Not a mimic
Prey has been a franchise that’s been riddled with difficulties. Starting from its humble beginnings as a tongue-in-cheek shooter on the Xbox 360, the series then fell dormant after its sequel failed to see the light of day. Now, with a complete reboot to the franchise and Arkane studios, the team behind Dishonoured, taking over the reins of the series, does Prey make a big enough impact to bring the series back to life?
While Prey indeed has the same name as the original game, it has literally nothing to do with it. Why it was even decided to have the game be a reboot to the nearly 10-year-old game remains a mystery, but just know that the two games are worlds apart.
In Prey, the player takes control of Morgan Yu, a scientist who begins working at the American and Russian allied space station, the Talos 1. After some spoiler filled events happen, Morgan finds themselves trapped on the station with an unknown and highly dangerous alien menace called the Typhon. With no memory of how he got there, and seemingly no way to escape, Morgan sets off to traverse the utopic station in hopes of finding the answers they crave.
Prey’s opening few hours are absolutely phenomenal, launching you head first into a mind bending and suspense filled story that does a fantastic job at creeping into your psyche with an unsettling tone and atmosphere that leaves you begging for answers. Sadly, this level of quality drops considerably after the initial introduction scene, and slowly fades into an unevenly paced mess of rushed ideas and failed concepts.
It becomes glaringly apparent that the majority of the writer’s energy went into writing the fantastic premise and first couple of hours, and by the time the player reaches one of the multiple endings, the games run out of steam and seems to give up. It’s a shame that a game that started with such a bang would end with such a thud.
Story is one of the more focal points in Prey. The game dangles threads of information in front of you and uses that as the driving force to motivate you to explore the massive space station, all the while slowly introducing more threads that contain more information. Bu these are only there to give the original boost of motivation, as once the game gets going the story takes a step back and allows you to fully indulge in its wonderfully addictive gameplay.
Prey plays like a mashup of Bioshock and Dishonoured. Bioshock in tone, atmosphere, story and gunplay. And Dishonoured in stealth, exploration, abilities and freedom of choice. The player starts off weak and vulnerable to the world around them, but as time goes on and they gain more abilities, they become an unstoppable Typhon killing machine.
When the game starts, all the player will have is their trusty wrench (as if the comparison to Bioshock wasn’t apparent enough) and their space suit to protect them, but it’s not long until a slew of creative weapons and skills are presented, and are begged to be played with. The best of these is the glue gun (called the GLOO gun in-game), a gun that can slow down enemies and freeze them in place, but can also be used to create walkways and climbing frames in the environment. See an area you can’t reach? Find a wall and build a glue walkway there.
What’s best about this mechanic is the feeling you get that you’re cheating or breaking the game by accessing areas thought impossible to reach. But what makes it even better is when you get to these locations and find that the game knew you were going to do it all along, and sometimes even rewards you for your curiosity. It’s hard not to smile when you think you’ve cheated the game, only to find the games been playing you since the start.
When you’re not busy building makeshift walkways with glue, you can also use abilities taken from the Typhon called Neuromods (definitely not Plasmids, no sir). These skills can range from slowing time, to transforming into objects in the environment. While many of them are basic skills remnant of old school spells, such as fireballs or short teleportation, some of the skills allow you to approach the game in different ways and change how you play.
If the player has the skill that allows them to convert mind-controlled humans, they can get the humans to fight for them, meaning Morgan stays out of danger and can preserve some precious health kits. Much like Arkane Studio’s other franchise, Dishonoured, creativity and experimentation are at the heart of what makes Prey so enjoyable to play. That is, when it’s not loading.
This may only be an issue for the PS4 version of the game, but good lord are Prey’s loading times atrocious. The game can take up to 2 minutes to load an area, which doesn’t seem too bad at first. But when the game begins to force you to do fetch quests that involve traveling back and forth, in and out of the ship, the loading screens quickly build up.
Over our 14 hour playthrough, roughly an hour was dedicated to loading screens. Plus, the game doesn’t render textures during this loading period, instead giving the player a second loading screen to sit through before they begin to render. And if the player runs into an area too fast, prepare for some horrific non-rendered environments.
These issues aren’t game breaking, but it can be quite unsettling talking to someone whose face hasn’t rendered yet and they’re just a block of grey graphite.
Awkward storytelling and graphical issues aside, Prey is an enjoyable space adventure with a few horror elements spiced in for good measure. While it’s not going to set the world on fire like some may have hoped, it’ll no doubt find a loyal fan base in no time. Those who can’t get enough of their first-person survival action games, Prey will scratch an itch long since left untouched since the original Bioshock, and that’s a massive compliment.
Get your hands on it here.
Listen to us talk about it on our podcast here.