Version reviewed – Xbox One
What is Prey?
Prey is an FPS action adventure game from Arkane Studios – they of Dishonoured and Dishonoured 2 fame – published by Bethesda and related in no way at all to a much older game of the same name (although this was originally meant to be a sequel and ultimately became a reboot, but that’s another story entirely).
It’s set aboard a space station called Talos I, which was involved with cutting edge research into Neuromods, things you can plug into your brain (by sticking an uncomfortably long needle through your eye) to acquire skills you didn’t previously have. Clearly, this is a recipe for disaster. And naturally, disaster strikes. You play as Morgan Yu, one of Talos I’s leading researchers, and as you play through the tutorial, everything goes horribly wrong. A big part of this wrongness is a race of aliens called Typhon, one type of which are called Mimics and, as the name suggests, can turn into objects in the environment – like cups and chairs.
That’s all I’m willing to tell you because Prey’s plot is really something you ought to uncover for yourself. And, in keeping with that, perhaps the most important thing I can tell you about Prey is that you’ll walk away with stories. Not just the ones that the game intended for you to walk away with, but ones that you make for yourself with the incredible freedom that it’s systems offer you. To better illustrate, here are 3 of mine.
Here, hold these for me?
Pretty early on in the game, I encountered an enemy whose name was simply displayed as ???. It was a big floating thing; later I would learn that this particular breed of monster was called a Technopath. All I knew was that it floated, it could commandeer turrets, strap them to itself, summon little balls of lightning, and completely push allll my shit in. I only had a pistol, a stun gun, a small handful of Neuromods and a couple of grenades. I was outmatched, outclassed, outpowered in every way. Naturally, I had to kill the bastard.
I spent a solid fifteen minutes dying in all manner of horrific ways, before it occurred to me to look around the environment a little. There were a few exploding cylinders lying around. Handy, that. I picked them all up, and piled them neatly on the floor – and after some searching had a sizeable stack of seven. One of my EMP grenades went onto a wall besides the only door into the area, just in front of my stack of cylinder-bombs.
I took a deep breath, ran outside, popped a couple of rounds into the Technopath’s gooey looking body, and hurtled back into my little safe room. The Technopath followed. Trigged my EMP grenade and hovered, stunned, above my bomb-trap. I missed the first two pistol shots because I’m bad at this game. But the third one connected, I blew up most of the Technopath and all of myself – see, it hadn’t occurred to me to step further back from my own trap.
I chuckled for a bit, loaded my last save, and did the thing right. Dead Technopath, more crafting materials in my remarkably deep space pockets, and I strolled jauntily off to find another big thing to blow up.
Think before you unlock
Bit of a quest spoiler here, so skip ahead to the next one if you want to go in completely free of information.
Anyway, I was floating outside Talos I, the space station in which Prey takes place, making my way towards a hull breach in the Cargo Bay. As I drew closer, my radio pinged and someone called for help. He was trapped in a cargo container, he said, and needed help getting back inside. No problem, I exclaimed cheerily to my TV as I zoomed towards the container.
A level 1 lock? Pfft. For me, with all my hacking upgrades, that was a joke. I opened it up in seconds. And just as the doors open, the chap inside shrieks, “NO, STOP, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”. See, the cargo container was floating in space. And I assumed – without really taking a moment to think about it – that he was in a Talos I-issued space suit. He wasn’t. He died horribly.
And my no reload playthrough was utterly destroyed. I felt so wretchedly guilty that I couldn’t get past that point; I reloaded my save, checked my journal and, sure enough, the objective was to help dock the container. Not open the damn thing up. Needless to say, I never failed to read my journal after that.
I don’t have time for this shit
Closer to the end of the game, I was given a quest to either find medicine for someone or ignore them completely. I went after the medicine – which required some floating outside the space station – found what I wanted, came back inside, and proceeded to make my way to the quest-giver. Unfortunately, on my way, I found myself accosted by a towering monstrosity called a Nightmare.
These creatures, just so you know, are murderous. When you encounter them in the game, you’re given a quest item that will tell you either to kill the one that you’ve found, or to run away and hide until it gives up the chase. They’re thoroughly killable though and this was near the end of the game. I had very nearly all the upgrades (except the alien ones) a shotgun with close to 150 shells in reserve, and a fully upgraded Q-Beam, one of Prey’s most powerful weapons. I also had close to 900 cells of Q-Beam ammo.
