PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Prey is a game about identity and memory, and how the two are connected. It’s also about shooting goo aliens in what passes for their faces, morphing into a grenade and detonating yourself, and the importance of recycling. What I’m saying is that Prey is a game with many layers, some deeper and more interesting than the others, but all of them work together to create an experience that should appeal to almost every type of gamer.
The best way to describe the game to someone who has never seen any screenshots or gameplay footage is “somewhere between Dishonored and System Shock” (or BioShock if you weren’t around in 1994). You are Morgan Yu, a scientist aboard the research space station Talos I. It doesn’t take long to realize the research done on the station has gone horribly wrong, and now an alien organism known as the Typhoon has taken over the place. It’s up to Yu (pardon the pun) to figure out what happened and decide what to do next. The main story is rather linear, and at first you don’t feel like you have a lot of impact on what’s going on. However, as more and more side missions begin to emerge, you can discover plenty of chances to influence the fate of the station and its last living inhabitants.
Choice, identity and how our memories dictate both is an idea that stand in the center of Prey’s plot. Talking about it too much can ruin the game’s story for you, so I’ll just say it is an interesting concept that takes the overused amnesia trope and actually implements it as something more than a convenient plot device. Unfortunately, there’s little reason to go back and revisit the story, as it is fairly linear and your choices seem to mostly affect the ending, not the way the game progresses (with a few notable exceptions).
Luckily, the gameplay picks up the story’s slack and adds plenty of replay value. Since this is a game by Arkane Studios, the same developer behind the Dishonored series, freedom is an important aspect of Prey. You are free to explore the station’s open, yet somehow still claustrophobic, environments to your heart’s content using the tools you are given and a little bit of imagination. For example, you can use the GLOO cannon, which fires lumps of quickly hardening glue, to create walkways and even ladders that allow you to reach inaccessible areas. Or you can use the Boltcaster to activate buttons from afar and unlock doors. While there aren’t many weapons and tools at your disposal, the game provides you with many creative ways to use them.
One of the less creative, but most effective ways to use your few weapons is to apply them to your enemies faces in hope it will kill them. Combat in Prey is pretty standard, with a silenced pistol and a sturdy shotgun doing most of the heavy lifting, and a couple of non-traditional guns thrown in the mix. You do have a few types of grenades that can give you an upper hand against several types of enemies. An EMP grenade is great against turrets, while the Nullwave Transmitter disables an enemy’s psychic abilities. However, the combat itself isn’t anything we haven’t seen before.
What makes the combat truly fun and challenging are the enemies themselves. The enemies are varied, and each type requires you to change your tactics. From the small Mimic that can hide in plain sight, to the dreaded Technopath that can take control of turrets and security bots and turn them against you – you usually can’t fight different enemies that same way and must always adapt to both your surroundings and their attacks. Stealth is also an option if you don’t want to fight a specific enemy, but while you can get past enemies unnoticed, sneaking is much better for surprise attacks than avoiding combat altogether. Well, It’s more fun anyway.
The skills you can unlock open up even more combat and exploration options. You have your standard skills you’ve seen in other open action RPGs, like lifting heavy objects, hacking, running faster and slowing down time during combat. Then, there’s weirder stuff, like mind-control, shape-shifting and all sorts of energy manipulation. All of this fits really well within the game’s narrative, and the disturbing manner in which you acquire new skills makes you think twice about doing so. Yes, you can complete the game without upgrading a single skill. Although it’s probably a challenge a lot of gamers would find exciting, following that path means you’ll miss out on the better parts of Prey.
That’s because all these skills allow you to navigate the world and solve the game’s environmental puzzles in so many different and creative ways. There are a lot of locked doors and out-of-the-way places scattered all across Talos I, and without a specific skill or two you might not be able to reach them. There’s always more than one way to get through a locked door, and you usually can use your tools to overcome obstacles, but not always. And you really want to explore these places, not just for the crafting material and ammo you might find there, but for the tidbits of story and world-building you can discover as well. You’ll find the occasional body with a personal audio log, or a password for a nearby computer with insightful emails on it. There’s a lot of see, read and listen to in Prey, if you want to piece together what actually happened on Talos I, what was your role in it, and how everything went sideways.
However, if you don’t want to see, read and listen to all that stuff you don’t have to. The main story tell you what you need to know, and you can still enjoy the amazing level design and creepy atmosphere. Talos I is a marvel of architecture and technology, and the characters and enemies that inhabit it make your stay there a challenging and interesting adventure. I did find the lack of fast-travel a bit annoying, since treading through the same few areas over and over again isn’t all that exciting. Still, you always come upon something new you didn’t notice before, and that’s always nice.
Prey lets you play the way you want to play. You can run through it in about 15 hours, or you can take your time, explore the game’s world and mechanics and reach the 30 or even 40 hour mark. Then, you can start the game all over again and try playing it a different way. Sure the story might not be that interesting the second time around, but finding new ways to take down a massive Nightmare is even more exciting.