Bethesda Softworks has been surprising everyone lately with the quality of the product they’re putting out. Last year, no one thought it was possible to bring a reboot of Doom into 2017, then they go out and produce Game of the Year material. This year, people (including me) were grousing about how the Prey 2 “space bounty hunter” demo from 2013 looked like just about the best thing ever, and what in the hell are they possibly going to put out for this new Prey that is any good?
Arkane Studios, the folks behind the amazing Dishonored franchise, went to work on revamping expectations with this new version of Prey, and they manage to pull off an entirely entertaining experience in the style of a Bioshock (or more aptly, System Shock).
As the story is a major part of the gameplay for Prey, I don’t want to get too much into the detail of the game as there are some early spoilers that are better left experienced. You start off as the younger of two Yu siblings, Morgan Yu. Your strangely unsightly older brother, Alex Yu, and you are a team of researchers for super conglomerate TranStar Industries. I say, “strangely unsightly” because if you’ve played any of the Dishonored series, you know that Arkane Studios has a weird compulsion of making their human characters look like they were left in an easy bake over too long with their weird elongated limbs and facial expressions. Anyway, after waking up and having Alex fly you out to the TranStar building to run a series of tests on you, you seem trapped in a Groundhog Day-esque loop, waking up in bed the next day with no memory of what happened the day before…until…things happen. Next thing you know, you’re on the space station Talos I in a vicious battle for the future of Earth against a race of psychic, shape-shifting aliens know as the Typhon.
Prey is a first-person shooter in a surprisingly art deco setting for a game set in an alternate reality 2035, sporting a lot of random hardwood features for a space station. If you’ve ever played through Bioshock or the reboot of Deus Ex, you’ll feel very at home with the Talos I and it’s open-area mechanics. It’s not exactly “open world” per se; the Talos is locked off through a series of elevators and airlocks that open up into giant areas for you to wander around, get into gunfights in, and loot your co-worker’s unoccupied desks.
You get a series of basic firearms to use along side adopted Typhon alien powers to defeat your enemies with. I made the mistake early of seeing that there was an achievement associated with not actually unlocking any Typhon abilities during your playthrough, so I stuck with the boring conventional weapons when I could have been hurling bolts of physic energy at my enemies instead. Unlike a lot of its predecessors, Morgan is without a real long range option to use in this game. You get a pistol which you can fire up to about 50 meters, but the damage drops off the further you are from the target. There are no sniper rifles or even assault rifles which you can keep your enemies at range with.
What Prey does give you different from other games of the type is a GLU gun, a two-handed “rifle” that blasts out a sticky substance that hardens on impact. This can be used to not only subdue enemies but when stuck to surfaces, can allow you to climb up the walls and reach places that would generally seem out of reach. Elevator out? No problem! Just shoot GLU all over the side of the walls of the elevator shaft and manually climb up! It definitely helps in the early phases of Prey when you don’t have a lot of options between your powers and firearms to keep an enemy at bay and you can simply freeze them in place.
The enemies you face, the Typhon, also pose a series of challenges you’re unaccustomed to in games, primarily in the form of the Mimic. The first Typhon enemies you see are ones that look remarkably similar to face-huggers from the original Half-Life but covered in tar. They have the unnerving quality of being able to morph into anything in the environment, and I do mean anything. You eventually get a way to deal with the surprise attacks, but in the intro areas of the game, you’re simply looking for sets of two of anything in close proximity of one another and taking potshots at them. Two coffee mugs on a table nearby each other? Don’t get too close, or it’ll jump out and kick the hell out of you. It’s surprisingly terrifying. Eventually, you get to a point where you get the ability to spot Mimics in a room when you mouse over a section, but you’re so focused on bigger enemies, it gets easy to forget about the little buggers. You get lulled into a false sense of security when you’re crawling through an air duct to avoid a bigger monstrosity onto to have a section of tubing come to life and pounce on you. Makes for a nerve wracking good time.
One of the major problems of Prey is the load times. Playing on the Xbox One, they could have very easily used opening an airlock or extremely slow elevators to at least mask the minute-plus long load times any time you switch between sections of the space stations or recover from a gruesome death. The Talos is a big station, not to mention you will regularly be forced to chase after random widgets or doodads which are conveniently several jumps away on the map. It almost feels as if the developers purposefully designed a lot of the random “You need to push this button in engineering to unlock this airlock in the crew quarters” missions were designed to extend the game time you’re putting into Prey. Even when you think you’re close to the end, there’s an entire brand new surprise story beat that happens that could have been left on the cutting room floor. I got done with the surprise turn of events and was happy with its conclusion, but it did very much feel like I was getting ready to cross over the finish line and they then picked it up and moved it down the road a mile.
That said, I had a blast with Prey. When I finished my hard playthrough, the game was clocking me at 20 hours, but it wasn’t keeping track of the times I had to reload a section. I’d say I put a safe 30 hours into Prey by the time the credits from one of the multiple endings rolled. It may sound like I am complaining about a game being too long, but there is definitely a point where a game can wear out its welcome. I was simply in a rush to get through Prey in a timely fashion so I could bang out a review, but I still had over a dozen side missions that I was interested in checking out after I was done. There’s just so much good here that I can overlook the obnoxious load times, and I recommend you do as well.