Disposed Hero's Blog

Posted on May 26th 2017 at 12:00:00 PM by (Disposed Hero)
Posted under Review, Action, First person, shooter, sci fi, horror, Bethesda, Arkane

Back in 2006, a game known as Prey was released for the Xbox 360 and PC. While it was met with positive critical reception, it has been mostly forgotten about over the 10 years since its release.  Truth be told, I rented Prey back when it first came out, but I was very hasty to decide that I didn't like it and returned the game without investing much time into it.  I have always wanted to go back and give the game a proper try since it contains some unique gameplay mechanics, but I have never owned a copy and likely wouldn't have gotten around to it even if I did.

Fast forward to June 2016, a reboot of Prey was shown at E3, and I was immediately intrigued by the trailer.  It instantly reminded me of the original Half-Life, one of my all-time favorite games. It also contained glimpses of some very interesting gameplay mechanics that I was excited to experience for myself.  Since this new game is not a proper sequel to the original, I had no qualms about jumping right in without playing the original.  Make no mistake about it, this new Prey has virtually nothing in common with the original Prey from 2006, save for the name and a general sci-fi theme.

Prey was released worldwide on May 5th, 2017 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.  Developed by Arkane Studios and published by Bethesda, Prey was met with mostly positive critical reception.  Prey 2 was originally in development by Human Head Studios (who also developed the 2006 Prey), but it was ultimately cancelled and Arkane Studios took over in developing the reboot.  Arkane borrowed concepts from its other series Dishonored, such as the ability to find creative solutions to the problems presented by the game and consequences for the player's actions, and incorporated those ideas into Prey.

The story takes place in an alternate timeline where President John F. Kennedy survived his assassination attempt in 1963. This prompts Kennedy to increase funding to the space program and accelerates the space race between the US and the Soviet Union.  Increased human activity in space draws the attention of a hostile alien force known as the Typhon, prompting them to attack Earth.  The US and USSR work together to defeat and capture the Typhon, and research labs are built to imprison and research this new alien species.  Researching the Typhon leads to considerable advances in neuroscience, prompting the creation of neuromods that can restructure the human brain and grant new abilities to the user.

Meet Morgan's brother Alex.

The game begins in 2032 with our main protagonist, Morgan Yu (can be male or female as selected by the player), who is being recruited by their brother Alex to join TranStar's research team.  During an experiment, one of the doctors is attacked by a Typhon and Morgan falls unconscious.  Morgan wakes up in their apartment to discover that it is now 2035, and Morgan has been living in a simulated environment on the Talos I station for the last three years with no memories except for the failed experiment.  The Typhon have also broken containment, and it becomes a quest for survival as Morgan attempts to stop the Typhon and escape the Talos I research facility.

Much of Prey's story is told through interactions with NPCs via radio, although there are times when you will come face-to-face and interact with some of these characters.  There are also plenty of audio logs and employee emails to read if you choose that will help flesh out the game's characters and plot.  Overall, the story itself is serviceable, but it's nothing spectacular.  It is likely typical sci-fi fare, and although there are a few plot twists along the way that help keep things interesting, I suspect that many will see them coming.  The morality of your choices will also be questioned by certain characters on occasion, and there is a post-game scene that is an interesting, if somewhat contrived, take on evaluating all of your decisions.

On the surface, Prey may appear to be just another first-person shooter, but there are so many systems and mechanics at play that it is a much deeper experience than one might expect.  While Prey is not an open-world game, I can't call it a linear game either.  You are confined to the Talos I station and its surroundings for the entirety of the game, but it is a large environment that you are free to roam throughout most of the game.  There are also different methods for approaching different enemies and situations.  For example, if you want to reach a higher platform but don't want to walk through all of the doors and hallways to get there (or don't have the keys or hacking abilities to open the doors), using the game's GLOO cannon to build platforms and scaling the wall can be a viable option.

The GLOO cannon has many applications, such as immobilizing enemies.

