When I first cast eyes on Arkane’s latest project, I was in Cologne, attending Gamescom. A special treat after the Dishonored 2 trailer, this quirky little title looked like a fun sandbox shooter.
It came across as an experimental immersive simulator, combining the power-based gameplay of Dishonoured with the aliens and pace of a sci-fi environment, wrapped in a light narrative blanket.
I was ok for Prey to be just that, a game I was going to want to play based on gameplay alone, but now I’ve had my time with it, I am absolutely blown away by how it has exceeded my expectations.
The premise of the game is such. You play as Morgan Yu, a researcher aboard the Talos I space station that is infested with the Typhon, an alien race that has removed most of the crew and sent operations into turmoil. Your one job is to solve this problem, with a cavalcade of side quests and environment exploration to concern yourself with.
I am absolutely blown away by how it has exceeded all of my expectations.
I’m being extremely vague about proceedings simply out of respect for how well-executed the story is in this game. Going in expecting nothing but the simple ‘alien invasion’ storyline was naive of me but incredibly rewarding once the narrative started to take off. There are a host of intriguing characters in Prey and a plethora of wonderful, surprising side quests that feel passion driven and stylistic
Another wonderful addition is the presence of moral choices, but I would go as far to say that this game takes the system from Dishonored and really runs with it. The empathy system in Prey makes Low/High chaos look archaic. I ruminated for more than 15 minutes making a selection on a computer screen about a character that I’d met for merely an hour. That is a testament to the way Prey gets its hooks inside of you early and drags you into the dark atmosphere.
There are a host of intriguing characters in Prey and a plethora of wonderful, surprising side quests that feel passion driven and stylistic
That is a testament to the way Prey gets its hooks inside of you early and drags you into the dark atmosphere.
The plot is also deeply existential and poses some sci-fi questions that need answers, as well as some deeply affecting moral junctions that will make you think about the human condition. What is the nature of trust? Do you place Instinct over Empathy? Can science go too far?
All of these questions and more are touched upon by the narrative, and I never once felt bored, it was always a constant surprise to find that the game even had a narrative, nevermind a masterful handling of the sci-fi genre.
Beyond the games excellent plotline, the gameplay is a gorgeous mutant baby spliced from Deus Ex, Half-Life, Psychonauts, Bioshock and Prop Hunt. Comparison is the devil, though, and it’s almost unfair to judge this game as a product of its ancestors because it is its own wonderful, unique beast.
What is the nature of trust? Do you place Instinct over Empathy? Can science go too far? All of these questions and more are touched upon by the narrative
Shooting takes hints from DOOM, in that every gun feels powerful and gunplay is tense and fierce. Make no mistake, this game is difficult, and the scarcity of weapons and ammo aboard this barren spaceship allows for some of the best gameplay I’ve experienced in years.
This is due to the existence of the Typhon. They come in various shapes and sizes, from the brute-like phantoms to the floating Weavers, and the Technopaths and Telepaths that trap you by short-circuiting the exits and corrupting operators (robotic assistants) or the remaining crew to make your life a living hell.
Two more enemies that really make a profound stamp on Prey are the Mimics and the Poltergeists. Mimics can shapeshift into any object in the game. This means that if you’re naive like me and think that they definitely couldn’t have programmed it so that they could become the medkit attached to the wall that has ‘failed to wrong me’ yet, you will scream and jump and everything in between as the game continues to throw fear in your face in a way that doesn’t feel cheap.
Make no mistake, this game is difficult, and the scarcity of weapons and ammo aboard this barren spaceship allows for some of the best gameplay I’ve experienced in years.
You will end up feeling so on edge. Smacking bins, lamps and even that little box of ammo you’re sure is not a Mimic will become second nature. The Poltergeists are also designed to really mess with you, turning monitors into gibberish, playing with the lighting and sending objects flying across a seemingly normal room. They’re also invisible. Yeah.
The gameplay is supplemented by an exquisitely spooky and, when it needs to be, blood-pumping score by Mick Gordon of Doom fame. Further, the voice acting is above par and the effects are all very on-brand for this alien-infested spaceship, evoking the best horror movies of the 80s.
Each locale in this perniciously designed ship is also a delight to creep around, the graphics retaining the wonderful art style of Dishonored but throwing the future into the mix. Expect similar hand-drawn paintings and avant-garde art that really encapsulates Talos 1 as a place to remember.
The gameplay is supplemented by an exquisitely spooky and, when it needs to be, blood-pumping score by Mick Gordon of Doom fame.
Neuromods are also a crucial core of this games fun and are an excellent ride from start to finish. In the early game you only have access to ‘human’ neuromods akin to Deus Ex, and what I mean by that is they allow you to increase your hacking, repair items, force open doors, jump higher and much more, just like you’re Adam Jensen.
It’s not like Neuromods are a finite resource either, you can actually find a fabrication plan for pretty much anything in the game and craft it. If you really wanted to, you could max out every Neuromod before you make a scratch on the main story. This is again a testament to the design philosophy of Prey, as the developers want you to try things differently and approach each environment with your own personal flair.
Nobody solves a problem like Morgan, and the more unorthodox the better. Its not clear cut either, in that there’s more than just ‘maintenance tunnel’ or ‘hack the door’. If you think out of the box, Prey will reward you for your intuition.
Nobody solves a problem like Morgan, and the more unorthodox the better.
There are also a number of Alien Neuromods which allow you to acquire the abilities of the aliens aboard the ship. Whilst I did find some of these abilities boring like the simple fire trap or kinetic blast, it was pleasing to see the amount on offer, and when they’re fun, they’re a bloody blast.
You can mimic coffee cups to slide through a post-hole in a door to reach an impassable security console. Want to raise a phantom from a human corpse like a Necromancer? Check. Want to activate a trap from a while away that electrifies foes using telepathy? Sure thing, bud. If you can dream it, you can pretty much do it. I found myself using the grav lift often to reach the places I was sure I couldn’t access. The training wheels are off in Prey, and you’re free to ride the way you want to.
I started to formulate a theory on this games development over my playtime. It often feels like the people at Arkane made the core of this game, i.e environments, story beats and enemies, but then they just made the clever folks in-house play through the game and tag things they wanted to add to each environment to make them diverse and add flavour.
Want to raise a phantom from a human corpse like a Necromancer? Check. Want to activate a trap from a while away that electrifies foes using telepathy? Sure thing, bud. If you can dream it, you can pretty much do it.
Each partition of the ship feels like it has already been attempted by those who came before, leading to incredible moments of exploration that are unlike any other immersive sim in their quality and quantity.
For a game that seemingly came out of nowhere, and as a reinvention of an existing IP, this is a wonderful package to sink your teeth into. The amount of features incorporated into Prey creates something for everyone and an experience that you really shouldn’t sleep on.
This copy of Prey was purchased on Steam by our Editor-In-Chief Jordan Oloman. He spent 14 hours hitting inanimate objects with his wrench… just in case.