Developed by: Arkane Studios
Published by: Bethesda Softworks
Space exploration has been a common theme in many video games recently, especially within the first-person shooter genre. It’s also a theme that hasn’t exactly been met with the utmost praise, as of late. Last year alone, space exploration titles such as No Man’s Sky and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare were met with plenty of criticism from both fans and professional critics alike. I think its safe to say that many are craving a worthy space exploration experience, or maybe even a break from them. That’s where Prey comes into the picture. Announced at last year’s E3 convention, Prey has been a highly anticipated reboot for a franchise that’s laid dormant for a decade. Prey looked to be that space exploration game people were craving, promising players the freedom to explore an invaded space station, while also giving them awesome powers to take down the monsters within. Now that the game is officially released and in people’s hands, does Prey live up to expectations, or is it just another generic space game?
Prey takes place aboard Talos I, a space station that specializes in neuroscience development. It also serves as a laboratory to study the Typhon, an alien race made up from a variety of different species. The player controls Morgan Yu, Prey‘s main protagonist, who is recruited by his/her (depending on which gender you choose) brother, Alex Yu, to participate in the studies being held on Talos I. The experiments quickly go wrong, however, as Typhon case studies escape and take over the station. Morgan, being one of the few remaining human alive on Talos I, must figure out a way to destroy the Typhon before they find their way onto Earth.
The opening scenes of Prey make up some of the strongest moments I’ve experienced in a video game this generation. The atmosphere, amazing music, and overall feel of Prey‘s introduction are unforgettable. Unfortunately, these opening moments are never truly expanded upon throughout the game. Prey‘s first hour does succeed at setting the tone for your adventure on Talos I, establishing the creepy atmosphere of being on an isolated spaceship full of monsters, but the promise of a fulfilling plot is never met. Early on, you’re introduced to the Yu family and their involvement in the activities surrounding Talos I, but those characters and stories never develop into anything interesting. In other words, the characters are present, guiding you throughout your journey, but they don’t develop much. Throughout the 18-hour campaign, I felt no driving force keeping me immersed into the story. What did keep me going, however, was the atmosphere of Talos I and discovering new information about the station. Prey doesn’t do direct, guided storytelling well, but it does tell an interesting story through its environments and using that as a method of narrative.
Prey’s atmosphere is, without a doubt, its strongest component. However, it’s not free from flaws. The atmosphere and general feeling of Talos I is creepy, and it conveys that feeling incredibly well. The gloomy and dark colors make Talos I the perfect location for a horror survival game. Naturally, it reminded me a lot of the classic 1979 film Alien, which Prey takes obvious inspirations from. While the atmosphere sets a striking tone, it doesn’t exactly encourage exploration. Due to the dark color scheme, most areas feel too similar and often blend into each other. It makes exploration confusing at times and I personally found myself getting lost on multiple occasions. It’s a minor gripe, as environments become much more familiar as the game progresses, but it’s still something worth mentioning.
At its core, Prey plays like your average first-person shooter. Players are given a variety of tools and weapons to use, such as wrenches, shotguns, and stun guns. Controlling your character and using these weapons feels tight and strong, but just because the controls feel right, that doesn’t mean the combat is fair or balanced. One of my biggest complaints with Prey is in regards to the nature of the Typhon. Every species of the Typhon, which include the Mimics and Phantoms, are unpredictable and sporadic in nature. This leads to frustrating, unpredictable, and quite frankly, unfair battles. The Typhon are powerful enemies and they will easily destroy you if you’re not careful. There is no way to coordinate a good attack plan, even if you know where an enemy is located. I will admit, their random and unpredictable nature does add to the creepy atmosphere of Talos I, keeping players on their toes when making even the slightest of turns. However, battling any form of the Typhon quickly becomes annoying and troublesome. Luckily, Prey allows different play styles, so it’s possible to avoid combat in many situations, but there are times where you will have no choice but to fight these daunting foes.
A major mechanic that Prey relies on is its crafting system. In order to upgrade your suit, weapons, and health, players will have to collect various junk around Talos I to produce the materials need for these upgrades. Anything from banana peels, old tin cans, and wires can be collected and recycled for materials. Ammo is also limited around Talos I, so recycled junk can also be used to create new ammo for your weapons. It’s an idea done many times before, but it’s done in a fun way that encourages exploration.
Most of the major upgrading is done using “Neuromods,” which act as Prey‘s primary ability points. Players are able to collect Neuromods throughout Talos I, and eventually be able to craft them towards the end of the game. Once enough have been collected, new abilities can then be unlocked, further enhancing the player character’s strength. The only problem is that you often need a decent amount of Neuromods to upgrade anything, and also that Neuromods can be difficult to find. This leaves players in a tough position of not being able to upgrade much. What makes it worse is that a huge chunk of weapon modifications are tied to abilities only unlockable with Neuromods. So, not only is it difficult to unlock new abilities, expand your health, and hold more items, it’s also difficult to upgrade your weapons. Pair those issues with the insanely unpredictable nature of the Typhon, and you get a experience so much more frustrating than it needs to be.
This is more of a personal complaint, but it’s another point worth mentioning because its a mechanic that was focused on heavily in Prey‘s marketing materials. Using the powers of the Typhon, otherwise known as “morphing,” is locked behind an ability tree, which you need to unlock using Neuromods. Not only do you have to separately unlock the ability, you also need to unlock the ability to unlock the ability to morph. I’m not kidding. A major aspect and selling point of Prey is locked behind two “pay” walls. I finished Prey without using the morphing ability once, and I have no clue where to find it. It’s a possibility that I didn’t search through enough for the ability, but it’s still incredibly frustrating and confusing as to why I couldn’t find it in 18 hours of gameplay. Why make such a huge part of the marketing campaign so hard to find in the actual game? It just doesn’t make sense. I just wanted to be able to turn into a coffee cup, man.
On the technical side, Prey is stable and runs smoothly. Throughout my time playing, I experienced very few frame drops or stutters. The graphics are also impressive and the game looks stunning on console. The music is composed by Mike Gordon, who recently composed the soundtrack for the 2016 reboot of DOOM. As expected, the music is very different from Gordon’s previous work, but this soundtrack is still wonderful and fits the creepy atmosphere of the game. Prey‘s presentation is great and one of the highlights of the experience.
Prey isn’t exactly a huge disappointment, but I don’t believe it’s the redemption for the space exploration genre many were looking for. What Prey does right lies in its ability to establish a creepy atmosphere that makes the player feel like they’re trapped aboard an invaded space station. It’s a feeling many other games are unable to achieve, but Prey accomplishes. What Prey doesn’t do well is encourage exploration, provide fair combat situations, and allow players to expand their arsenal of power-ups and health in an enjoyable fashion. Overall, Prey is a title, at the very least, worth checking out because of its atmospheric nature, but I can’t recommend it at full price. Check it out during its Black Friday sale, later this year.
Final verdict: Wait for a Sale. Prey has a lot of good ideas and a wonderfully creepy atmosphere, but its enemies, lack of story, and frustrating upgrades make it an average experience. Prey was played for 18 hours on PlayStation 4 for this review. Prey is available now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.