The year is 2032. You wake up in your room, put on your suit and head to the rooftop. There, an helicopter is ready to take you to your regular tests. Sadly, the protagonist is stuck in a loop. That is, until we get the hands on the story, right in the moment where our daily routine is interrupted by the murder of two scientists on the claws of an unknown creature. In the midst of the situation our brother sends us once more into the endless loop… for the last time.
As we go and try to repeat the routine, we notice that some objects and decorations are misplaced. Things get worse once we leave the room, as we found a dead body lying next to a wrench (our first weapon) of whom was one of our few interactions in the loop. Then, someone calls to our device, and gives no other indication than to get out of the place immediately. This person, who goes by the codename of January, will start to guide us toward freedom, whilst also helping us to get some answers about what’s going on, why we were trapped in that room, and for how long.
Prey is the latest upcoming game from Arkane Studios and Bethesda Softworks. Different from what we are used to, all PS4 and Xbox One users are able to experience the opening hour for free. This lets us not only to get to know the first bits of the story, gameplay and some of the weapons, but it also gives us the chance to wander around Talos I: the colossal space facility in which the game takes place.
Many things happen in this first sequence. We can select either a male or a female protagonist, gain access to terminals, manipulate objects and take a glance at the skill trees. These elements can be compared to the latest Deus Ex games (you need to meet a certain level in order to lift heavier objects, for example), but there’s a nice touch to the terminals. At least in the beginning of the game, we get to see how the scientists were able to create each scenario for Morgan, and we are able to interact with lighting, sound effects changing entire rooms just by pressing a button. I hope that this leads to a different way to solve puzzles or unlock pathways later in the game.
Once the real journey begins, we start to feel Prey’s reminiscence to System Shock 2 and Bioshock. The atmosphere gets darker, the surroundings scream that we turn on the flashlight, and the first threats don’t hesitate to appear.
The so called Mimics are, to put it simply, prop hunt professionals. They easily adapt to various objects in the environment, granting them the ability to hide in plain sight in order to surprise (and scare) us. Chairs, cups, lamps and even medkits are only a few of their favourite places to hide. Mimics are the very first enemy to appear, and they don’t seem to present a big threat to us at least in the beginning. But, later on these creatures can deal a big amount of damage if we are not careful, and can prove to be a really pain if we don’t follow their tracks in a room, as they tend to choose another object if we discover their whereabouts.
Prey’s demo is very cautious about the enemies it introduces, but Ghosts make a subtle appearance alongside Mimics. These have a human-like figure, and its body seem to be made of the same element as the former. Unlike Mimics, they don’t waste time playing hide-and-seek but attack at first sight instead. But, apart from their behaviour, what really impressed me was their design. This ‘aura’ they carry seem to be corrupted or out of control, painting them as an aggressive shadow that just want us dead.
In terms of weapons we only get to see a handful of them, though the Weapons Wheel seem to indicate that there will be plenty for us to try out and upgrade throughout the game. By far the most innovative is the Gloo Cannon, a tool that can be used to either attack or interact with the environment. Enemies start to slow down once they get in contact with its strange matter, and can end up being ‘freezed’ after a brief moment, giving us the opportunity to quickly switch to our wrench and turn them into pieces. Stopping the attack of a mimic by freezing it in middle air was one of the best moments of the demo.
Enemies start to slow down once they get in contact with its strange matter, and can end up being ‘freezed’ after a brief moment, giving us the opportunity to quickly switch to our wrench and turn them into pieces
There is no doubt that Arkane’s goal with Prey is to make us feel lost and vulnerable inside this gigantic facility, while also presenting a psychological aspect to it. The only way to upgrade our abilities are by using Neuro Mods, a special device with needles in an end that go right toward your right eye.
By doing so, we can increase our stamina, health or strength, learn new ways to hack into terminals, improve our stealth abilities (alongside the damage we do if we get to attack by surprise) and learn Powers. The last were not present in the demo, but as the trailers show, they seem to be a complement to the weapon arsenal, aside from the regular ones such as Fire and Shock attacks. Additionally, we will be granted with the same ability the Mimics have, which will prove to be helpful later on to either hide or enter new rooms by turning into a cup.
Speaking of rooms, the demo isn’t very friendly on that aspect, but we get to see a scoop of how massive Talos I is. Almost at the end of the first hour we are introduced to the main lobby, a place that will server as a hub for players. Arkane claims that there is total freedom to explore the place, either by pursuing the main storyline or by completing side tasks, but many of them are locked. If the studio plans to follow a more metroidvania gameplay style, it’s safe to assume that some areas won’t be available until we can get the hands of a new power or item required.
Sadly, while Prey proved to be intriguing enough for me wanting to know more about the protagonist’s past and how these alien creatures came to be, there were some details that made my first visit to Talos I unpleasant. Combat felt very clunky at times, and it lacked the variety and dynamism that many trailers showed. This, supposedly is related to not having any upgrade or special ability available in the demo due to the phase in the story, but it still felt weirder than it should have.
Another aspect that felt weak was the sound, a vital element in a atmospheric game as what Prey is trying to be. Many sounds got bugged in the worse of times, and the ‘battle’ music kept playing even after I had defeated all the enemies nearby. Luckily, Bethesda announced that these problems are taken into account, and will be addressed in the final build, according to what the Community Lead told to users in Neogaf.
Lastly, Mick Gordon’s work on the OST is brilliant. After pounding our ears with metal in DOOM and Killer Instinct, it seems like Prey turned a different turn in regard of the tone, without abandoning the quality. This time, the soundtrack feels a bit more contemporary with some synthwave and techno bits. It can be disturbing and loud at times, while also delivering a rather calm melody in others, especially in the first part of the game.
Prey has the potential to become a great game on its own, and many of the ideas it introduces feel fresh. Some of the weapons look very interesting, and I’m eager to try out different combinations. It’s a shame that the demo doesn’t let players do stuff like this:
The setting feels very different from what we are used to, feeling very familiar to what society could become in less than two decades. My only concern about Prey is the big picture, and I really hope that it manages to achieve its own identity along the way. For now, even after playing an hour, Prey’s real core remains unknown to everyone.