Lately I’ve been spending my days cautiously sneaking around a space station striking random objects with a wrench. Why? Well, to make sure that the innocent looking mug on the desk over there isn’t a killer alien out to reduce my life points to zero. It’s this constant paranoia and fear that I might find a quick death around the next corner that made me dread and thoroughly enjoy playing Bethesda’s latest game. It’s this dichotomy that I continually experienced as I dove deeper into the world of Prey.
From the moment I stepped into the shoes of the game’s protagonist Morgan Yu, who refreshingly enough can either be male or female, I started to realize that the game encourages players to continually question what is real and who to trust? Nowhere is this more apparent than in the game’s opening sequence, which left me equally confused, intrigued and, of course, paranoid.
Morgan forms part of a team of scientists conducting dubious experiments on alien life forms (called the Typhon) aboard the space station Talos-I. And as movies have taught us, experimenting on aliens tend to have really bad consequences. As expected, something goes terribly wrong and it’s up to Morgan to save the day.
Now, while it might seem like your typical “crap hits the fan and it’s up to the hero to save the day” plot, there is more than enough mystery, twists and turns to keep you intrigued and playing. Driving Morgan, and the player, forward is the need to figure out what exactly has been going on aboard the Talos-I.
The Talos-I is a massive, breathtaking structure and seeing it for the first time had me experiencing the same slew of emotions I felt when first laying eyes on BioShock’s Rapture. Every inch of this monolithic structure is intricately designed to not only allow players to explore as they see fit but also serves to tell a story and to add to the narrative. It’s a structure that is filled with history and stories to tell, thanks to the great art, level design and also because of the station’s inhabitants, both dead and alive. You see, while exploring the many areas and environments that the Talos-I has to offer Morgan will come across audio logs, notes, and all kinds of items that gives players more insight into the inhabitants of Talos-I’s lives, dreams, and fears. The care and attention that went into creating these inhabitants personalities is even more apparent when you discover that you are able to track each of them via Security Stations. Scrolling through page after page of names, I quickly found myself wanting to search for each of them, even if they might be dead. It became sort of an obsession, one that I quickly found resulted in many deaths.
While the Talos-I’s beautiful environments clad in rich woods and cold steel beckons to be explored, I quickly found myself dying quite a lot when venturing off the beaten path too much. You see along with all the human inhabitants, be they dead or alive, the station is also crawling with Typhon. This alien species consists of many variants ranging from the mind controlling telepaths to the utter soul-crushing and fear inducing nightmare. But the worst of all is the fast-moving Mimic which had me obsessing over smashing random objects with my trusty wrench. Unlike its fellow Typhons, Mimics can, as their name implies, mimic inanimate objects such as coffee mugs or chairs. It’s this ability that added to my ever growing paranoia and had me jumping out of my seat on quite a few occasions (what? I scare easily).
Luckily, you won’t be fighting off these alien bastards using only your trusty wrench – although there were multiple occasions where I had no choice (more on this later). Strewn across the Talos-I lies various weapons, which include the mundane 9mm pistol and trusty shotgun as well as the more inventive GLOO cannon. The latter quickly became my go-to gun for both combat and exploration. This unique weapon fires pieces of quick-hardening foam, which not only slows down (or completely immobilize) enemies but can also be used to scale unreachable areas. I mostly relied on the GLOO canon as a way to make a quick retreat when my enemies overwhelmed me. Along with various weapons, players will also be able to upgrade both their human, and more importantly, alien skills using Neuromods. These handy little devices allow players to become better at hacking, healing and even gain some bizarre alien abilities. My personal favorite is the mimic ability which players can use to transform into various objects (similar to those pesky little alien dudes). This means that not only are you able to transform into a kick-ass turret but also a little harmless mug (which actually allows you to squeeze through small spaces). I soon found myself discovering ever increasing creative ways to use my abilities. Similar to Arkane’s Dishonored series of games, Prey relishes in letting players decide how they want to approach encounters. Giving them enough freedom and options to come up with ever more increasing creative ways in dispatching their foes or completing an objective.
Even with all these abilities and weapons at your disposal, you will probably die a lot (and I mean a lot). This could be different for someone who is better at playing the game than I am. However, even when keeping this in mind, Prey is a difficult game. There were quite a few moments where I had run out of ammo, and health packs while staring down a corridor filled with aliens looking for my blood. Now, you might say “but conserving ammo and health is what makes a game a survival horror game”. And while I completely agree, the amount of ammo and health at your disposal when progressing in the game versus the amount of ever increasing enemies you’ll be facing ramps up the difficulty considerably. Even when playing on easy, I found myself having to conserve ammo and health as much as possible. Prey is a game that rewards you for playing smart but will not hesitate to beat you down if you make a stupid mistake. Having said this, there is a certain amount of joy in figuring out how to take down (or escape) a group of enemies using only your abilities and trusty wrench. It is mainly because of the rapidly increasing difficulty as the game progressed (and increasing scarcity of resources) that I found myself sticking mostly to the main quest for fear of using my limited resources and not having enough to progress.
As mentioned, while Prey is visually a good looking game, it’s the intricate design of the levels and environments that truly makes the game’s art direction shine. I did notice some textures struggling to load or popping in when I entered a room, but these didn’t detract too much from the experience (especially when trying to escape one of the pesky Typhons).
Prey is a game that entices players to explore the exquisitely designed Talos-I. It’s because of this that I found myself continually sticking to the main story missions and regrettably missing a lot of side missions along the way. It’s a strange dichotomy, one where you are itching to go exploring, but fear what may lay around the next corner. Most of the game’s enjoyment lies in discovering new ways in which to use your abilities and weapons to explore your environment and more importantly eliminating those darn aliens.
Prey isn’t a perfect game, but it’s a game that envelops you in its unique world, beats you down for rushing into things, and inevitably rewards you for playing smart. It’s a game that keeps you guessing at what it might throw at you next. Is it just me or did that mug just move?