Gamers who have fond memories of 2006’s original ‘Prey’ will be in for a bit of a surprise with Arkane Studios’ re-imagining of the title. Sure, you’ve still got strange Alien creatures to take down, but gone are the Cherokee roots of the hero and extended focus on all-out first person shooter action. Instead, it has become a title that melds together first person shooting with RPG elements, in turn providing an experience where not every problem is solved by simply pulling the trigger of a gun. Add to that the stunning game world and gripping sci-fi tale, and you’ll find that Prey is one of the stand out releases so far this year.
Prey casts you in the role of Morgan Yu (who the player can choose to make female or male), a seemingly normal citizen of a huge city who is taking part in some sort of scientific experiment under the care of their Brother. That’s how it seems anyway; it doesn’t take long for everything to take a sour turn and for the smoke and mirrors of the experiment to become clear though, revealing a sinister scheme that’ll have you questioning everything you see before you. It seems like Arkane Studios have taken a page out of the original ‘Prey’ release and given an opening that’ll hook you in from the get go – it’s a shame there’s no ‘(Don’t Fear) the Reaper’ to listen to though…
The narrative elements of Prey heavily influence the experience though, so it’s great that they keep you engaged. You’re constantly handed optional yet interesting side quests along with the main story missions, whilst you’re also tasked with making important moral choices that’ll often have a big influence on incoming events; nothing is ever black or white in the game, with each decision a tough one that’ll take a bit of thought in regards to any potential repercussions. Different characters react to you in a variety of ways depending on what gender you play as too, so there’s certainly more complex issues to experience from a narrative standpoint. I haven’t finished my second (and female) playthrough yet though, so I’m not sure how big an influence gender plays throughout the majority of the game. Having the ability to do things differently through your choices certainly adds to Prey’s replayability though, giving you a pretty good reason to give the fairly lengthy campaign a second go after you see the events you’ve influenced play out the first time around.
Of course, the core foundation of Prey is built around first person shooter mechanics, so there are plenty of guns in the game along with the hefty narrative. They’re not they typical kind of weapons you’d expect in this kind of game though. For example, there’s the GLOO Cannon that shoots a gloopy material that quickly hardens, allowing you to freeze enemies and lock them in place to make them easy, uh-hum, ‘prey’ for you. Alternatively, you can use it to create platforms to climb or to get rid of hazards in the environment; Prey certainly doesn’t make you just blast the Alien scum to pieces with your weaponry, but instead rewards you for using it in a tactical way that makes out-thinking your opponent just as rewarding as out-gunning them (I’d even recommend out-running them at times – taking on too many enemies at once can be a deadly act). Or you could just blast them away with the Shotgun or ping them with the Nerfgun-esque foam bullets from the Boltcaster – it’s your choice. However you decide to approach it, Prey offers solid gunplay that’s enjoyable from both an all-out attacking and tactical viewpoint.
You can’t have a first person shooter without a decent group of enemies to shoot down though, but thankfully Prey’s ‘Typhon’ enemies fit the ‘terrifying Alien’ bill perfectly. It’s never simple to take down any of the Typhon; these aren’t your stereotypical grunts that are just there to be killed, but actual imposing foes that possess abilities that’ll really keep you on your toes. There’s the ‘Poltergeists’ who are able to turn invisible and attack you when you least expect it, the ‘Weavers’ who re-animate human corpses to turn them into lifelessly threatening foes, the ‘Nightmares’ who are huge and incredibly dangerous based upon their overwhelming strength and willpower in hunting Morgan Yu down, and even the ‘Mimics’ – enemies that pretend to be items you’d typically find in the environment.
Whilst they’re the smallest and least intimidating enemy from a physical standpoint, Prey’s Mimcs are the most memorable of all of the Typhon and provide some of the game’s most gripping moments. Basically, they can take on the form of anything in the environment, be it a chair that’s lying around, a briefcase, or even a box of ammo. It can literally be ANYTHING – you might think you’re safe when you’re about to pick up that sought after first-aid kit, only to have it immediately transform into a hideous little monster and suck all the life out of your body. It happens, believe me; there were too many occasions where my care-free approach saw me facing an intimidating showdown against a group of Mimics. Still, I couldn’t help but to absolutely love their presence, with their shape-shifting abilities unlike anything I’ve ever faced in a video game. Prey has sci-fi horror elements that don’t depend entirely on jump-scares or scary creatures, but instead instilling a sense of paranoia in the player that nothing around them is what it seems. Not knowing if it’s safe to sit in a chair or whether that plant sitting in the corner of a room is trying to kill you is outright terrifying, and it works magnificently well within the eerie confines of the Talos-I setting.
