Background Info: Prey is a first-person action-adventure game that was developed by Arkane Studios and published by Bethesda Softworks. It’s a reboot of the 2006 game that shares the same name. Players control Morgan Yu, whether male or female, while investigating the mysteries surrounding the Talos I spacestation.
Corporate controlled space operates about as predictably as you’d expect: classified research that’s above your pay grade, money and power driven experimentation, and the promise that you can become all that you want to be through new products that have undisclosed origins. When I woke up in Morgan’s apartment to a voice message telling me that I needed to get ready for some testing before being sent to space, I was pretty excited. Jumping out of bed, I put on my space suit and ran into the living room to explore. I checked my emails, scavenged some items from the kitchen, and I was on my way.
Little did I know that one of the best first-hour game experiences was ahead. Arkane Studios got the atmosphere so right. My excitement to go to space was augmented by beautiful music and a gorgeous scenery view from a helicopter. This eagerness appropriately soured when, during the tests, the scientist observing me was obviously disappointed in what I thought was a stellar performance. Throw in some heavy philosophical questions for the final test, and I was beginning to feel like something was off.
Avoiding spoilers, the story takes off from there. Talos I is scary, eerie, and grippingly mysterious during the first hour. For me, this was pretty much as good as it got. Continuing through the main story, I found a pretty typical narrative that was very similar to other games out there: science experiments that would change the world gone wrong, an alien (Typhon, here) breakout in the aftermath, conspiracy, and secrecy. Once the sensation of the first hour’s turn of events wore off, Talos I lost it’s spooky feel and just seemed mostly empty. It didn’t feel quite as empty each time I encountered a new enemy, but, until the end, nothing about the story brought back the feeling I was looking for. The post credit cut scene returned me to that sense of wonder found in the opening hour, and I loved the idea, but it felt like two good ends of a story with an empty middle.
Luckily, the rest of the game provides a big enough distraction that I didn’t really find myself too upset about the story. One of the best things about Prey is that every single area of the game is immediately accessible – depending on which skills you choose to upgrade. There were doors blocked by big tape decks that I could move if I upgraded my strength skill, but then I wouldn’t be able to hack certain computers, door codes, or safes. It really felt like the world was changing directly because of the actions I performed and the skills I chose. There are multiple ways around traps and through doors, and it all depends on what you choose to upgrade. Neuromods, the basis of the story and the item used to obtain skills, can be found all over Talos I, so you usually don’t have to wait too long for the next upgrade.
This makes the exploration invigorating. If you come across a safe that might have a weapon or a neuromod but don’t have the code, you can hack it. If you don’t have a high enough hacking ability, you’ll have to read every book and pick up every note to try to find the code. This is, after all, a game heavily influenced by the “every book can be read and every item can be taken” mentality of the western RPG genre. Prey does this exceptionally well. It’s very rewarding to unlock secrets because you correctly used your skills in a creative way to get through whatever is blocking you. I found myself spending hours away from the main story so I could visit every room in Talos I and discover the little story that unfolded there. Sometimes these individual back stories caught my interest more than the main story, but usually I was just exploring because it was fun to test myself and solve the puzzle that would allow me to get to the next area and pick up everything.
This attempt at looting Talos I and claiming loot for myself was more tense when there were Typhon around. Again, adopting the principle of “play[ing] your way”, combat can either be tackled head on or avoided completely through stealth. But, if you’re wanting to collect every item and check every corner, combat is unavoidable.You eventually amass an arsenal of weapons to deal with these annoyances, each unique and effective against a different type of enemy. Once you acquire a story related item, you can also obtain Typhon abilities and use those. The combat in Prey is good, but its success relies on affording you multiple options for killing enemies, not on anything novel.
That being said, Prey can sometimes be unforgiving. A combat system that’s good enough to get by is troubled by fast moving, disappearing, and prop-hunt-style cloning enemies with attacks that wear down your health and suit strength (yeah, you have to manage two different bars relating to health with different items, plus a third bar for abilities later). This led to multiple encounters that resulted in death, especially early in the game and during escapades that took me to areas that I probably didn’t need to be in yet. I didn’t really feel that the combat was lacking, but I also didn’t feel like it added anything special to the gaming world.
Apart from all of that, my time on Talos I has been pleasant. The level designs are well thought out and the graphics are pretty good. This experience is only sparingly interrupted when the camera will stutter while running and jumping. I haven’t found any major annoyances beyond that.
Prey is a stunning game that fundamentally gets exploration and skill leveling right. It’s very fulfilling to spend hours playing your own way to solve puzzles, unlock backstory, and find weapons and upgrades. Combat can be fun, but it doesn’t add anything too original to what already exists. The story starts off incredibly strong and ends with a bang, but a space station crisis is hardly new and I found myself missing the first hour feelings throughout the majority of the game. Luckily, Prey does most of the other things well.