Arkane Studios has done something that I haven’t experienced in gaming in a long, long while. It has created Prey, a game that actually makes me think. Sure, it’s a thinking player’s game in terms of combat and sneaking about and figuring out the nuances of progression. But even more than that, it is a game that made me question everything along this amazing journey of discovery. This is our Prey review.
If Prey had been simply a first-person shooter, I can’t imagine giving it more than a mediocre score. But Arkane has succeeded more brilliantly than many games I’ve played in the last several years by giving me a reason to consider that nothing is as it seems.
There is a lot that could be said about Prey but sometimes brevity is better. In Prey’s case, the simple admonition to go play it seems a wise choice, though I’ll try to give you reasons to want to do that.
The first experience in the game sets things off a a breakneck pace. Unlike speed-runners who have completed the game in just a few minutes, you definitely want to take things slowly and explore the world handed to you by Talos I, the game’s hub and, indeed, its entire setting. That opening sequence sets the tone for the entire game, but is not one I’m willing to spoil. Suffice to say that it is…surprising.
You’ll begin the game by choosing the gender of your Morgan Yu. After the opening sequence, you’ll find yourself aboard Talos 1, a retro-futuristic space station that is beautifully and terrifyingly designed. Blood spatters the walls. Furniture is strewn about. Corpses lie where they fell, many seemingly in hiding spots. Morgan enters this world without knowing anything about what has transpired, her mind still mired in a memory with no connection to the horrifying scene that confronts her now.
From the very first tentative steps into Talos I, you discover that literally nothing is as it seems. It doesn’t take long to run into the game’s first oily spider-like Mimic, a small, yet deadly enemy that can literally become anything. Glance at an innocent looking coffee cup. Turn to mess with a nearby computer station and suddenly that coffee cup is a deadly creature trying to kill you. Those jump scares, at least at the start, can be heart-stopping, though after awhile, much less so (and frankly sort of annoying). Armed, at least at the get-go, with only a wrench, if you’re not careful, you can easily join the corpses littering the station. Other, larger enemies are around too — creatures not so easily taken down by a mere wrench. It’s then that you’ll find it prudent to crouch and sneak. There is no cowardice in doing so, particularly at the beginning when you’re fragile and easily killed.
While we’re on combat and before delving into exploration, it’s worth noting that the PC controls are stellar. Combat is smooth, fluid and responsive. In my time in Prey, I never encountered any control issues that weren’t of my own ham-fisted making.
Combat is, however, much the lesser appeal of Prey. It is discovery that really takes center stage, nowhere better than in the well-designed office / living / lab complex that is Talos I. The ambiance is tinged with sadness and loss, lives cut short. Reading books, papers, letters and emails scattered about literally everywhere reveals a lot about who the fellow-travelers on Talos I were as well as help Morgan discover what exactly her part in all of it was.
As you journey through the ship, you’ll gradually earn “levels”, or at least the ability to unlock abilities through the application of neuromods in any one of three skill trees: Scientist (healing, hacking, etc.), Engineer (leverage, dismantle, gunsmith, etc.) or Security (firearms, toughness, stamina, etc.). Each of these, of course, has broad application as you work through the game. For instance, Prey has more than a few instances where doors or items need to be hacked. Therefore, you need to apply neuromods in Science. But what about all of those objects you’re too weak to lift? Put a few points in Security. The problem is, at least at the start, neuromods are few and far between. In other words, choose wisely and spread things out a bit to begin with.
It’s important to get to as many places (CAREFULLY) as you can to pick things up to recycle or to find equipment needed to survive. Every new location or room can yield a ton of useful things that may just be laying around or squirreled away in a cabinet or even on the corpse of a fellow traveler. Looting corpses is essential, by the way, as you’ll pick up passwords, key codes and other useful bits of information about them specifically.
The only caveat here is that you need to be careful. Unlike many games with linear progression where locations are unlocked due to player level, Prey isn’t like that. It’s possible you can stumble through maintenance shafts into an area where you will blink and die without exactly knowing what hit you. In a way, it’s both teeth gnashingly frustrating and exhilarating to find a game that actually gives you the opportunity to mess up like that. After all, Arkane has repeatedly told us that there is a way around or into just about any place on Talos I — something that rewards those brave enough to find them….at least in that brief moment before dying if you’ve worked yourself into a high level zone.
It’s important to remember to keep an arsenal on hand — after expanding your inventory, that is. Any weapon using projectiles is sure to run out just as you come face to face with that thing you’ve been trying to avoid by sneaking around for the last 10 minutes. If you do run out of bullets or Nerf arrows, you’re pretty much SOL. Load up that last save and try again…or not. Just be sure to look everywhere to keep bullets, shells and arrows well stocked or make more of them whenever you can. Do be sure to always have multiple weapons, melee included, on hand.
It’s possible to spend much of the game in stealth of one type or another, or simply circumventing larger Typhon to continue to explore. That’s one of the great things — sure you’ll still have to fight since mimics can literally turn up anywhere.
The one downfall in Prey among all the greatness is in the backtracking. At the beginning, it’s going back to where you run into your first crafting station and recycling machine. Later, it’s the return to very early locations of the game to get to a new, now-unlocked, zone. By having to do so, a lot of the sense of open discovery and non-linear game play was lost and things felt more funneled. It’s not a massively big deal, but it’s definitely a fatigue-inducing mechanic that smacks of padding the game to add extra hours.
The ambient sounds and music in Prey play as much a part in instilling a sense of dread and horror as the jump scares of the mimics or the sudden turret leaping out of the air. The sounds of creaking metal, the dark moody music all contribute to keeping you on the edge of your seat. It is a relentless companion through the game.
In the end, Prey is a really, really good game. I’d even venture that it’s borderline great. While I can and will ding it a bit for the annoyance of repetitive returns to previous locations and for the overly annoying mimics (particularly from an aural standpoint), there is so much to like, so much to discover, so much to learn that I would put Prey up there as one of the best games of the year so far and that’s some pretty impressive company.
This review is based on a PC Steam code provided by the publisher.