It’s the year 2032. You wake up on the Talos I space station and take a short helicopter ride over to your brother Alex’s lab. He puts you through a series of simple tests like answering questions and jumping over short barriers. Suddenly, a coffee cup morphs into a gooey black creature and attacks a scientist. Gas rains from the ceiling as you pass out. When you wake up, a robotic voice calling itself January tells you in no uncertain terms to blow up the station.
The story that unfolds on that station may be lacking, but the combination of truly playing how you want, challenging difficulty, and a general sense of paranoia helps lift Prey up.
- TL;DR: A sci-fi action adventure game with very solid gameplay and a lackluster story to support it
- Platform: PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One
- Developer: Arkane Studios
- Time Played: 23:45
- What I Played: Completed the game on normal
Prey wastes no time in setting the scene of a space station in crisis with terrifying aliens running rampant, dead bodies in almost every room, hull breaches, etc. It’s up to you to guide Morgan Yu through the station and uncover the secrets of it, the aliens known as the Typhon, and your brother Alex.
I won’t go into more detail about the story but I will say that it definitely left me wanting more. I went in with high hopes for a game being touted by some as “Bioshock in space”. Frankly, the main quest line and NPCs met along the way felt pretty generic. None of the characters I met were memorable, most of their tasks were simple fetch quests, and no particular story twist will stick with me.
Thankfully, Prey gives you total control over when and how to do whatever you want. The most fun to be had in Prey is poking around every nook and cranny on the station. There are about ten explorable areas each with multiple floors and side quests. Arkane Studios didn’t take the easy out by making an overrun space station feel cold and empty. Thanks to the dozens of computer terminals full of emails to previous inhabitants, the world of Prey feels alive. Side quests ranging from the usual (find who murdered someone) to the wonderfully cheeky (discover where a DnD campaign is being played) further flesh things out. Surviving the constant threat of Typhon during that exploration is where you will be tested. Prey starts you off one of the most paranoia-inducing enemies I’ve ever seen and introduces you to new, increasingly difficult enemies right up until the end. The Typhon are a force to be reckoned with.
The first Typhon you see is a Mimic, a fast spiderlike enemy that can take the form of any object. The coffee cup that attacked the scientist early on was a Mimic. They will hide just about anywhere and are very good at scaring you. If something looks like it doesn’t belong, like a third shoe next to a pair or a random piece of furniture, I advise either hitting it with your wrench or shooting it. You can never be too careful. It’s pretty incredible how much these small, weak enemies shaped how I played the entire game. I always checked corners and constantly used my upgraded visor to uncover hidden mimics even in rooms I had already cleared. Typhon also come in many other shapes like humanoid Phantoms. The teleporting Etheric Phantoms are especially painful to deal with. Cystoids are suicidal blobs that spring from nests with a singular goal of exploding on you. Large floating Technopaths and Telepaths will hunt you down. God help you when a Nightmare shows up.
Combating the Typhon is done through a combination of weapons and abilities. Classic weapons like a pistol and shotgun are rounded out by futuristic technology like the matter-annihilating Q-beam and the gloo cannon. The gloo cannon is a utility knife of sorts that shoots blobs that freeze enemies in place. Those same blobs can be stuck to walls and used to climb up to seemingly out of reach locations. I found ammo to be pretty scarce so my preferred method of killing most Mimics and Phantoms was the tried and true gloo/wrench combo.
Abilities in Prey are where things get interesting. Neuromods are basically physical skill points found throughout Talos I used to give you skills ranging from health kit efficiency and inventory size to the way, way more fun Typhon powers. The same visor I mentioned earlier can be used to research enemies and give you access to their related skills. Aside from being able to be a Mimic myself, I found the most useful powers to be a passive that regenerates health after taking damage, psychoshock, and phantom shift. Psychoshock deals damage to a single enemy and nullifies its abilities for a short time while phantom shift creates a duplicate of yourself that attracts enemy attention. Between the gloo cannon, psychoshock, and phantom shift, I was able to avoid being hit fairly well which was key as the Typhon can and will mess you up. Seemingly simple one on one encounters can go south in a hurry. Taking on more than two or three enemies at once, even near the end of the game, is inadvisable.
When Prey tells you early on that there are multiple ways to solve almost every challenge, it’s no joke. If a door is blocked or in some way impassable, you can invest in the leverage skill to move the blockage, find a way around, mimic through it like I did above, or use a throwable item that breaks down physical objects. Doors locked with a keycode can be hacked if you have a high enough hacking skill and don’t want to find the code. You can go into fights gun blazing, use your offensive powers from afar, or surprise enemies with sneak attacks via your wrench. This freedom extends to key items and side quests. I was finding shotgun shells for hours before I found a shotgun. I also wandered into an area, the top of the main lift in the arboretum, way before I probably should have. I couldn’t turn around fast enough before being destroyed by the Technopath that was waiting for me.
For all of its freedom, Prey has some oddly restrictive design choices. The weapon wheel fills up pretty quickly when you have six or seven guns, four throwable items, and eight to ten Typhon powers. Unfortunately, you can only map three weapons to the D-pad (one button is reserved for your seldom used flashlight) and only one Typhon power at a time can be mapped to L2. Constantly bringing up the 20+ icon wheel gets pretty annoying. Repurposing the dedicated lean to the left/right buttons to rotate through Typhon powers would be a big improvement.
I like that Prey doesn’t have some magical machine or merchant to buy and sell items, but the crafting system can be tedious. Each item you pick up can be broken down into raw materials at any recycler station. Those raw materials are then used to craft ammo, health kits, and more at fabricators. This all sounds good on paper and makes sense in-game, but the distance between different recyclers and fabricators can lead to a lot of backtracking. At one point I had to put off upgrading another skill to increase my inventory size because I didn’t want to double back yet again. For all of the high tech stuff on Talos I, a method of breaking down items into materials from your inventory would have been lovely. A mini recycler that only yields 50% of the resources, something like that.
Prey tries to do a lot and it succeeds for the most part. Talos I is an intricate and beautiful environment begging to be explored. The Typhon are a challenging and devastating enemy to handle while doing so. You can truly play the way you want and Prey rewards you for being creative in solving problems. It’s a shame that the narrative is so forgettable. Even with that caveat in mind, Prey is a solid experience worthy of your time.