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Awards

Rating

  • Graphics
  • Multiplayer
  • Story (Career Mode)
  • Originality

You Might Like

  • Sci-Fi Thriller Theme
  • Strong Player Freedom
  • Tense Atmosphere/Sound Design

Might Not Like

  • The Ending
  • Dying Repeatedly
  • Mild Horror Elements
Find out more about our blog & how to become a member of the blogging team by clicking here

Prey Review

PREY LOGO

Recently I have been bouncing back and forth between smaller titles that have flown under the radar and acclaimed hits from previous years that I missed. Towards the start of the year I played through Dishonoured and loved Arkane’s style of world building and their immersive design philosophy based around giving the players a goal, a toolkit and then just letting them loose. Sadly the past year has been a rough time for video game companies across the industry and in early May we got the news that Arkane’s Austin studio would be closed down. This served as a catalyst for me to venture into the depths of the space station Talos I and do a post mortem examination of their 2017 sci-fi thriller Prey.

Welcome Aboard

You take on the role of Morgan Yu and along with your brother Alex, serve as directors of Transtar Industries, a corporation large and powerful enough to build a monumental research station orbiting the moon. While researching ways for the corporation to acquire huge profit assist in the betterment of humanity something goes wrong and you find yourself isolated on the vessel with no memories of yourself or the situation. So you must venture forth while trying to uncover the mystery of what happened, how to contain it and more importantly, avoid being killed by the devouring alien hunting you down. Rarely do we get big budget games that can be described as a thriller but Prey absolutely fits this moniker.

I don’t want to say too much about the introduction of this game because it absolutely should not be spoiled. All you need to know is that I actually went out and bought a second copy as a gift for someone based on the first 3 hours alone. The first third of the game is almost flawless in my view and would be scoring in the high 90’s in isolation. The initial story is gripping and leaves you with a whole bunch of questions as to what on earth, or should that be “moon”, happened aboard the station. You start off weak with no idea what the alien threat is capable of, the eerie sound design will make you feel like the threat is always within arms reach and the enemy design (more on that later) will put you in a constant state of paranoia. Usually I don’t enjoy being made to feel like a tightly wound spring but Prey had me in such a chokehold of wanting to discover more that I couldn’t help but press on.

Immersive Sim

The cover art does the game a slight disservice, space suited protagonist charging in with shotgun in hand. It’s not a lie, filling a monster in front of you with enough lead will eventually bring it down however it downplays the strengths of the game. Prior to playing the people had actually warned me the combat was mediocre and while I see where they are coming from, it feels like a misplaced complaint. It’s hard to tell if I am excusing poor game design for a bigger picture view but if the gunplay was a key focus it would encourage the player to shoot their way through Talos I. Instead Prey wants to make the goal clear to you and then give you the option of how you approach the challenge. The word challenge is intentionally used rather than combat because entirely avoiding enemies is also valid in almost every scenario. It’s not just enemies either, Prey will constantly reward the player for paying attention to the environment around them and allows players to get a fuller experience while specialising their character.. While a player without hacking abilities might not have a direct way to get into a locked safe, finding a character's voice log or a rather irresponsible email left on an unlocked computer might give you the code you need.

While I am hardly the first to point it out, expectations do need to be set that Prey is not a traditional shooter, it’s an immersive simulator and the enjoyment you get out of this game is going to heavily depend on how much you place yourself in Morgan’s shoes and think around situations. You approach a new area and a difficult enemy lies in wait, you could attempt to shoot it but maybe instead you distract it with a carefully placed foam bolt and run by while it’s confused? Maybe you retrace your steps to the previous area and repair a turret to reinforce you? Maybe a nearby computer terminal can be hacked to leverage you some sort of advantage against the foe? These moment to moment decisions are what give the game an enhanced feel of player choice missing from many triple A titles. The main story provides the player with some interesting ethical dilemmas and you can play Morgan as a range of different personalities. Normally this would not be particularly notable, but as a silent protagonist I was impressed by how well the game lets you define a personality for Morgan through actions rather than words.

Of course to be able to approach problems the way you want, you need to have a variety of options to play with. Thankfully Morgan has quite a few tricks up their sleeve. There is less of a weapon wheel and more of a spiral due to the wide variety of tools you discover as the game progresses, many of which either have both offensive and traversal/utility functions. The earliest acquired is a GLOO cannon which can be used to immobilise enemies, but also create platforms to get to unreachable areas. You can acquire a range of non combat skills such as the previously mentioned hacking or even just the ability to throw heavy objects, while this can be used as a form of improvised weapon it’s also just an effective way to clear a blocked path in front of you. If you prefer the more direct approach then you can unlock skills that increase your health or allow you to tinker around with your weapons to upgrade them further. Finally you get the option to use the abilities of the alien themselves and as you build up your strength more and more. The role of prey and predator becomes reversed as enemies can be induced into fleeing from your psychic prowess.

