“Right now, as I progress deeper into the darkness of Talos I, I find it impossible not to recommend this game.”
Prey is a new and shiny sci-fi thriller from the creative minds at Arkane Studios (developers of the Dishonored series) and Bethesda Softworks (The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Doom). Played from a first-person perspective and incorporating elements of both FPS and RPG gameplay, Prey is like Dishonored, only for people who prefer spooky scary space aliens to arcane magic and knife-play. A deep and enthralling story is supported by dread-inducing horror undertones and Arkane’s now classic gameplay model as inspired by their earlier work. Prey is something special, and even at this early stage it is clear that amongst the video game releases posted for this year, this game is likely to stand out.
It is worth noting before we delve into the details that we, the media, have only had our hands-on Prey for as long as anybody else has. Bethesda believe that the release day experience should be shared by all gamers alike, which therefore means that even I haven’t played Prey through to the end yet. I have however sunk numerous hours into the game, and have plenty to say in what will make up part one of my overall review of Prey. The second part will follow soon after this; next week.
The story of Prey takes place on the Talos I space station; a research station orbiting the moon and managed by the TranStar Corporation. Our protagonist is Morgan Yu, formally in charge of the research activities on Talos I but more recently a volunteer test subject in his own laboratory. The station has been researching a former alien threat known as the Typhon. The aim was to take the abilities locked in the Typhon DNA and make them accessible to humans through a technology known as neuromods. In relinquishing his free will in the name of science, Morgan had become blind to the goings on in the station around him. Someone had taken advantage of this; locking Morgan in an ongoing cycle of events until the events of Prey begin. Tranquil as the game’s beginnings appear, as Morgan awakens in his luxury apartment on Earth, all is certainly not what it seems…
The story takes a turn early on which reveals that the Typhon threat has escaped, and that Morgan is in fact not on Earth at all. Everyone on the Talos I station appears to have been killed by the deadly aliens, leaving Morgan alone in the dark. Unaware of his surroundings or the situation unfolding within them, Morgan needs to find out what is going on, but at the same time how to stop it. Intensity is rife in the early game, during which your skills, arsenal and knowledge of the present threat are limited. All you know is that there is an alien on the loose that can mask itself as any given object. Now that is frightening. The ongoing experience in Prey is somewhat reminiscent of Alien Isolation’s thriller-filled stylisations, but the wide-open world and your ability to fight effectively against the Typhon when you have the know-how feels like a clear throwback to Arkane’s Dishonored games. At the same time, elements of Bethesda’s other titles, namely Fallout and Doom, also slip into the fray. Prey is inspired, but ultimately its real charms are its own.
Not only are an intelligent story, viable threat and a sense of fear present in Prey from step one, but the way that you interact with the world compliments these elements greatly. The game follows a Metroidvania-style model; tasking you with finding key items and upgrading you character in order to progress. Whilst many of these systems are standard RPG elements, some of Prey’s ideas are truly unique. Take, for instance, the aforementioned neuromods. These act as the game’s skill tree, allowing the user to learn new skills instantaneously with an injection of the knowledge directly into their brain. Think The Matrix, when Neo learns Kung Fu. This adds a genre-effective twist on what would usually be part of a simple experience-based system, and it makes the world of Prey a more believable, genuine and interactive one. Further into the game, these neuromods allow you to learn skills beyond basic hacking, dexterity, vitality and the like, expanding into the realms of learning Typhon abilities as well. The best of these is perhaps the ability to mimic objects yourself, becoming a mug for instance, but there are also more useful, powerful options too. This feature, as well as being a clever core gameplay element, goes a long way to giving the story up to now purpose. The Typhon are not here randomly or by mistake; this technology was the goal, but the fallout which followed was the unfortunate result.
The deeper into Prey’s story you get, the darker it becomes. You brother, for instance, begins to appear the villain of the piece, whilst the threat itself continues to become more apparently dangerous to you. You also never quite get over the jump scares; seven hours in and more, they will still get you when you least expect it. The longer you play however, the more able you become at combating the Typhon, through your neuromod abilities but also through your weaponry. Prey gives you some old classics to play with; a silenced pistol, a shotgun and even a Nerf-style gun to play with. Whilst these are effective at dealing damage, it is the more sci-fi-inspired weaponry that makes the game’s combat truly fun. The GLOO Cannon for example fires instantly-solidifying glue, which can be used for climbing through areas or stopping enemies in their tracks. Numerous grenades, including EMPs, recycler grenades which recycle objects around them into crafting materials and Nullwave transmitters which nullify the Typhon’s abilities, also add to the more tactical combatant’s roster. The only downside which I have found to all of this so far is that often the combat can involve a lot of stopping and starting as you switch between appropriate equipment; especially when facing larger threats. In some moments, this slows down the otherwise engaging gameplay.
A further fun feature of Prey which is well worthy of mention is the recycler and fabrication units found around the station. One of these allows you to recycle otherwise useless junk into useable crafting materials. The other allows you to craft these materials into useable, often critical, items. It is a perfect system but also a fun and satisfying one. It is like a hoarder’s dream, as the game actively encourages you to pick up every lemon peel and crumpled piece of paper you can in order to essentially make profit. Not only that, but the rarity of ammunition and items around the station makes these machines critical to survival. If you can find the plans for fabricating a medpack, shotgun ammo or even neuromods during your travels, your game will become a whole lot easier down the line.
As a final note in this first part of my review, I want to mention Prey’s world. Talos I, as a playable environment, is nothing less than phenomenal. It is arguably the best part of the game, in that it allows you to play the way that you want, exploring if you so wish, but within a believable, refined environment which suits the trapped feel of the game perfectly. From the 1960’s stylisations on the face of the station to the dark, pipe-filled back corridors and maintenance rooms, every part of Talos I as a space station is believably fit for purpose. It could easily be modelled on a real-life structure, if such a thing existed yet. The world only becomes more mind-blowing when you get the opportunity to travel round its exterior as well. After crafting a propulsion unit, you are able to travel outside of the airlocks, where the rewards are great for doing so but the dangers are greater too. The whole experience of being on Talos I, although consistently intense and frightful, is a pleasure. It is my favourite game world from a Bethesda franchise to date, and with games like Skyrim, Fallout and Doom to compete with, that really is saying something.
After just five days with Prey I am engrossed in every part of it. The law is intriguing. The science fiction setting is a dream. The horror is light enough where those who didn’t like games like Outlast or Amnesia will be able to cope, but it is present enough where the feel of the threat that the game revolves around is spot on. The weapons are fitting and fun, the neuromods are smart and enticing, and the gameplay is at least as good as Dishonored and Dishonored 2, but builds on these even further. The only thing that strikes me as less desirable thus far is the start/stop nature in the higher stakes combat situations, but equally I can understand the strategic style of play that this is trying to promote. There are a hell of a lot of positive things to say about Prey, and for me the game isn’t even over yet. In part two of my review, I will summarise the development of characters, setting and story as the game goes on, consider any shiny gear I am yet to find and how that fits into the game, and give a whole and final verdict. Right now, as I progress deeper into the darkness of Talos I, I find it impossible not to recommend this game.