Years after the cancellation of the much anticipated Prey 2, Bethesda and developers Arkane Studios went back to the drawing board and gave us something different. Gone are the ideas of being a badass space hunter and instead replaced by Morgan Yu, a subject who’s been experimented on and must survive an alien invasion. At first I was put off as this had literally nothing to do with the original but then again Prey 2006 barely had anything going for it other than interesting level design.
Prey starts things off aboard the mysterious Talos 1—a space ship drifting around Earth’s orbit used for scientific purposes. In Prey’s timeline, Kennedy hasn’t been assassinated leading to the expansion of the space program. Alien forces known as the Typhon disagree and have invaded the space station in order stop human progress. You get caught up in the middle of it and must escape/put a stop it. Nothing is at seems as Prey takes plenty of cues from psychological horror games. I won’t say more but Prey tends to be the game that likes to pull the rug under your feet.
If you’re thinking BioShock then you’re right. In fact this takes more cues from BioShock’s predecessor, System Shock, as the setting is set in a similar space station with a horror element tied to it. Yet despite the similar themes Prey does a lot to set it apart from the competition. For one the game offers a variety of ways to explore and do side quests as opposed to going from section to section like most linear FPS games. These side quests range from helping survivors to fetch quests. I do admit they’re not practically well thought out and mostly serve as distractions or panning out the play hours. But I can’t deny that has helped in make me want to explore more of each section.
What makes Prey standout is its “scientific” approach to solving problems. Rather than simply shooting your enemies with a shotgun (which you can do) there’s the glue gun to slow them down or powerful laser beam weapons. Aside from that you eventually get Typhon abilities which add a whole new layer to playing Prey. The morph ability for instance allows you to shrink or sort of possess items to get into certain rooms. I wanted to get into the office but the way in was blocked but I saw an opening for passing files and ID. I managed to morph into a coffee mug and wobble my way in. These sort of elements help add more layers to exploring the world of Prey similar to how ducts work in Deus-Ex. It also happens to remind of me of another underrated shooter called Geist for the Gamecube.
While it does a great job in terms of variety in does falter to the old jack of all trades, master of none. The combat doesn’t feel refined, especially in the opening sections where you’re mostly using melee to combat enemies. It’s not fun and lots of times you feel the shadow shifting Typhon are a bother to deal with as they keep jumping around. That feeling tends to dwindle when you unlock the Neuromod which acts as a sort of buff. This can also backfire as certain items you consume may lead to debuffs which aren’t fun to deal with also. Other elements such as recycling do add some cool values when picking up items you don’t need but I feel this could have been eliminated with a simple ‘dismantle’ option we see in so many games.
Prey’s highlight has to be its setting. Very few games manage to nail atmosphere and this game just hits it dead on. Creepy hallways, ambient music, and plenty of stunning space scenery help shape Talos 1 into a believable place. It’s for this very reason that singleplayer games strive and I’m happy they still do them so well.
Graphically speaking, Prey looks pretty, especially in high lit areas yet the game tends to stumble when shadow enemies (Typhon) tend to mesh with dark corners of each room. As a result I had to turn the brightness up just to see where the bloody things are going. Thankfully Arkane did a great job with its PC port. Even on my 970m laptop the game maintains a steady 60 FPS performance.
While the combat may not be as panned out as its setting, Prey does a lot to keep you going. Sadly due to its limited marketing budget and the fact Bethesda decided to let reviewers rush through it, Prey may end up becoming this year’s sleeper hit.