Arkane studios have great affection for many gaming icons. Their smash hit Dishonored paid tribute to the Thief series and now their attention has turned onto re-imagining a cult classic, with influence from the highly renowned System Shock 2. Can Prey define a generation with new mechanics, concepts and gaming dynamics as System Shock 2 did nearly 20 years ago?
There’s plenty to like about Prey dispute some glaring issues. The story, pacing and input for weaponry and original ideas are shallow in execution. In terms of plot, what is offered is a fairly interesting if not blandly formulated plot. The story of Prey centers on Morgan Yu, either a male or female protagonist who’s been in the middle of an elaborate test for quite some time. He/she awakens to find that Talos I, the space station hub of the powerful Tristar corporation, has been invaded a by devastating alien force simply known as the Typhon. Their motivations are unknown but it’s clear they see human life as meaningless vessels to take over.
What continues on in terms of a narrative has some interesting twists and ideals. There are certainly some compelling themes on the unknown and abusing power which a human, can’t control. What weakens the plot is everything in between these good moments. There’s plenty of tired, overused plot points from films, games, and books used right here. You could pretty much make a checklist of every cliché used here, including story points and objectives. There’s everything from restoring reactors or obtaining vital data on the aliens themselves. If you’ve played Dead Space, then you’ll see the similarities in mission structures. There’s even a device you obtain within a few hours in the game that allows you to study the alien lifeforms much like Bioshock’s camera recording Splicers in action.
While the main structure of the story isn’t very original, nor does it feel engaging I found the world lore and the smaller stories much more endearing. Prey offers some touching and heartfelt storytelling in the personal experiences of those who worked at Talos I. Hearing the story of a loving couple being torn apart by events happening at the station, only to lose one another due to the alien takeover. There are plenty of smaller, more meaningful moments that’ll captivate you, luring you deeper into the world created. What is most engrossing about Prey is the gameplay and this will be the biggest draw for most players. What we have again in structure and gameplay is nothing new this feels as though elements from Bioshock, System Shock and Dead Space have been ripped and placed here. This isn’t a bad thing as the core gameplay is very solid and broken down into several key areas which are all pretty strong in execution. Mostly.
Exploration is by far the most engaging aspect of Prey as the world of Talos I is fascinating and the level of exploration is incredible. If you were to simply play the campaign, you’ll only see about 50% of the total game world. Players are left to their own devices and exploration is highly encouraged. Engaging with the unknown is terrifying yet the sense of freedom and the rewards are an immense compensation. Going into great depths with the use of your powers and the GLOO cannon to access new areas is a complexing and enriching process for players as creativity and freedom are granted in high doses, allowing players to feel no restrictions on traversing.
There’s plenty of other ways Prey encourages and rewards creativity with combat being often brutal, intense encounters that hinge on knowledge, reflexes, and wit. You can upgrade Morgan with various abilities that branch from two types, Human and Alien. Human abilities grant Morgan perks in hacking, weapons modification and other aspects of environmental interactions. While Alien perks can allow Morgan to conjure electrical storms, explosive traps and transform into a coffee mug or roll of toilet paper. All of these can be used for combat and lateral elements of the game, where combining gunplay and abilities, much like Bioshock 2 is an excellent and entertaining form of offense. Weapons are pretty substandard as we get silenced pistols, shotguns, particle beams and various grenades. Nothing that really stands out above average arsenals we’ve seen plenty of times before. But combat can be antagonizing and unforgiving to those who don’t plan and at least engage each situation with tactics. As said, knowledge is power as you’ll need to learn weaknesses and find the best approach to each enemy as they’re different from one another.
While combat is a stronger factor in terms of gameplay, sadly stealth is much weaker. The controls and overall mechanical aspects for stealth are flawed and crude in execution, with difficult methods of evading and little to actually help you succeed. There’s not even an ability that allows invisibility. So sneaking around is a chore as enemies have a flawless sense to detect and you’re limited in how you can maneuver without making much noise. It’s also highly impractical to evade enemies as they carry loot for you to use in order to construct new gear and vital items.
This actually brings me nicely to my next issue with Prey. While not a glaring issue it’s more one of impracticality that slows down the pacing. Players can recycle and fabricate new items from junk and unwanted gear. So you gather up various items and take them to a recycler which breaks them down into raw materials as the basis of new gear. While this sounds great on paper, the actual process becomes slow and repetitive as the novelty wears off after a few hours. It’s a tedious chore having to find a recycler, break items down, find a fabricator, fabricate new items and doing this one item at a time. It’s just pointless and a process that feels more pretentious than enjoyable or with substance.
However, despite the shortcomings, Prey holds out very well in terms of freedom, exploration, and combat. There’s plenty to like about Prey and after playing the game for 40 hours (10 of which I did in one day), I’m still gripped and eager to play again. There’s plenty of replay value with Prey, with exciting new paths to discover and a wonderful sense of unknown to explore. Above this, the game is challenging, invigorating and terrifying. The horror elements are incredibly strong and I had genuine chills as I encountered the mimics and the creepy poltergeist enemy.
Not to mention the soundtrack is awesome, as conducted by the brilliant Mick Gordon.
Prey may not add much to the genre nor does it introduce new dynamics that set Bioshock and System Shock 2 apart from the rest. But what it does, it does well (mostly). Players can enjoy an immersive world filled with enjoyable and rewarding exploration, tackle brutal and intelligent combat and combine brain and brawn in healthy doses. It’s not often we get a thoughtful FPS as they’re far and few between. So check out Prey and while you’re at it, check out the original 2006 Prey as that’s also excellent.