I was quickly (mentally) running through my ammo reserves when the Nightmare backed up just a little, blocking my way out. And I immediately thought of my poor NPC pal, waiting for the medicine in my space pocket. I blinked at the creature, grunted to myself ‘I don’t have time for this shit’ and blew him up with my Q-Beam. It was a joyous moment.
None of these stories will be your stories
That’s the magic of Prey. I don’t think any two people who play the game will have the same two stories to tell – of how they handled encountered and the like, not plot-related stuff – because there are just so many different ways to approach problems.
Arkane created a playing field, a decently-sized space station in which the only real blockers to progress are loading screens that feeling annoyingly long. If you see a locked door, there are probably a number of ways inside. Hack the lock. Find a connecting vent. Break a window. Turn into a cup and roll in through a crack in the glass. If there’s somewhere you want to go, Prey makes sure that you understand that you have the tools you need to go there.
You can play the game entirely out of order, find areas and open doors that you’re not supposed to be able to if you’re following the plot and the directions it gives you very closely. Not once does Prey punish you for wandering off the beaten path. You won’t find unkillable enemies, invisible walls – none of that nonsense gets in the way of how you want to play. I spent the first four to six hours of the game just running around the parts of the station I had unlocked (before even entering the Hardware Labs, if you’re wondering how early on this was) gathering materials and Neuromods so I could craft more stuff, upgrade my hacking ability, and get into more places.
If you enjoy games that reward exploring, Prey is most certainly for you. Talos I may not seem terribly expansive, but the sheer amount of detail that’s been packed into it is remarkable.
Speaking of detail, all Talos I employees have names, stories, and can be found on the station
This was probably one of my favourite parts of the game. Once you gain access to security stations, either via hacking or by finding people’s passwords, you’ll notice that the terminals have access to lists of Talos I employees. Tag an employee and you’ll activate their tracking bracelet, allowing you to find them on the station. Finding an employee allows you to rifle through their pockets and get your hands on useful items, sometimes keycards that open up more of Talos I, and voice recorders called TranScribes that carry their final, often chilling messages.
The one that affected me the most was by a woman trapped outside the station, surrounded by Typhon, slowly running out of oxygen. She left a goodbye message for her children and her TranScribe captured her suffocating to dead in the cold, dark nothing of space.
But Prey isn’t perfect
It’s pretty damn close, mind you, but it isn’t perfect. The game’s flaws come from annoying bugs, specifically to do with items not spawning on NPCs and NPC tracking bracelet markers not always working as they should. Josh Dalton is my personal nemesis, for example – I spent hours floating through GUTS looking for that idiot’s corpse to move the Blackbox quest forward, but I could never find him, despite having activated his tracking bracelet. There were, later on in the game, several side rooms that I couldn’t access simply because the keycards required for those rooms didn’t spawn on the corpses they were supposed to be on.
As a completionist, having the ability to complete every quest curtailed by items not spawning is wretchedly frustrating. It’s more so because of Prey’s relatively open approach to gameplay. Because Prey goes to such great lengths to make you enjoy finding every cubbyhole, opening every door, and uncovering every secret, being forced to stare at a door you’ll never be able to open because the game’s bugging out is even more annoying than it would be otherwise.
There were terrible frame drops in some areas, most notably the Cafeteria in the Crew Quarters, and I had to deal with a couple of crashes over the 40 or so hours I spent with the game. But graphical issues were fairly minor over Prey’s length and infinitely less pissing off than the issue of missing items.
So, to sum this up …
Prey is easily one of the best games of the year. It’s open, it’s engaging, it’s chock full of stories and you will walk away from it – if you like the FPS-action-adventure genre – with some very excellent memories. And really, at the end of the day, what more could you possibly want?
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Prey is easily one of the best games of the year. It’s open, it’s engaging, it’s chock full of stories and you will walk away from it – if you like the FPS-action-adventure genre, with some very excellent memories. And really, at the end of the day, what more could you possibly want?