It's been known for a while now that triple A games are becoming very expensive to make and as such some projects never make it to the finish line. Back in 2014, the promising Prey 2 was canned to the dismay of fans. With the news that a new Prey game was in the works many assumed it was the old game reborn: however this was not the case. So let us look at this new take on Prey from the team at Arkane Studios and see if it was worth the wait.
Not in Kansas anymore
In this alternate reality, John F. Kennedy was not assassinated in 1963 and thus lived on to fund space exploration to a far higher degree. As a result, Talos One was constructed thanks to the first ever 'space elevator' which allowed materials to be whisked into orbit at a fraction of the cost. The game opens with you choosing either a male or female Morgan Yu and then waking up in your swanky apartment overlooking the city. You throw on your clothes and head to work via a rooftop helicopter: this opening sequence actually reminded me of the opening to Halflife. From here things go south very quickly and before you know it you're starting the game proper, on a crippled space station surrounded by creatures that want to do bad things to you.
One thing that immediately jumped out at me was how detailed the world of Prey is: every room and corridor are just dripping with things to press, poke and prod. Like with Dishonored and even more so with its sequel: there are some next level environmental details here. I honestly spent a lot of time just exploring many props and posters that cover each area. These hyper-detailed rooms also come with a high level of interactivity: for example, pretty much everything can be picked up and chucked around. This, of course, makes for the perfect hiding place for Mimics because just when you let your guard down a cup of coffee will leap at your face.
Bees and Mimics can smell fear
It is something we have all felt, as human beings fear is one of our emotional cores and as such a very powerful driving force. As I grew up I heard the notion that we fear what we do not understand and I think this holds true. So I put fear into two main categories. Jump scares are one way to frighten people off their chair and this in itself can be an art form. People are a bit savvier when it comes to jump scares nowadays so creators need to be inventive. The second kind of fear is a much deeper emotion which stems from not knowing: I'll call this one dread. Imagine you are in deep water and you see a shark coming at you: this is the first kind of fear and is easy to understand. However, when treading water in the ocean and not knowing what is lurking below the waves: that my friends is dread. Prey does an astounding job of creating fear because it weaves both these into the same cloth and then wraps it around you in ways you never saw coming.
Talos One (which orbits our Moon) has been attacked by an alien collective called the Typhon and the first type you meet remains one of its most interesting to the end. Mimics have an uncanny resemblance to the Headcrabs from Halflife: however, they move with extraordinary speed and agility. They will use walls as a springboard to your sweet meats and can even rear up to lash out at you. The most frightening ability these little bastards have is being able to mimic pretty much any object: hence the name. So when you enter a new space (usually littered with objects) you are constantly paranoid about being savaged. Even when you gain the ability to scan for these creatures they can still catch you off guard. Mimics are one of the best gaming enemies I've come across in years and Arkane should be applauded for such wonderful design.
As you might expect there are many other types of Typhon roaming the halls of Talos One and each comes with its own strengths and weaknesses. Very much like the video camera in Bioshock 2, you must scan each of these life forms to learn their secrets. The skill tree in Prey is a wonderful thing: even without the Typhon abilities. These upgrades come thanks to an invention called a Neuroliser which places skills and knowledge directly into your brain (aka the Matrix). All too often in games, we see players being given a piffy plus one percent to hit chance or one extra grenade shot. Here most skills you infuse into your noodle salad will give you more options out in the game world and that is exactly what skill progression should be. So many times I would find a new device or ability and have a lightbulb moment for a puzzle I'd seen in a previous area. This makes backtracking fun and rewarding: not a thankless slog through the same areas.
As you scan more creatures, more of their abilities become open to you and here lies one of the most interesting gameplay mechanics in the game. When you first set out Morgan is one hundred percent homegrown Homo Sapien. However the more alien abilities you fuse into your body the less the station's systems will recognise you as human and eventually will turn on you. This dichotomy creates a brilliant trade-off that you must ponder over. Sure you can lace your DNA with all those powerful alien skills but then know there will be unforeseen consequences.
So in recent years I truly believe that many big game developers have lost their way: creating massive open worlds full of inane button pressing and calling it gameplay. True play comes from giving control to the player and seeing where they end up. This is why Breath of the Wild has done so well, it has many systems that work in intelligent ways but also that bounce off each other to create new possibles. Prey takes this concept and runs with it. On top of that, we have a very robust game engine that compliments these play aspects perfectly. For example, I came across a security station that seemed impenetrable until I had a 'what if' moment. So I moved some speakers to create a makeshift platform, smashed the window and used my mimic ability on a cello tape dispenser. Once small I was able to roll between the bars on the window and boom: I was in. While never stuck for long in Prey there are some puzzles that are very clever and show level design at its very best.
