Game Review: Prey

Alan Stock Alan Stock
Expert Contributor
June 6th, 2017

I'm a lover of travel, photography and video games, from the UK. I have worked in the games industry and very passionate about games and their design. Never get bored of them!

Review of: Prey
Price:
Superb

Reviewed by:
Rating:
5
On June 6, 2017
Last modified:June 6, 2017

Summary:

A highly polished immersive sim that although on first glance looks generic, has lots of good ideas and real depth. The star of Prey though is the amazing space station it's set on, a joy to explore.

Review of: Prey
Price:
Superb

Reviewed by:
Rating:

5
On June 6, 2017
Last modified:June 6, 2017

Summary:

A highly polished immersive sim that although on first glance looks generic, has lots of good ideas and real depth. The star of Prey though is the amazing space station it's set on, a joy to explore.

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Prey is a sci-fi “immersive sim” by Arkane Studios - and a spiritual successor to System Shock 2. Available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One (PlayStation 4 version reviewed). Alan Stock bashes everything in sight with his wrench in case it’s a Mimic, whilst bringing you this review for ComiConverse.

Game Review: Prey

Prey is a game built on the back of giants. First, a gaming history lesson for anyone interested in the origins of this title (skip down a few paragraphs if you want to get to the actual review). To understand Prey’s influences and the long legacy which it builds on, we need to look at the “immersive sim”. These are games which focus on immersion, usually from a first person perspective. In this genre, open-ended gameplay allows you to tackle problems in various creative ways, with multiple ways to build your character. You can often make choices during the game which change the outcome of the story.

Prey Neuromod Division

Welcome to Talos 1. Credit: Arkane Studios

It all began with Looking Glass Studios in the 1990’s - who pioneered the genre with the influential and critically acclaimed sci-fi horror System Shock and the dark fantasy Thief series. When Looking Glass reached the end of its life in 2000, many of its staff had moved on to other studios like Irrational Games and Ion Storm but continued to produce brilliant immersive sims inspired by those classics. Irrational Games made System Shock 2 - considered to be one of the best sci-fi games of all time, and years later they produced the Bioshock series, the spiritual sequels to System Shock 2 (under their new name of 2K Games).

Meanwhile came the defining cyberpunk title Deux Ex from Ion Storm, many of its developers having come from Looking Glass as well. Years later, Deus Ex got a successful series reboot by Eidos. Those early Looking Glass games were so influential that their presence is still found in many other games to this day too - and they are what Arkane Studios took their inspiration from with their Dishonored games and now, Prey. Arkane even has staff from those old companies. To me, it’s fascinating that one development studio almost 30 years ago created a genre - but even after its death, its staff continued the Looking Glass legacy in multiple new companies by using that gaming DNA.

Prey Lobby Space View

The views of space are awesome from the station. A great touch is that as Talos 1 orbits the Earth, the sunlight dynamically moves through the rooms - changing the mood of each location with windows over time. Credit: Arkane Studios

For Prey, a sci-fi adventure game set on a failing space station overrun by hostile aliens, Arkane has openly said this is another spiritual successor to System Shock 2. Although Bioshock was the first game to take that crown, Prey is definitely the most System Shock game that we’ve had to date - and it’s not shy in acknowledging it. The 3D video technology used in Prey’s universe is even called “Looking Glass”. So, Prey takes its ideas and concept from the whole immersive sim backlog, as well as a host of other sci-fi horror games and movies. It has all the generic tropes you would expect from titles like Alien or Dead Space. But strangely, although Prey takes its brand name from an average 2006 sci-fi game, there’s almost nothing in common between the two - aside from shooting and a lone protagonist trying to survive an alien threat.

On paper, Prey reads like a checklist of sci-fi horror game cliches. Ill-advised secret research on corporate space station Talos 1 has ended in disaster. The aliens - known as the Typhon - have escaped confinement and killed most of the crew. You play as co-station boss Morgan Yu - but of course, an experiment has caused you to lose your recent memories. You fight or avoid the Typhon invaders using guns or abilities, both human and alien. You can customise your character and weapons as you wish using skill trees and upgrades.

Story continues below

Prey Phantom combat

Credit: Arkane Studios

You scour the environment as you go, rummaging in cupboards and boxes for crucial supplies and ammo, which you then have to manage in your grid-based inventory. Dead crew are everywhere, you uncover their backstories and learn more about the station by reading their emails and picking up audio logs helpfully strewn around the environment. Predictably, many of these messages contain passwords and keycodes to locked doors and safes. You are free to wander Talos 1 as you see fit, and approach encounters and obstacles using the approach that you want. That might be using stealth, all-out combat, hacking, secret shortcuts, using the environment to your advantage or maybe a special ability to problem-solve in a creative way. The few survivors on board give you orders and requests by radio and you don’t really know which of them to trust. Pretty original, right?

Prey looting corpse

Loot everything. Thankfully, some smart refinements of looting mechanics in Prey make it quick and easy to clear out areas, removing a lot of the looting tedium found in older sims like Bioshock. Credit: Arkane Studios.