Prey also gives the player a crafting system where you can collect samples from enemies and miscellaneous objects found around the station and turn these into resources which can be used to craft further useful items (including extra skill points). Initially this gives a great sense of the player making do with what they can find, throwing together bunches of scrap and left over food to form a vital healing kit. It also serves as a great reason to explore different areas and make trips back to your office or safe points to recycle your haul. In the latter third of the game though the player is likely to reach a critical mass where they are drowning in resources, tools and abilities. Some people will enjoy this power trip after hours of struggling to bludgeon a single enemy to death with their monkey wrench but I do feel like the game hands the player a little too much power and loses a lot of tension towards the end due to it. While this review is based on the standard game difficulty, there are additional survival options which make the game harder and would likely drive a more balanced crafting experience.

The Aliens

Ok, it’s been put off long enough, let’s talk about the aliens. Any tension would be immediately wiped out if the aliens weren’t a credible threat and the typhoids are certainly capable of ending your journey around the station at a moment's notice. The damage caused is high and the great choice was made to let them hide in plain sight so you never know when you are going to be jumped by one… or five. Basic typhon enemies are mimics, a trope in games that usually describes a suspiciously treasure chest shaped enemy waiting to chomp on greedy adventurers. In this case they can take the shape of almost anything on the space station, and given that the space station has just been through a catastrophe, many items have naturally been knocked out of place. That coffee cup on the ground could have been knocked over by an unfortunate crewman on his way to the escape pods or it could be an alien in disguise ready to springboard onto your face. There are 5 aliens in the screenshot below, can you spot them?

Other alien variants come with a range of deadly abilities and strengths but more importantly, a range of weaknesses. This often forces the player to adapt on the fly rather than try and bruteforce every enemy with the same approach. The enemy design is rather lacking given almost every enemy can be described as some sort of “tendril wielding black blob” but there is a great source of tension and unknowing about each one. You are always shown new alien variants before you are forced to interact with them. Leaving yourself with a slight pit in your stomach after triumphantly stomping one alien only for the next room to give you a glimpse of some larger challenge displaying an undiscovered new trait. It’s a nice touch to constantly keep you tense and on your toes.

My Big Problem

Note: I will be talking about the ending and how it impacted my view of the game without revealing any key details, if you would prefer to avoid this completely, skip to the “Final Thoughts” section

When a thriller is building tension so well it needs to bring it to a crescendo that leaves the player with a super memorable moment or reveal. At multiple points in this review I have alluded to the first half of the game being notably stronger than the second half and this culminated in the ending feeling like a bit of an anti climax when it eventually arrived. There are multiple endings you can choose and I had a tough time picking which route I felt was right but it really felt like the game was setting up something much grander to end on. While it felt slightly like wasted potential and left me wanting more, it didn’t damage my overall opinion of the game.

Then the after credits scene was shown to me…It will not be spoiled here but was one of the worst ending sequences I have been subjected to for a game. It seems to be a rather polarising point amongst fans but for me personally, it gave me the only caveat to what would have otherwise been a universal recommendation of this game. It actively detracted from the decisions made during the game and left a foul taste in my mouth. The video game equivalent to finding the last cookie in an otherwise delicious batch of chocolate baked goods had secretly been harbouring raisins the whole time.

Final Thoughts

My feelings on the ending are only so strong because Prey made me so invested in its world and gameplay systems. Initially this game was going to be in the running for a slot in my top 10 of all time and while it sadly falls short of that mark due to the loss of steam as the game goes on, it still left me wanting to write a review celebrating it. This is even the cut down version, there are a number of other things I wanted to discuss!

Ultimately Prey is a game that more people need to play, and more importantly, it’s a game that more studios need to take lessons from to bring us truly memorable experiences. The diamond might have some really rough edges, but it’s still a diamond. If the idea of being the prey and using your wits to keep you alive appeals to you, or you just like some good sci-fi, you should absolutely give it a shot. Just maybe take a leaf out of the protagonist's view and lose your memories of the ending.

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Graphics
  • Multiplayer
  • Story (Career Mode)
  • Originality

You might like

  • Sci-Fi Thriller Theme
  • Strong Player Freedom
  • Tense Atmosphere/Sound Design

Might not like

  • The Ending
  • Dying Repeatedly
  • Mild Horror Elements

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