the station, and serve as safe havens. That’s because Prey is a tough game that’s light on resources. Although you’re limited to what you can craft by your blueprint collection, nearly everything you’ll need has a blueprint available. Even Neuromods can be crafted, along with medkits, ammo, suit repair packs, and more. Much like Bioshock, a lot of your time will be spent crafting ammo in front of a vending machine.
Blueprints are found at a decent pace throughout the game without much effort, but many can be found hidden in hackable computers. Computers are used quite often as a barrier for progression, requiring a password or high hacking skill requirement to proceed. This rings true for the use of keycard locked doors as well, another similarity to Deus Ex.
To further push the theme of being observant and taking in your surroundings, the game has a scanning device that is used to unlock new skills. By activating the scanner, you can research the wandering Typhon enemies. Scanning enemies enough times unlocks bonuses to spend Neuromods on, a mechanic very similar to the camera in Bioshock. Additionally, small “chipsets” can be found in the environment and installed on your scanner, unlocking passive bonuses. There are also chipsets for your suit, giving you base stat increases and more. Chipsets are the only thing that can’t really be crafted, along with weapon upgrade kits.
Fending off the Typhon Horde
What’s the point of having a bunch of cool powers if you can’t attack anything, though? That brings us to the most disappointing part of Prey, the combat. It’s not that Prey‘s combat is bad, it’s simply the waste of potential. As far as firepower goes, Prey lacks any stand out weapons besides the “GLOO” gun. The “GLOO” gun lobs big spheres of something that resembles liquid concrete. This hardens to surfaces and enemies, creating platforms and delaying attacks. It’s a bit unwieldy to use, and feels clunky to shoot. I enjoyed the concept behind the GLOO gun, but found myself not using it much after unlocking the majority of the mental powers.
Prey’s Typhon abilities are super over powered, which is good, because the enemies are tough. The first few hours of Prey feel like a horror game because enemies are so intimidating, regardless of their size. Bullets don’t do tons of damage, and you’re constantly having to rely on your trusty wrench for most of your attacks (Hello again, Bioshock). Small enemies known as Mimics can disguise themselves as any normal object, so early exploration can yield some adrenaline filled moments.
However, once you do a bit of scanning and unlock a few mental abilities, the combat completely flops. Enemies still do a ton of damage, so you’ll still want to avoid them if possible (even on Easy mode), but chaining together mental abilities are devastating. Prey encourages you to create your own approach to combat, but I quickly found blasting away with mental powers the most effective. Starting a fight by slowing down time, executing an electric area of attack ability, and then finishing with a kinect blast saw most enemies down for the count. I rarely encountered enemies that could stand up to more than two rounds of my mental combos.
There’s a few hours of play where combat is really refreshing and balanced, but it’s brief and fleeting. The beginning of the game feels far too difficult and restrictive, often forcing stealth and repeat deaths. The end half of the game feels way too easy once you’ve invested a bit of points into mental abilities, quickly making work of enemy encounters. I had a good time blowing away the Typhon with ease, but that was mainly due to the amount of frustration they had caused me leading up to that point. I would’ve been more pleased with a consistent difficulty curve, but the open approach to combat weighs out the negativity of its lack of balance.
The Talos Aesthetic
Prey‘s visual design is also commendable, mainly due to the amount of detail present in each area. Textures and overall visual clarity is good. There’s often a lot of items on screen, and a high amount of polish to those items. Unfortunately, there’s a lack of variety in environments and art design. The setting doesn’t invoke amazing visuals, as there’s only so much variety you can pull from a research station, but the areas tend to blend together. Areas are well designed and put together, but there’s simply not a huge difference between the look of a Cargo Bay and a Shuttle Bay. After 20 hours of running across Talos 1, things start to look the same.
There are some stand out areas though, and I really enjoyed those that tried to shake things up. The Arboretum is particularly good looking, ripe with plants and a gorgeous glass ceiling that shows the stars beyond. The Crew Quarters area was also a blast to explore, both in visual design and story (but I won’t spoil the latter part). The Crew Quarters section is kind of the Talos 1 hotel, containing luxurious rooms as well as a cafeteria, rec hall, and fitness area. This section in particular evoked a heavy Bioshock vibe, and I really enjoyed the stories and themes contained within it. I wish more of the station’s areas had the unique vibe that the Crew Quarters and Arboretum do.
Bugs, Bugs, Bugs
While I expect these things will be fixed with patches rather quickly, I do need to acknowledge the abundance of technical issues I had with Prey on its launch weekend. I was able to overlook the technical mishaps and formulate an opinion around them, hoping that Arkane will fix these issues with diligence. Unfortunately, there’s always a chance that things won’t get fixed, so it’s important to note the bumps I experienced along the way.
Throughout my 20 hours with Prey, I noticed occasional slowdown, with some areas dropping frame rate significantly. These slowdowns usually happened in expansive areas with lots of rendered items, so it was understandable and easily accepted. The same goes for the lengthy load times, often reaching upwards of 45 seconds with each new area. Textures have a bad habit of not fulling loading in, even after you’ve walked right up to them. Most of these things were minor and infrequent, rarely pulling away from the experience.
Unfortunately, I was met with a near game breaking bug around the penultimate mission, halting my progress. My game crashed six times in succession on the same loading screen, even after loading a previous save. After fully reinstalling the game, the issue persisted. I was forced to reload a save that was three hours older than the affected one, skipping several side missions in an attempt to avoid the bug. This was a huge annoyance and a massive buzzkill as the story was building towards its conclusion. From a quick look on Reddit and other forums, it appears as though this a somewhat common issue.
The Bottom Line on Prey
I made a point of comparing Prey to Bioshock and Deus Ex every chance possible, but only to really push the point home. Prey is truly a combination of those two games with a sci-fi twist and light horror elements. In fact, there’s nothing altogether new about Prey‘s design or the things it tries to achieve. In that way, Prey succeeds at making an enjoyable sci-fi experience with a focus on exploration and mystery. However, many aspects of the game fail to reach their potential.
Combat is enjoyable, but becomes repetitive and easy as time moves on. Crafting is fun and intuitive, but resources are often thin and hunting for them can become tedious. Exploration is rewarding and plentiful, but the visual design leaves something to be desired as the hours wear on. The overall narrative is engaging, but fails to pay off in a way that matches the intelligence of the themes within.
After all the cosmic dust has settled, Prey delivers a consistently enjoyable experience with its fair share of highs and lows. My time with the game was sharply interrupted by technical issues, which may or may not arise for you. The inherent open approach to both exploration and combat leaves a lot of room for replayability. Furthermore, those extra playthroughs will have different outcomes depending on the surprisingly weighted choices you must make along the way.
At first pass, Prey will probably take you around 20-30 hours to complete, depending on how often you stop and smell the space flowers. It’s a fun time that’s a bit rough around the edges. If you’re looking for a first person shooter in space, Prey won’t please you at all. But if you’re okay with a slow burn sci-fi story with a healthy dose of mystery, there’s definitely some good times to be had within. While a lot of Prey feels familiar, there’s something definitely unique about it.
Note: The game was played on an Xbox One