Fortunately Prey does have some of its own ideas. The most memorable of these is probably the Mimic, a spider-like Typhon which can take the form of a normal inanimate object. It will hide itself as something innocent looking, like a box or a cup - and when you least expect it’ll  suddenly reveal itself and jump at your face. It’s an idea that’s been used before, RPG treasure chest monsters and popular Garry’s Mod creation “Prop Hunt” spring to mind - but Mimics aren’t just passive traps. If you shoot a Mimic but don’t kill it, it will scurry away and try to hide and transform again. If you’re quick, you can even see them morphing into objects. It’s a great idea that keeps you on edge when exploring and makes for some great and unscripted jump scares. When your character is weak in the early stages of the game Mimics induce real paranoia. Was that box there when you were last in this room? You’ll start bashing everything with your wrench and shooting suspicious chairs - just to be sure....

Prey Glooing a Mimic

Ensnaring a Mimic with the Gloo Gun. Credit: Arkane Studios

Prey’s roster of weapons and abilities have their share of originality too. The Gloo Gun, which you find early on, allows you to slow and trap enemies with blobs of Gloo, allowing you to smash them at your leisure. Gloo can also be used to put out fires and even make makeshift pathways on walls, allowing you to climb to higher levels. As you progress through Talos 1, you gain access to Typhon abilities for yourself, with uses for both combat and puzzle solving. These include the Mimic’s ability to morph into an object, clumsily rolling past enemies disguised as a cleaning sign, for example - or you could use it to fit through small gaps. Then there’s the Lift Field, an ethereal column which pushes yourself or enemies into the air - which can be used with traps or maybe as a way to get to higher floors. Or the rather evil Phantom Genesis ability which summons an alien ally - by sacrificing a nearby human corpse.

Prey Alex Yu

Your brother Alex - is he a friend or a foe? Credit: Arkane Studios.

The ability skill tree is explained in the game’s lore, through technology called Neuromods. Just shove a massive needle into your eye (ouch) and they will imbue you with new skills. Neuromods are nicely tied into the storyline in a similar way to Bioshock’s ADAM. Acquire too many Typhon abilities and the station’s turrets will consider you alien - shooting at you on sight. It’s possible to do a “purity” run relying on human abilities alone, but the alien powers are too fun to pass up on. You quickly realise that Neuromods are a Very Good Thing and you want to find, or create as many as possible.

Prey skill tree

Just part of the large skill tree - you have to be selective about the path you want to take as Neuromods are in short supply. Credit: Arkane Studios

Which leads us to fabrication, another of Prey’s good ideas. Recycling machines around Talos 1 allow you to turn any junk or item that you pick up into their base components. This wonderful machine takes your unwanted nik naks and satisfyingly plops out cubes and spheres of matter in return, with compelling clinky-clunky sounds as they fall into the Recycler’s metal dispenser. You can then use this base matter to construct items at similar Fabricator machines. Once you find a Fabricator blueprint for an item, you can make that item as many times as you want at a Fabricator (if you have enough matter).

In gameplay terms, it's a great solution to the genre’s problem of inventory junk and clutter. It allows you to reforge items you don’t need into something more useful, and as resources are usually low, difficult choices must be made. What’s more important to you right now - a medkit or shotgun ammo, or maybe risk it and just make a new Neuromod instead? Recycling also encourages you to scour the environment for items - for once you’re happy to pick up useless junk and banana peels, because you know you can turn it into sweet, sweet matter. There’s even an awesome weapon- the Recycler grenade - which blasts enemies, objects and you, if you’re not careful, into those wonderful little cubes and spheres.

Prey male or female choice Morgan Yu

At the start of the game you can choose the sex of your hero - Morgan Yu. It only affects the voice acting but it's a nice touch to have. Credit: Arkane Studios.

Prey’s combat is a mixed bag. Although the weaponry feels meaty enough, many of the enemies aren’t particularly satisfying to fight. Most Typhon are made up of the wispy black alien smoke you see on the game’s cover and have the ability to teleport around, moving and attacking very quickly once alerted. This makes most combat frantic and enemies cause a lot of damage too. There’s little time for tactics and plans go out the window once shots are fired due to the combat’s pace and your low survivability - although fortunately the item/weapon wheel does pause time - allowing you to switch to an appropriate tool for the job.

Prey Neuromod needle

The horrors of the Neuromod. Thankfully you only have to watch the eye-stabbing animation the first time you use it, with future uses being instantaneous. I hate to picture the reality though, of my Morgan stabbing himself in the eye about 50 times with Neuromods during my playthrough. Small mercies. Credit: Arkane Studios.

There are various types of enemy in Prey that do require different tactics and are fun to fight. But combat against the Phantoms and Mimics which you’ll encounter most the often just devolves into fast and chaotic battles. This goes against the more deliberate approach that the rest of the game tries to achieve - and their rapid movement makes the use of terrain and cover pretty meaningless. Still, getting the drop on unaware enemies is fun, and the game makes good use of combos similar to Dishonored, where one item or weapon followed up by another can bring creative destructive results. It’s just a shame that most of the amorphous black blobs that are the Typhon lack any kind of character. Aside from the Mimics they are mostly unmemorable - there’s nothing like the iconic Big Daddies of Bioshock or the creepy mutants of System Shock here.