Fortunately, there are abilities for Morgan Yu to unlock that’ll really even the odds. In a similar vein to the Plasmids in ‘Bioshock’, you’re able to use ‘Neuromods’ to improve your abilities and unlock neat moves. This starts off with basic things such as improved stats and minor skills, but eventually you’re able to actually use the Typhon’s abilities against them in the heat of combat. Whilst these are uniquely cool, they do come with a downside; the automated defences of the game will turn against you, recognising Morgan Yu as an Alien instead of a human. It’s an incredibly neat touch that shows the risk and reward of upgrading abilities; do you focus on a normal skillset that sacrifices power for being recognised as a human, or is your humanity something you’re willing to put aside to gain the upper hand against your enemies? Prey’s freedom at letting you mould Morgan Yu exactly as you please allows you to make this decision, in turn providing an enriching experience that feels all the more personalised the further you progress.
The Talos-I Space station in which the game is set is a real treat to explore – not just because it’s an incredibly well designed locale that blends together futuristic elements with contemporary design, but because it gives you the freedom to investigate the environment as you please. There’s never just one way to approach exploration, something which is evident early in the game where you can either uncover a key card to get through a door or instead make your way through a ventilation shaft. It doesn’t end there though, with plenty of different areas free to explore if you’re willing to find a way to reach them; let’s just say that GLOO Cannon can come in real handy if you use it in some creative ways. However you decide to do it, exploration is rewarded in a variety of ways with items, various upgrades, or tid-bits of story detail the prize for keen adventurers.
Whilst Talos-I is great to explore from a gameplay perspective, it also looks absolutely stunning. Arkane Studios are known for creating fantastic looking worlds for players to explore, and it’s a trend that has continued with Prey. Everywhere just felt distinctly unique; we’ve seen in Space-themed games like ‘Alien Isolation’ how sci-fi environments can start to feel a little samey over an extended period of time, but Talos-I had so much diversity in its aesthetic that I never got bored of checking out my surroundings.
It’s a good job too, since there’s plenty of back-tracking in Prey. Now I typically don’t mind venturing through trodden ground again in a game, but it became a little difficult to keep track of each location the further I progressed. It’s actually because of two elements of the game that are typically celebrated – the freedom it grants you to explore and its non-linear approach. Being able to go anywhere at any given time (providing you have the means to do so) is great, but it’s often a pain to remember how exactly to get back to previously visited areas. It can be almost maze-like at times, with the objective markers an awkward way to try and guide you through the constant doors and seemingly inaccessible rooms. It’s almost like the freedom the game offers is a little too overwhelming, especially for those that aren’t equipped with a great sense of direction. It’s not necessarily a flaw, especially since some players will probably find their way around with ease, but it was something that caused me a few issues during my time with the game.
I’d be remiss not to mention the game’s soundtrack, which is expertly crafted by Mick Gordon of 2016’s hit shooter (and another Bethesda title) ‘DOOM’. In honesty, I’ve often found it easy to not notice the soundtrack in first person shooters, but Bethesda have been absolutely on the ball in ensuring the titles they release feature a phenomenal soundtrack to go along with the quality of the game. It’s evident again in Prey, with the ominous soundtrack ensuring that the mystery and thrills of the Space Station are present in an audio form too. There’s an expertly implemented variety of music pieces and ambient noises that set up an atmosphere that intrigues, excites, and frightens you during the games eighteen hour plus campaign.
It seems like Arkane Studios can do no wrong, with the gripping stealthy adventures featured in the ‘Dishonored’ series followed up with the incredibly exciting sci-fi thriller offered here in Prey. It really hits the mark in almost all facets of design; the story will hook you in and keep you guessing, the enemy design and shooting elements go against the grain in a highly entertaining fashion, whilst the Talos-I setting proves that not all Space Stations needs to be repetitive claustrophobic corridors but instead locales full of personality.
I really enjoyed my time with Prey and am excited to see more of what the game has to offer; despite spending well over twenty hours with it already, I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface in what it has in store for me. Based upon what I’ve played so far though, I’m sure the hours I’ve spent facing off against the deadly Typhon will stick with me for a long, long time. Prey is back and it’s better than ever – here’s hoping any potential follow-ups will have a less treacherous development cycle though…
Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: 04/05/2017
Format(s): Xbox One (Reviewed), Playstation 4, PC