Prey is considered to be a spiritual successor to a game of the same name that launched back in 2006, but fans of the “original” will not find anything like what they remember. Sure, there are aliens, crazy sci-fi weaponry, and never the twain shall meet, but the premise of the experience has changed drastically. It is better to think of this Prey as standing closer to the RPG first-person action games of the Bioshock, Dishonored, and Deus Ex variety, and to that end, it does the subgenre proud. Prey doesn’t have quite the breadth of the other games occupying this stable, but it can get just as deep for those willing to dive into the void.
The story begins with protagonist Morgan Yu realizing he has been part of a mysterious experiment that resulted in the loss of his memory. Even more shocking is that he is stranded on the Talos I space station with only a handful of other survivors, and finds the station infested with a hostile alien race known as the Typhon. The enigma of Morgan’s identity, memory loss, and connection with the aliens is tangentially touched upon over the course of the main campaign, but it is usually set aside to make room for the more isolated stories involving other survivors. The game’s biggest questions are answered in rather direct fashion during the campaign’s big finale. The conclusion becomes more and more predictable the closer you get to it, but still offers a couple interesting twists and a mildly satisfying pay-off for the pseudo-moral choices the player made throughout the adventure. When everything wraps up, there is no New Game Plus option to be found, and with only one difficulty setting above hard, replay value appears limited if players already picked the first playthrough dry.
A lack of replayability would prove problematic if the space station of Talos I wasn’t such an expansive cradle of discovery and excitement. Unlike the white, claustrophobic tunnels of padding and buttons we know as space stations, Talos I is a luxurious habitat, complete with all the amenities for both comfortable living and high-end scientific research. Morgan awakes not long after the aliens overrun the station, so its livability is still clearly visible under all the death and destruction. The lavish, art deco architecture contrasted against futuristic, sci-fi design creates an appealing backdrop for the Typhon and the eerie imposition they have on the environment. Combine this with a staggeringly impactful soundtrack of classic rock/synthpop tunes and dramatically sinister ambiance, and Prey delivers an atmosphere that puts players on the edge of their seats while keeping the tension from peaking too high that the majesty of the aesthetic can still be enjoyed.
Talos I as an open-world is hardly the largest out there, but there is a lot crammed into its tight spaces. The limited size of the several zones into which the map is broken up means players will face more than their fair share of backtracking while progressing through the game. The monotony is remedied by the distinct environment design in the different areas of the station, plus the innumerable secrets hidden around every corner. The game’s backtracking becomes more bearable once the player discovers the selection of airlocks located around the station that permit access to the black void of space beyond the walls. Players can navigate around the entirety of Talos I in zero gravity, taking in the spectacular view, exploring areas inaccessible from the interior, or using shortcuts to a more distant part of the complex. The zero gravity often leaks into parts of the station itself over the course of the experience, offering a new and enjoyable perspective for combat and exploration. Traversing zero gravity can be disorienting at first, but it quickly proves to be a charming novelty once you get the hang of it.
Exploring Talos I—either on the ground or hovering above it—is the core of the Prey experience that every other game element serves. As players unlock new parts of the map and methods of access, the adventure progressively gains momentum as more and more opportunities for discovery come into arm’s reach. Successfully hacking a highly secured door, or spotting a hidden passage with a keen eye, makes the subsequent treasure trove of goodies that much more satisfying, particularly when these secrets can end up serving as a solution to a hitherto unknown problem. Apart from the conventional ammo, medkits, etc., junk and other items can be collected for the sake of processing them at several Recycler terminals located around the station. These turn collectibles into different base materials to be used in crafting virtually anything the player could need from separate Fabrication terminals (assuming they have the right materials and blueprint). This system gives every pick-up in the game value, which in turn gives Prey’s exploration a perpetual sense of purpose.
There may be plenty to explore on Talos I, but players won’t always like everything they find. Typhon are lurking around nearly every corner, often spawning back in areas that were previously cleared to give the occasionally tedious backtracking some suspense. There are several varieties of Typhon that players will encounter, the two most common being the shape-shifting Mimics and the formidable Phantoms. Mimics—as the name implies—are small, speedy creatures that can transform into everyday objects and wait to ambush unsuspecting scientists, while the larger Phantoms have no need to hide due to their durability and variety of psychic abilities, such as manifesting energy into a damaging projectile they can throw at Morgan. Additional tiers of Typhon will be faced as players progress through the story, including game’s most daunting foe, the Nightmare Typhon, which appears when certain conditions are met. There are just enough Typhon forms to keep the threat unpredictable. Each one necessitates different tactics to conquer, and keep combat from becoming stale.
