Prey has had a long and storied development. Originally being developed by a different studio as a follow up to 2006’s Prey, it took on a life of its own when it was handed to Arkane Studios, who are best probably known for the Dishonored series.
One thing that was immediately apparent was that I’ve played this game before. Not exactly this game, but there are many things familiar about Prey. It feels like a spiritual successor to 1999’s System Shock 2 and it borrows heavily from other games that would use that formula such as the Bioshock series. People who have played those games will find the mechanics, and sometimes the themes, to be familiar. Prey is a game that can’t help but be compared to others, but Arkane Studios have done a great job of putting it together.
Minor plot spoilers follow.
Prey is a sci-fi horror shooter that takes place in an alternate future of 2032 mostly aboard an orbital research space station named Talos-1. The setting is both sprawling and fully realized. Each section of the station has a purpose and has a worked-in or lived-in feel. Talos-1 is adorned in a gorgeous retro-future aesthetic and reflects a world where John F. Kennedy didn’t die but was a monumental influence through mankind’s foray into space. You play as Morgan Yu, your choice as either a male or female protagonist who is being subjected to seemingly unethical scientific tests and is suffering from narratively convenient memory loss.
Things go awry when a malevolent alien presence called the Typhon make their appearance. Smaller Typhon possess the ability to mimic common objects which can lead to paranoia whenever you come across things – you never know if that scavengable piece of gear is really a power supply or really an alien in hiding that’s trying to kill you. This makes for some tense gameplay early on before you are equipped with weaponry to handle them easily, but the mimics serve mostly as jump scares towards the end of the game. Unfortunately, the rest of the Typhon you encounter aren’t as imaginative. They were scary at first, but once the initial awe wears off, fighting an ink monster that shoots fire at you instead of an ink monster that shoots electricity does nothing to ramp up the tension.
You have free roam of the space station Talos-1 which, while easily one of most exciting parts of Prey, can also be the most tedious. You will acquire access through the different parts of the station through exploration and story progression. You will find yourself constantly having to backtrack – either to fulfill a mission objective or to discover an area that you didn’t previously have access to. Eventually your explorations will have you travelling outside the station into the black of space using your spacesuit, which you can use to fast-travel between sections of the research station.
Despite the exploration being so rewarding, actually traversing the space station is where the tedium comes in. Talos-1 is not seamless. It is divided into several sections that are behind time consuming loading screens. Each loading screen is a progress bar followed by a loading icon resulting in two loading screens. I assume this was an attempt at making the load times seem shorter. I only mention this because I have never encountered a game that gives you two full loading screens for every occasion. I tested these loading times between various platforms and often found them to be at around 30 seconds on my PC and up to almost 2 minutes on Xbox One. The Xbox One version also had noticeable performance issues I did not see on the Playstation 4 version.
You have a selection of weapons and abilities to deal with the Typhon threats you encounter. Each Neuromod, a product of the Talos Corporation that serves as a way to enhance your abilities, that you collect can be spent to learn new abilities or empower your old ones. These range from the abilities to hack certain computers, keypads and turrets to being able to be more effective at combat. Eventually you will be able to gain the Typhon’s alien abilities, such as the power to use telepathy to move objects or even mimic a coffee cup. The conventional firearms in Prey aren’t nearly as exciting, nor do they feel like they pack much punch. There is also a crafting system that allows you to create ammo, health kits, and even such items as Neuromods and weapon upgrades.
Hacking is its own mini-game, and is often immersion breaking. One moment you could be creeping through the dark being pursued by unspeakable horrors, and the next you’re playing a lively game of techno-pinball. It could be forgivable if it was fun, but it was something I always wanted to end as quickly as possible.
Despite being firmly rooted in the horror genre, Prey’s horror is in the atmosphere. Your ability to fight off most threats, the frequency of encounters, and the generic nature of most Typhon make fighting them something that gets in the way of exploring Talos-1.
The prevailing theme in Prey revolves around a series of ethical dilemmas, with this theme being introduced at the very start of the game. These decisions have an effect on the story, in a small but significant way.
Prey is comfort food. It’s well-tread and familiar territory, but so masterfully crafted I can’t help but recommend it. Despite generic enemies and lackluster weapons, Talos-1 itself is so fully realized it will give you hours of fun just to explore. Prey‘s flaws, meanwhile, are few and forgivable. If you are a fan of sci-fi horror and first person shooters, you can’t go wrong.
Antal Bokor is from the far northern suburbs and is the proud owner of a Steam Library so vast as to be impenetrable. His love for video games started in the 8 bit era with the arrival of his Nintendo Entertainment System and quickly evolved into a multi-platform passion. Antal is also a lover of game history and development, and can often be found saving various universes from a multitude of evils. You can find him on twitter, too, at @TheAntalBokor.