Prey is a game that can be as equally frustrating as it is radiant. Widespread issues affecting save game files, player’s equipment, and other instances cause the game to become tough to play in areas. Yet, when Prey behaves itself, it exhibits an intriguingly complex story backed up by tough combat and gameplay.
Prey draws obvious inspiration from Arkane Studios’ previous experience with the Dishonored series, which are some of my favorite games. Buttons are mapped a similar way and game systems draw a lot of parallels between the two games. Like Dishonored, you slot your main weapon on the right trigger and a power on the left. To change your weapon or power, you hold a button to open a wheel to select what you would like to switch it with. Power are regulated by Psi (like mana in Dishonored) and there is a wide enough variety of powers to allows for multiple ways to approach combat and traversal.
Alien powers such as Mimic Matter and Kinetic Blast are uncovered by scanning enemies and learning more about them rather than just being able to unlock them after buying the previously required skills. I enjoyed the extra layer that this added to the game because every encounter began with me analyzing the enemies. By the time I had encountered enough of them to fully unlock their associated skills, I had a firm understanding of their weaknesses and attack patterns, as well as their background provided by the scan. Players can also opt out of using alien abilities (a decisions we constantly discus with each other on the site), and instead rely on only human upgrades such as gunplay and health. In addition to the variety of powers, there is are also large selections of guns and gadgets. A favorite of mine is the Recycler Charge. Throwing one of these in front of you will suck in any loose objects and turn them into the basic materials used for crafting. If you get too close, it will recycle you just as easily as it does everything else – which there is actually a trophy for. There are other grenades that effect alien enemies and robots, as well as other standalone gadgets that serve unique and creative purposes. With so many tools to dispatch enemies, players have a lot of different ways that they can take them out. This was one of my favorite things about the Dishonored games and I’m glad that Arkane Studios included it within Prey.
One area that I found frustratingly lacking was the combat. It is fun to have access to the weapons and powers that the game provides, but in a lot of cases the combat doesn’t feel particularly good. Guns don’t have that satisfying punch when you pull the trigger. The wrench feels more like it was included to pay homage to the games (like the original BioShock) which it draws inspiration from. It it hard to hit enemies with the wrench and, when you manage to hit them, it does not do a proper amount of damage. In the early game this is great because it make the combat feel scrappy and frantic, but as you progress in the game the wrench becomes less relevant and the combat turns from scrappy to vexing. The cases where I enjoyed fighting enemies were few and far between. I mostly took part in combat encounters that heavily relied on hit-and-run tactics or just trying to avoid enemies entirely. Even while equipped with some of the strongest alien powers, enemies have very high health and can do a discouraging amount of damage. It is hard for me to feel like I ever became good at the combat because there were so many instances where I would get wrecked by simple enemies, even when trying a variety of approaches. One of the most gratifying experiences of gaming is that sense of mastery we get once we truly feel comfortable with the game, yet I never felt that sense of mastery. All of this being mentioned is from my time playing the game only on normal difficulty. The combat doesn’t make me feel like coming back any trying again after defeat, it makes me feel like turning off my console. Unfortunately, the hard to love combat is the largest factor that demerits the ultimate score I’ve decided to give this game.
Where Prey hooks you in is the story. You play the game as Morgan Yu who has undergone a series of experiment that have resulted in the lose of his/her memory. Aboard the Talos I research station orbiting the moon, aliens known as the typhon have taken over most of the ship. Morgan is then tasked with destroying the typhons on the ship (which can be achieved multiple ways) before they are able to reach Earth. Prey is sent in a world which is based on an alternate history where President John F. Kennedy was never assassinated. Thanks to this, the space race became more important; seeing the United States and the Soviet Union racing to the stars. Most of this is learned by reading books and scouring e-mails within the game, and very little background lore is provided by the main narrative. Understanding the alternate history and background of the game is not essential to enjoying the game, but it makes it that much more enjoyable it you do.
The most common, and threatening, typhon on the ship is called a mimic. Mimics are able to change their physical form to mirror just about anything in the environment. They can take the shape of weapons, cups, shoes, boxes – really anything that can be picked up and thrown. I loved that there was a high possibility of a mimic in nearly any room you walk into. You have to keep an eye out for things that seem out of place (for example: three shoes sitting together) because chances are they’re a mimic. Encountering a mimic can make you jump a little, but it was never anything that fully scared me. Without a doubt, searching rooms for the mimics and having moments where you just know an item is a mimic is my favorite part of Prey. There is a decent variety of other enemies in the game. There are phantoms which are be fused with environmental abilities such as the voltaic phantom that causes anything metal around it to become electrified. Getting to close to the voltaic phantom can quickly, and easily, result in your death.
Each enemy that the game introduces has an unique purpose outside of combat. It seems like, apart from trying to kill you, each of the different typhon have a role that they fill in the species’ community, and learning what they do as you progress helps you understand why they are currently assaulting any humans they come across. Instead of just filling the role of “the bad guys”, they feel like they are working towards something for the betterment of their existence. Although, since there are so many different ways to play, which unlock different dialog and information based on your actions, that could just be my interpretation of the typhons based on how I have played. The game leaves a lot of little details open to interpretation.
Prey is a game that can be hard to love at times, thanks to technical issues and flat out irritating combat. It does, however, bring an interesting and exciting story to light, which is the largest thing the game has going for it. Fans of actions survival games will have plenty to love in Prey, and gamers who like a steep challenge can easily spend 20 to 30 hours enjoying this game.
If you are interested in hearing more about Prey from the game’s lead designer Ricardo Bare, check out our interview with him here.