While Talos I is a place of science, there are fortunately more options for fighting off hostiles than just beating them with the wrench you start the game with. Although the wrench is ideal for bludgeoning when resources are scarce, there are also a handful of more sophisticated tools for knocking the Typhon down a peg. The term “handful” may be literal than figurative here, though, as the game’s selection of armaments is aggressively small. The few that are present are distinctly unique to each other and excel at tackling different foes.
The most useful and memorable of Prey’s limited arsenal is the GLOO Gun, which fires an adhesive paste that quickly hardens like rock, freezing any enemy it covers for a brief time. If the projectile fails to hit a target, it will form a hardened glob on whatever surface it touches that can be useful in covering environmental hazards like fire, or creating platforms with which to climb to new areas. There are also nearly as many grenade varieties as there are firearms. These can also have a multitude of uses depending on the player’s creativity, like the innovative Recycler Charge that sucks enemies or objects into a vortex and spits out crafting materials—handy for clearing a path, insta-killing foes, or whatever else the player can think of.
A wider choice in weapons would have been preferable considering the potential in the few that we got, but the available options manage to cover the bases. Killing in Prey is more about efficiency than style. The stiff controls and lack of aiming down sights can prove frustrating until the player comes to terms with the game’s combat design that incentivizes preparation over proficiency.
Fighting with just a weapon and some wits will only get players so far in Prey, however. Eventually, they will need to invest in the game’s skill trees to gain an edge, unlocked through collectable Neuromods. There are two categories of Neuromod skill trees; Human skills that are divided up into Engineer, Scientist, and Security branches, and Typhon skills that are broken down into Morph, Energy, and Telepath. Human skills are more passive than active, giving general stat buffs or upgrades to technical efficiencies, like hacking doors or carrying heavy objects. For more of a spectacle, the Typhon skills provide a selection of psychic powers ranging from electric blasts to moving objects with your mind. This is also the category that houses the Mimic Matter skill which allows players to steal the power of the Mimics and transform into a variety of objects that could be tactically effective or comedically meaningless based on your implementation of the power. Typhon skills are fun to mess around with, and useful in occasional scenarios, but they come off more as distractions while the Human upgrades feel integral to success. The layout of skills begins to feel smaller the deeper into it you look, but as with the weapons, there is just enough creativity and diversity to avoid feeling lacking.
However players choose to upgrade their character, it can only be done so with an abundance of Neuromods. These are Prey’s version of experience points, but the game doesn’t actually feature an experience-based progression system. To upgrade, players must find Neuromods naturally, or craft them from the aforementioned Fabricators. This progression system works, but it leaves the value of side missions rather ambiguous when rewards for completion are better found elsewhere. There is essentially always something worth the trouble hidden at the end of each task, but the same profit could be found through organic exploration, calling into question the point of some of these quests. Of course, story missions are needed to open up more of the map, and both mission types expand on the overall narrative through smaller anecdotes of characters involved. In many cases, the more dedicated reward feels to be a heightened investment in the world and narrative, which can ultimately be more fulfilling than upgrading a character through an arbitrary experience bar.
Prey is an adventure that only gives back as much as you put into it, hitting just the right amount of depth if given your full attention. Content is somewhat limited and the environment can seem smaller than most at first glance, but closer inspection will reveal a full and engaging experience. Every corner is worth a look, and while the replay options are limited following the game’s conclusion, your time spent in the thick of it will race by and be worth every second.
|Publisher: Bethesda Softworks • Developer: Arkane Studios • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 05.05.17|
Prey is mildly limited in scope and replay value, but everything that is there will hook players almost immediately. In terms of quality over quantity, Prey made the right trade off.
|The Good||The space station of Talos I is both breathtakingly beautiful and excitingly dangerous.|
|The Bad||Once the adventure is over, it may be hard to justify another run-through.|
|The Ugly||Those TranStar jumpsuits. Fashion faux pas!|
|Prey is available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Bethesda for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.|