Prey scanning Typhon for upgrades

Scanning the Typhon lets you unlock lore, tactical information and new abilities - providing a good incentive to stay stealthy or at least survive whilst your scan completes. Credit: Arkane Studios.

Although initially Prey comes across as a sci-fi horror title, the fear factor soon fades once you have discovered each of the different enemy types. There aren’t any that manage to disturb or unsettle once the initial encounters have been had. Although Prey does have a few creepy moments and the Mimics provide good jump scares, this isn’t a scary game overall. But the game doesn’t need scares to succeed - the atmosphere on Talos 1 is still excellent, just in more of a mysterious sci-fi vibe than a horror one. To be honest, I found it refreshing for once to enjoy wandering an abandoned space station populated by monsters without being terrified half the time.

Prey Mimic mug morph

Ah, the joys of Mimicking a coffee cup. Some objects like big boxes are awful to move around as - too many flat sides. Cups though, they can roll, baby! Credit: Arkane Studios.

It’s in Talos 1 that Prey’s biggest strength lies. The huge station is a thing of glory, with wonderful architectural design - a far cry from the generic sci-fi interiors we’ve come to expect from these games. Staff common areas look more like a luxurious hotel than a space station, but more familiar industrial sections like the Reactor and Hardware still have their own distinct look and feel. But cosmetics aside, it’s navigating and exploring Talos 1 that provides the real draw here. The station is massive and the open structure of the game allows you to explore much of it at your own leisure - with the main story and side quests providing direction when you need it. Although many sections are locked off initially, as you progress you will frequently be revisiting areas and unlocking new ones. Once you get the ability to go outside the station into space and explore the exterior in zero-g - the scale is awesome. Brilliantly you can see the various sections of the station you’ve been to from the outside and jump into airlocks you’ve unlocked from the inside, as a form of quickly getting around. Talos 1 feels more real and cohesive than any sci-fi setting in a game yet.

Story continues below

Prey Talos 1 Exterior out in space

It's awesome to fly around in Zero-G outside the station and it's easy to control. Other sections have Zero-G too but it's a shame there aren't more gameplay and puzzle implications. Credit: Arkane Studios.

The environment design rewards thorough exploration with countless shortcuts and secrets to discover. Many of these have multiple avenues of access by using your items and abilities cleverly. Unfortunately, new enemies regularly appear when revisiting areas, and long load times between station segments (at least on console) makes getting around a bit of a drag towards the end of the game - when the story and side quests have you constantly running from one end of the station to the other. The area and plot pacing with the large amount of backtracking could have used a little work.

Uncovering the stories of the inhabitants of Talos 1 through the many side objectives and the emails and transcribes scattered through the station is a compelling reason to explore. The crew’s backstories, although short, paint snapshots of their life aboard. There’s lots of little sub-plots to discover - often told as much through the environment and nice details as the messages they leave behind. A nice feature is that you can hunt for staff via security terminals using their tracking bracelets to discover bodies and survivors, allowing you to find eventually find anyone you may have missed.

Reading emails in Prey

Another highly secure space station where everyone loves to send each other door codes via open emails. Credit: Arkane Studios.

The main storyline, although familiar to anyone who’s played the System Shock or Bioshock games, is still intriguing enough to enjoy - with plenty of mysteries and mistrust making you eager to uncover the truth. Prey begins with a great introduction - although anyone who’s played the demo will have already seen it. In true immersive sim fashion - there are a number of game endings based on the choices you make throughout, with a great finale not to miss after the credits have rolled. Fortunately, the story choices that you make don’t drastically affect the gameplay experience, so you won’t be missing out on any crucial content whatever you choose to do.

Prey hacking mini game

The hacking mini game is actually quite tough sometimes, and is decent as far as these go if you can accept that guiding a blob through a maze is a fair approximation of a hacker's skills. Credit: Arkane Studios.

Prey won’t be for everyone - immersive sims just aren’t some people’s cup of tea. But for anyone who likes this kind of game, who likes adventure, who likes sci-fi, it’s a real winner. Prey is very polished and although yes, it borrows many concepts and tropes that we’ve seen before, it also refines and improves upon them, whilst adding its own innovations. There’s a significant amount of depth here and the difficulty's a welcome challenge too - forcing you to think tactically and scavenge for resources (I recommend playing on Hard or higher). The game’s not perfect - the combat is a bit messy, the later stages of the game could have used more depth and less backtracking, and there are some technical issues. But, as an immersive sci-fi experience and a worthy homage to System Shock 2 - it’s fantastic. We've mostly seen it all before, but Arkane has just executed it so well. Talos 1 is an amazing setting that you’ll want to explore every inch of, to discover its secrets and the fates of the inhabitants. Long live the immersive sim.

Prey

  • 5

Superb

A highly polished immersive sim that although on first glance looks generic, has lots of good ideas and real depth. The star of Prey though is the amazing space station it's set on, a joy to explore.

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