Prey – Review
PC, Xbox One, PS4
There is something decidedly different about Prey. I am not just talking about the game its self, but everything about the product has a slightly strange background. The history of both the IP and this game is quite interesting and the final product carries that “left-of-centre” tag with pride. Prey is an anomaly, It is not a new IP but at the same time, it isn’t a part of a franchise. It isn’t a shooter, an RPG or a horror game yet it takes parts of all three genres. Prey is its own unique beast but the real question is it worth your time?
Prey is a space-based FPS that bears a more than a few similarities to the creepy classic System Shock 2. But to say it is a “Shock” game would be doing the game an injustice. There are elements of Alien: Isolation, Deus Ex and Half-Life all woven into this intriguing title, making it feel like a fresh experience. During my time with the game, I played as Morgan Yu (who can be male or female, with no consequence to events), a scientist on a space station research facility. It is quickly discovered that an alien species, which was the subject of your study, has broken out of its confinement and is taking over the station section by section. So, as this is a video game, I set off to save the day with nothing more than a wrench in hand.
The gameplay in Prey is the real highlight of the experience, especially in the first half of the game. This is due to the tense and uncomfortable nature of the design. The first type of alien I came across was the mimic, a small spider-like creature that could imitate any inanimate object from the environment. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how that could lead to more than a few scares. Add to this the fact that ammo is scarce and the whole station has some serious lighting issues and it is a recipe for more than a few jumps. I adored these early hours, even though I never felt comfortable. I would slowly slink into rooms, hide around corners and basically do everything in my power to avoid that potentially lethal coffee cup lying on the floor.
It is a shame then that in the later hours of the game, once I had gained more ammo, more abilities and more tools that this feeling of unease was almost completely erased. Even against baddies much tougher than the mimics, that could decimate me with ease, I didn’t feel as tense as I did in those early hours of the game. It was at this point in the game that it began to turn from a tense thriller into something more in line with games like Bioshock, an intriguing shooter with supernatural powers.
Speaking of powers, Prey includes a nice little take on the ability tree common in games similar to this one. There were basically two paths I could take. The first path was to focus all of my upgrades (or nuromods as the game calls them) on the mechanical side of the skill tree. This allowed me to hack locks, get stronger, improve my combat abilities or simply run faster. The other side of the tree allowed the unlocking of some super cool alien abilities like psionic explosions, mind control or the ability to copy objects just like a mimic. The catch with the alien powers is that if I installed too many of them the station’s automated defences would recognise me as an alien and attack me on sight. In my playthrough, I initially focused on the mechanical side of things, but later in the game I ventured into the alien powers. It felt like a natural way to progress and I am glad I used a combination of the two.
Technically Prey is a mix of both the good and the bad. The good is the stunning graphics on display. The game is a treat to watch with some wonderful enemy design, intriguing environments and excellent amount of detail. The bad however is a prevalence of bugs and glitches as well as some absolutely abysmal load times. I played the game on an Xbox one and experienced two major issues, the first was random crashes in the last few hours of the game (which I believe has been resolved in the most recent patch) and the second was the minute or so it took to load between areas. This loading got especially annoying later in the game where mission objectives required me to go between three or four areas in quick succession. Not only was it annoying but it broke the tension that the early part of the game setup so well.
The story in Prey is entertaining and mysterious in equal measures but once again I felt it run out of steam in the latter parts of the game. I feel that after playing it left too much unanswered and only provided the thinnest of conclusions. This, however, could easily just be me and I feel like many will quite enjoy the vague, discussion worthy, finale. One thing that I can wholly recommend though is the sound design. Effects are put to excellent use in amping up the tension while at the same time being unobtrusive. The sound also provided subtle clues to the safety of any area I was in and gave me a slight warning as to when I was in immediate danger.
To say my feelings towards Prey are a little jumbled is fair. The first 10 hours or so were some of the best gameplay I had experienced this year but as the game went on it started to lose its shine. By about the 16th hour I simply wanted the game done because it had outstayed its welcome. In the end it took me about 20 hours to finish Prey and I would say that about 5 of those just felt like a drag. I think had Arkane delivered something a little shorter, a little tighter and gotten rid of some of the excess then Prey could quite easily have been a GOTY contender. As it is, it is still a very good game and one that should be on everyone’s “to-play” list. Sadly a few technical issues and too much padding hold back Prey and keep it from being the must have experience it so nearly is. That said, with what Arkane has shown in this title, I will be the first person in town lining up for Prey 2, which kind of says it all really.