Prey (2017) Review
6 years ago, I received a few recommendations from passersby and friends alike who told me that the original Prey was, “pretty good,” and, “showed a lot of promise”. By the end of the game I felt as though I had wasted a huge amount of time with a below average story-line that made no sense. After a few days, I began wondering whether I played the same game as the people who recommended me it, questioning their mental states. When I saw that Prey was being re-imagined as a BioShock/System Shock-esque hybrid with an art deco architectural theme, I immediately took a liking to it.
Prey (2017) casts the player as Morgan Yu (can be male or female), a scientist who is confined within the space station Talos I overrun by highly intelligent aliens called Typhon. Yu also happens to be a lead contributor to the creation of Neuromods, a device that allows people to augment their abilities in fascinating ways. Removing these Neuromods also erases the memory of the people using them, unfortunately and the story takes place right after the removal of Morgan’s Neuromod. Prey‘s game-play, narrative, mechanics, environment and people all revolve around fear. However, as with any great game, the execution of an idea is a vital component. Will Prey surpass its original, be just as bad or, if not, worse? My homie H.P. Lovecraft once said that:
The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.
In space no one can hear you scream – The Typhon look like jet-black creatures ripped from an anime with muscular tendrils making up their entire biomass. Each and every one of the Typhon play differently to each other. The three main types of these fear-inducing aliens are the Mimics, Phantoms and Poltergeists. There are also bigger and more troublesome versions, however, such as the brutish Nightmare that will hunt you down like the prey that you are (excuse the unintentional pun) and the Telepath capable of turning humans into mind-controlled proximity bombs. Each Typhon is distinct with unique abilities such as the Mimics which, as the name suggests, can shape-shift into any innocuous object within the room it occupies. I saw these pesky critters for the first time and my instincts cried to beat them with my wrench but, little did I know, they are also agile and dodge well. They have the ability to quickly dash around and transform into any object which may instigate an innate emotion of fear within the player. Mimics are a breath of fresh air from your generic horror enemies that just run at you and try to kill you. Arkane Studios’ utilization of the theme of fear is commendable to say the least and offers an exhilarating game-play full of tension that will make you second guess every room you enter.
Guns have exploratory AND combative mechanics – A lot of consideration has been put into the weapons as they possess mechanics in and out of combat. The GLOO Cannon fires a substance called GLOO that hardens when used against Typhon. Combining this with a hit from the wrench will shatter the GLOO and deal more damage to the enemy. Outside of combat, the GLOO Cannon can be fired at walls and other surfaces to create makeshift platforms that can be traversed and scaled. This is executed tremendously as every weapon and equipment has its own uses for various situations, leading you to never use one gun throughout the whole game.
Freedom in Approach: Talos I has been meticulously designed with two things in mind, freedom of movement and exploration. Traditionally, games like BioShock don’t offer versatility and takes more of a ‘boots on the ground’ approach. In Prey, however, you can enter a room and use other approaches to navigate. Prey makes use of all maintenance hatches, multi-layered rooms and other climbable objects. These areas usually house much needed items, med-kits, food, weapons, upgrades, Neuromods and/or ammunition and is a great incentive that advocates diverse approach opposed to just running and gunning. Moreover, the most prevalent rooms that are tedious to access are Security Stations which force the player to think on their feet on how to access it. Just by having this option of playing in any way you want adds to the immersion that the game already provides. You can upgrade your abilities to increase movement speed, agility, morphing powers, weapon damage and health to make the most diversified playing experience.
We are experiencing technical difficulties – The biggest area that Prey lacks in is the technical aspect behind it. Traversing between main areas will lead to a lengthy loading screen which often ruins the immersive and unsettling atmosphere that Prey tries so hard to convey. What’s worse is that once the loading bar has been filled up, you need to wait for another loading segment to load the A button. The developers should already know that load screens are the bane of any player. They should know that we WANT to get the player to the game as soon as possible. It’s really counter-intuitive to put two kinds of load screens. Skyrim and Fallout at least alleviate some of the boredom and rage by having interactable objects during the loading phase with helpful tips or tidbits of information. Prey, in contrast, only has a brief description of various things like the history of Talos I, Neuromods and characters etc. Additionally, there are frame drops from time to time that really make you feel sluggish. Prey is a Triple-A title and should not be suffering from this, especially in this day and age.
Combat – Although I stated earlier that you will never use one gun through the entire game, I personally ended up using the shotgun as it turned out to be the strongest and most efficient way of dispatching enemies even though there are a myriad of weapons to choose from. Moreover, the combat itself isn’t too complex to get the handle of. Approaching an enemy and ‘shoot until they die’ is the general philosophy I used throughout the campaign but others might find it more enjoyable to play alternatively. Ultimately, the combat itself is lethargic to an extent that I started ignoring enemies as they are more tedious than hard to kill. Prey has a generic combat system and doesn’t try hard enough to give us an incentive in fighting Typhons.
Story, quests and characters – The important aspect to Prey‘s story involves the contradicting evidence of Morgan’s personality and philosophy before his/her memory loss, particularly intentions on how to proceed if there was ever an outbreak. This leads to the player being able to redefine Morgan by imposing their own beliefs, views, philosophies and personality onto Morgan through the use of decisions in side quests. Although this is very enjoyable as you can decide how you want to play, the side quests themselves are uninspiring and mundane. Who really wants to go pick up an object for someone in the middle of an outbreak, or waste time and resources to look for hidden smuggler caches? These simple ‘go here, do this’ type of quests do have their importance, though. How you proceed will affect characters and whether they trust you or not. There is a hidden moral mechanic where helping people or not will give you a good or bad ending. Due to the dreariness and monotony of the characters and quests, players may often ignore them. Fundamentally, they are there to give off the feeling of Prey being packed full of content. The ‘quantity over quality’ approach has been taken and this essentially detracts you from the main story and game.
Prey starts off with a thought provoking and unsettling feeling of reality not being what it seems but this theme is quickly lost throughout the remainder of the story. Once the game opens up, the meticulously crafted Talos I is a marvel to behold with its display of grandeur and art deco architecture. The feelings of uneasiness and ‘fear of the unknown’ are introduced nicely but are executed poorly with dull side quests/characters that may lead to apathy. The combat does open a up a fair bit later on when most of the powers, abilities, and weapons are available but it still feels lethargic and familiar. The only part Prey shines in is the freedom to approach something the way you want to and is highlighted in every single area/room you enter. If you plan on purchasing this title because it looks aesthetically pleasing and plays similarly to BioShock/System Shock, stick to them instead or wait for a sale.
Prey was developed by Arkane Studios and published by Bethesda Softworks. It was released for Xbox One [reviewed], PlayStation 4 and PC on May 5th, 2017. A press review copy was provided for The Hidden Levels. Many studios submit copies for site review but this is in no way factored into our review scores. Games are scored on their individual merits and our rating system is explained here.
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