Review: Prey, lots of fun but not very original
If you think a strong, silent protagonist wielding a wrench while the world falls apart around them sounds familiar then it's probably because Prey is the latest in a long line of games to feature this trope.
Joining the ranks of BioShock and Half Life, Prey also thinks that if you hit enough things with enough other things, society will fix itself.
Morgan Yu, playable as either male or female, isn’t exactly a silent protagonist but they’re pretty close. While you won’t get a word out of Morgan during gameplay, there are several voice recordings and videos to tell Morgan’s story. We’ve seen space stations overrun by aliens, and large needles that give our characters superpowers. It’s not an original plot, but it’s a great story. Thanks to good storytelling, believable NPCs, and a well developed lore, it’s hard to care that you’ve seen it all before.
Arkane Studios does love world building, and in Prey that mostly comes in the form of scribblings, books and emails. There is a tonne of stuff to read, but the best hands down are the notes that scattered everywhere. It’s great to know that Neuromods take five minutes of needle-in-brain to work, but even better is knowing that your secretary has the password ‘OMG!hotboss’ on his computer.
NPCs are truly brought to life through the notes and Transcripts that they leave lying around. They’re also just very likeable people who play with NERF crossbows and have weekly Dungeons and Dragons games. By the time I met my first person I already liked him.
It’s easy to make comparisons between Prey and a collection of other games. It plays and looks like a Dishonored game, while featuring Arkane Studio’s version of Bioshock’s plasmids and Half Life’s headcrabs. It’s easy to make the comparisons, but it’s not fair. While Prey has obviously been influenced by these games – Dishonored 2 more than any of the others – it is a complete and enjoyable game on it’s own. It just feels a little bit familiar at times.
That familiarity means that anyone who picked up Dishonored 2 last year will feel right at home with the controls. But even if you didn’t, they’re not insurmountable. Just don’t expect to be able to sneak around with ease. Prey is not a stealth game, and you will engage in combat fairly regularly. Luckily, there are a range of different abilities you can access.
Prey boasts a “play your way” game style, and it delivers. You will need to put some effort into thinking outside the box though. There’s no option A or B for your main objectives; rather you need to make the environment work for you. Do you want to go somewhere but can’t hack into the elevator to make it work? Use the GLOO gun to create steps up the elevator shaft. The hardest part is teaching yourself to look for these opportunities.
There are a range of different guns, tools, and abilities for you to use. Oh, and your trusty wrench. The disruptor stun gun let’s you knock out human enemies, or you can just greet everyone with a shotgun to the face. Abilities come in two main categories: human and Typhon. The human powers include hacking, repairing technology, stamina, and health increases. Typhon abilities on the other hand let you to gain the powers of the various aliens infesting the space station.
Turning into a mug is just one of them, and while it sounds awesome (it is) there are some drawbacks to using Typhon abilities. You are warned against it, and even with only one Typhon power the turrets and other machinery start to recognise you’re not quite human. If you dedicate yourself completely to Typhon abilities you will be fighting off turrets and angry machines alongside the Typhon. It makes sense as far as the lore goes, but I can’t help but feel punished for trying to use half of the skill trees I was given. Especially since the Typhon abilities are a lot of fun.
You’re going to need to balance the want of blowing every alien critter to bits and the need to conserve your ammo. You may have a lot of it now, but I can guarantee that you will run out halfway through a map and have to rely on your trusty wrench again. This lack of resources is what really makes the game terrifying, though the music also adds to that. The audio does a good job of sustaining a creepy, and lonely atmosphere – making you feel like you're the last person alive.
In order to have enough ammo you need to collect random junk and chuck it into a recycler. I cannot tell you how immensely satisfying it is to throw half of your inventory into a machine and have it spit out a bunch of shiny cubes and spheres for you to build with. Once you have your raw material you can make anything you’ve found the fabrication plans for. Ammo, weapons, medi-kits and suit repair kits are all craftable as long as you can find the resources for them.
Each level, along with being well designed, is generally pretty big with multiple floors and buildings. We’re not talking about a large open world here, but Talos-1 feels like a functional space station rather than just the background to Yu’s story. You can go a long time without a loading screen while you slowly explore each nook and cranny for hidden notes and resources. The infrequency of loading screens is great because when they do pop up, they can be very slow.
The areas are all quite unique with different layouts, which is impressive on a somewhat spartan space station. Towards the end of the game you will know each map very well, having run back and forth for various side quests and safes that you can only unlock now that you have level four hacking. That knowledge becomes particularly useful if you need to run somewhere when you have no ammo and a bunch of Typhon are on your heels.
Just make sure you aren’t trying a hack something while you’re being chased, because if you fail you’ll also lose some life. I can guarantee you will fail a hack at least once – not because it’s hard, but because it’s terrible. Hacking involves playing a more boring version of a buzz wire game. In a world that is based around huge advances in technology, this hacking mini game is nothing but disappointing.
Overall, Prey is a polished game that does a lot of good storytelling, despite not having a particularly original plot. Prepare for a lot of notes and emails, and a lot of cups attacking you. It also doesn’t try to be anything it's not, but its beautiful music and audio creates an amazing atmosphere.
Bronwyn received a digital copy of Prey from Bethesda for review.