The glue gun is another example of how the developers have stopped trying to funnel the player along a tight path: because the glue gun can literally make new platforms to otherwise unreachable areas. I suspect we will be seeing inventive gamers doing crazy things in Prey for years to come.
Sounding out a narrative
I think it's often easy to forget how important sound is to a game like Prey and yet when things go wrong we tend to notice very quickly. I am happy to report that the sound work in Prey (for the most part) is good. All the weapons have great sampling and fit with whatever you are firing. As you might expect the various Typhon critters emit guttural rasping noises that then mixes with sounds of energy being discharged. I love how you can hear a Mimic knocking the various objects as it scurries a to hide, this can really build tension like when Ripley and Newt are trapped in Aliens. Overall I like the music, it can skip between a very metallic feel to something more conventional but occasionally it was a little too loud and also gave the game away in regard to a hiding Mimic.
The voice acting throughout Prey is spot on and I can't think of a single character that didn't do their job. Like our old chum Gordon Freeman, you don't hear Morgan talking directly but you do hear yourself in various recordings. I have to say that I also love how the game is just packing to the brim with paper trails of dialogue. These feel well placed and in many instances, you will follow them to a satisfying conclusion (and reward). In this way, Talos One feels weighed and lived in.
Making comparisons gives gamers some quick handles to hang onto while I try to grapple with what we have here. Obviously, this being an Arkane game we can see the DNA of Dishonored running right through its middle and this is a good thing. Right from the off the way Morgan slinks under low gaps and climbs ledges feels exactly like Dishonored. The obvious difference of being in a space station aside; there are also some very strong Bioshock notes coming off Prey and I've heard more than one games site refer to Prey as 'Dishonored/Bioshock in Space'.
Ok so here is one of the only problems I have with Prey: it feels a little familier in places. As you play games like Halflife 2, SOMA and Bioshock you start to see a pattern emerging. After you've seen hundreds of these setups before the unknown (that is essential for the fear) becomes something you are just waiting to happen. There will be experiments gone wrong, dangerous creatures that result from said experiments and an immoral bunch of scientists at the centre of it all. I stress, this isn't anything Arkane have done wrong and it's to their credit that even on this well-trodden ground they have still managed to throw a few curve balls.
Is it PC?
The Dishonored games are one of my favourite gaming series of all time, so when the PC version of Dishonored 2 arrived like it did I was gutted. With some hefty patches it now runs fine but Arkane knew their reputation had taken a hit with PC gamers. In the run up to Prey the lead developers assured the PC community they had learned from their mistakes and Prey would run fine. I am very happy to report they have kept to their word as Prey runs like a dream on PC.
Dishonored 2 was built on the Void engine which was blamed for the perforce problems but thankfully Prey runs on Cry Engine 5. On my system (i7 4.2Ghz, 16GB DDR3 and GTX 980) I have everything running at maximum with silky high framerates. Load times are also very decent which is appreciated because you will die many times. Players have full controller support and keys can be remapped to whatever setup you like. I also have to to say the game feels awesome to play with mouse and keyboard: only the hacking games seem to a little unwieldy. Arkane has also given the player a quick save option which for me personally is an essential feature. So many times we get an amazing game to try new things in but then it gets ruined by an unforgiving autosave. Here I can save my game whenever I wish and experiment to my heart's content.
I have purposely ignored the plot in Prey as much as possible because the less you know going in the better. Rest assured that the story here is excellent, has plenty of twists and will play with you like a cat plays with a ball of wool. Like all the best narratives this game lets the player experience its story through the actual gameworld and while there is a central plot, there are also hundreds of smaller stories to be uncovered. The best piece of advice I can give you is take your time with Prey and explore its many nooks and crannies. If you see something that looks like it could lead somewhere it usually does, so be curious and always be ready for the unexpected.
I had pegged Nier Automata as my current game of the year but now I would say Prey has knocked 2B off her spot. Prey takes everything we've seen from Arkane so far and raises it to new heights: this is their best game to date. Prey is a must own game for any PC gamer and one I will be playing for many years to come.
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Thank you for reading my review of Prey on PC. If you don't already please follow me on Twitter @riggedforepic and add my site to your favourites.