There is also a character upgrade system at play.  Throughout the game you will find neuromods which can be used to upgrade Morgan's attributes as well as allow Morgan to learn new abilities, allowing for a lot of flexibility in how you play the game.  You can choose to upgrade stealth skills and try to sneak through the game, or upgrade combat skills to go in guns blazing.  You can go the engineer route so you can hack doors, computers, and turrets, or you can just dump all of your neuromods into Typhon abilities and get some really cool powers to play around with.  There are many possibilities for customizing your character, and most are a viable way of playing the game.

There are also a surprising amount of side quests in the game.  Listening to an audio log, reading an email, or even simply walking into a new area may initiate a side quest that can be completed if the player chooses.  These quests often involve helping or discovering the fate of others on the station and can be helpful for fleshing out the story of the game.  Rewards can include things such as new weapons and the invaluable neuromods.  Fully exploring the station and completing the side content can easily double the length of the game, turning a ~15 hour adventure into a ~30 hour one.

Prey's most unique attribute likely lies in its enemy design.  The Typhon are unlike typical aliens seen in other media and instead have more of a ghostly or spectral appearance.  One of the most common Typhon organisms you will encounter on Talos I are the mimics, which can take on the appearance of inanimate objects in the environment.  They will do this often in an attempt to deceive and ambush the player, and it is a unique and interesting mechanic that I don't believe I have seen in any other game before.  Enemies such as the Telepath and the Technopath can control humans and machines respectively and turn them against you.  The enemies in Prey are unique and varied, and some can be quite tough to dispatch head-on, so figuring out alternative strategies for tougher enemies is encouraged.

The enemies in the game are tough.  Let the turrets do the dirty work!

The art style of Prey is a mostly realistic but slightly stylized aesthetic that is not unlike Arkane's other well-known series, Dishonored.  It is a good looking game overall with an impressive amount of detail given to its environments.  Prey fares well in the audio department as well.  Being a more atmospheric experience, there is not much music heard throughout the game, but the music that is present is well done.  The voice acting, while nothing to write home about, is also well done, and the sound design is great, particularly the inclusion of some helpful audio cues that warn you if you've been spotted by an enemy.

Overall, Prey feels like an amalgamation of many revered classics.  Whether intentional or not, I couldn't help but feel like the developers were inspired by the likes of Half-Life, Deus Ex, System Shock/BioShock, and probably others as well.  However, I still feel like Prey has an identity of its own and is not simply derivative of these other games that influenced it.  Prey is a game that I can highly recommend to anyone who enjoys more cerebral first-person shooters; however, those that prefer more gratuitous action from beginning to end may become frustrated by the game's slower pace.  With all of the great new releases 2017 has seen so far and all of the ones on the way, Prey may unfortunately get lost in the shuffle, but it is definitely one that gamers should keep on their radar.

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Great review! I really hope we see a sequel to this game. I really like how some of the enemies have names above them. It humanizes some of the enemies you faces as it isn't just some blob it's Harry Smith from accounting. The scene of installing your first Neuromod was amazing too. I loved the callback to the System Shock devs by calling the server Looking Glass.  If you liked the Bioshock series do yourself a favor and play this game.
I enjoyed this review! These kinds of games - Prey, Dishonored, Deus Ex - sound like something I should love. On paper at least. I like being able to approach obstacles in different ways and personalize my character. But in practice - they just never click with me. I was so exited for Prey this year, but after playing the demo I decided to pass on it. It was the combat mainly that I couldn't get into which is a shame since I love the setting of the game.
@Addicted:  Yeah, hopefully we see a follow-up in some sense, whether it's a direct sequel or something else.  I guess the next best thing for me would be the Dishonored games.  I still haven't played them yet!

@Pam:  As much as I enjoyed Prey, I can easily see how it isn't for everybody.  I remember playing the demo on PS4 and thinking that the combat felt kind of strange, but I didn't have that problem playing the full version on PC.  I'm not sure if anything changed between the demo and the full release, or the PS4 version and the PC version, or maybe I just got used to it.

Thanks for reading!

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