Format: PC (version tested), PS4, XboxOne
Developer: Arkane Studios
Release Date: 5th May 2017
Prey’s opening act is quite spectacular to say the least. It invites intrigue for the narrative and sets a great atmosphere for Talos 1, the gigantic space station in which the entirety of the game is set upon. Guiding the games protagonist – Morgan Yu – through the initial stages of the space station that is infested by an alien race called the Typhon sets some particularly spine chilling scenarios that showed promise for the proceeding content.
Introducing you to the dark, ethereal Typhon are the Mimics, which are incidentally the more interesting variety of alien species that are contained within the game. As the name implies, they can take the form of any objects they desire, allowing them to hide in plain sight and then strike when you least expect it, with only their discreet and almost inaudible noise as a clue to their presence. It’s an unsettling sight when you enter a room and half of the contents transform into the arachnid like aliens. The sense of paranoia is what Prey does best, and as embarrassing as it is to use your wrench to bludgeon every coffee mug in a room in fear of another Mimic attack, it certainly feels like a necessary procedure to ensure survival. Initially you’ll be using the effective Gloo gun and Wrench combination, which solidifies enemies for a short amount of time allowing you to get in close and finish it off with the wrench.As the game progresses however, and the different varieties of the Typhon get introduced is when the game starts to lose what it had built up. More notably the Phantoms, who dart around the screen and on some occasions making duplicates of themselves, making it frustratingly difficult to set your sights on them, and the sheer number of aliens, particularly in the latter portions of the game, makes it more annoying than terrifying. When there’s an enemy around every corner, Prey’s paranoia induced first segments completely vanish. Stealth is key in getting around Talos 1, and while hiding under tables and behind fallen debris conceals you somewhat, it won’t blind them to your presence if they get too close. Hiding and listening out for looming danger is comparable to Alien: Isolation, but where Alien kept the tension by keeping you guessing, Prey throws too many enemies at you too often for it to take the same effect.
Eventually the trusty Gloo gun and wrench combination loses its effectiveness as the enemies get bigger and tougher, and you’ll be seeking innovative ways of dispatching the overabundance of Typhon, but no matter what variety of strategies you employ, it always feels like you’re under-equipped and overwhelmed. The skill tree on offer is slightly disappointing at first, as you’ll be using your scarce Neuromods to upgrade mundane skills like health increases and inventory space and it’s not until you’ve progressed further into Prey that you’ll eventually get access to the more interesting skills. Researching the alien race by scanning them unlocks special abilities, comparative to Bioshock’s Splicer research mechanic. Here you’ll gain access to a variety of skills such as being able to mimic the environment yourself and health regeneration. These abilities come with a cost however as the more you upgrade the Typhon skill tree, the more the space stations defences, who were previously used to your advantage, turn against you. The issue with this is it discourages and penalises you for taking a more interesting path. There are already so many Typhon to deal with, adding more dangers just made the trade-off feel unworthy. This results in feeling the need to use basic combat mechanics in a game that offers variety. While Dishonored’s Corvo felt like he was adapting and improving with the game, Morgan feels like she’s constantly underequipped unnecessarily.Narratively Prey loses all its momentum after that excellent opening act and never really picks itself back up. The majority of the main quests are the generic fetch quests that we are all familiar with, and by the time the conclusive events started to emerge it was difficult to care at all about how it would end. The side missions however are where Prey’s more interesting aspects reside that enhances what is arguably the most fascinating part of the game, Talos 1.
Talos 1 is a behemoth of a space station, and its labyrinthian design is truly excellent. Everything is connected, reminiscent to early Dark Souls, and providing you have the key cards or skills, is almost entirely free from restrictions. Maintenance shafts can be explored, doors and terminals hacked and the environments can be scaled to discover alternative routes, not so dissimilar to Deus Ex. The surroundings are disseminated with litter and debris, making the dreaded Mimics even more difficult to spot. While it’s not particularly impressive graphically and with the whole game being set on a space station means there’s not a lot of variety in the textures, but the Dishonored developer’s unique visual style remains in this title. Any area can be returned too if you so desire, and with so many doors locked and inaccessible initially without the possession of the required card keys that are found further along the way, there are certainly reasons to go back to previously explored areas. However, returning to areas sees the Typhon aliens reset and occasionally with tougher ones than there was previously. This does give the impression that the Typhon are truly infesting the station, and encourages that you do as much as possible in an area before proceeding. Fast travelling isn’t an option in this game and what’s substituted in its place is the ability to space walk and travel around the station via airlocks once they’ve been unlocked which further augments its sense of place. The variety of the station’s design and the multiple abilities on offer means that multiple playthroughs can be experienced differently.It’s certainly evident as to why the opening hour was confined into the free demo. The introductory act sets a fantastic foundation that generates fear and isolation, but inevitably it comes crashing down in an attempt to maintain its tension as the game falls prey to providing a world with variety but chastises you in return. Similarities to other games are apparent from the offset and that is part of Prey’s issues, it struggles to distinguish on what type of game it wants to be and doesn’t offer anything substantially new in return. Talos 1 may be of similar calibre to Dishonored’s Dunwall but its compromised by its frustrating and overwhelming number of alien inhabitants that increasingly gets worse. Prey sets an incredible stage but fails to perform.
Final Verdict – 6.0