You wake up with little to no memory of your past. You’re in unfamiliar surroundings and a little on edge, but you start to explore anyway. It’s not long before you realise something very wrong has happened while you’ve been away in la-la-land – initially, the only evidence that you’ve never really been alone are the bloody cadavers scattered around your immediate vicinity.
It’s not long before you have a wrench. Then you run into something nasty.
If this scenario sounds familiar it’s because Prey unabashedly wears its influences on its sleeve. Players will see nods to BioShock, Dead Space and even the Half-Life series but the game it most closely resembles is System Shock 2, Ken Levine’s 1999 sci-fi horror, which begins with a soldier waking up with amnesia, picking up a wrench and well… you get the idea. This isn’t to say Prey is a derivative hack job – far from it – but it does sometimes struggle to feel more than the sum of its parts.
Prey Review – E.T. (wants you to) go home
Players take on the role of a man (or woman) named Morgan Yu, an engineer onboard a space station called Talos I. In the opening moments, in which the thinnest veneer of safety is stripped away in manner that’ll remind players of Groundhog Day, it’s revealed Morgan’s brother, Alex, is the head of a research project involving an inky-black alien life form known as the Typhon.
It’s not really wandering into spoiler territory to let readers know that at the beginning of the game, the Typhon have overrun the space station and killed pretty much everyone on board. However, as Yu explores the eerie corridors of Talos I, they start to uncover characters and plots far more sinister than the station’s extra-terrestrial insurgents.
Prey Review – You’ve (not) been here before
While Prey’s set-up hits some familiar beats, the action in its opening couple of hours does not. Initially, the game comes on like a typical first person shooter – albeit one underpinned by a creepy atmosphere – but players soon realise Prey isn’t anything like the games that influenced it, which were mentioned earlier. Rather than allow players to lay waste to waves of enemies, Prey tosses them a wrench, a Gloo Gun (which shoots sticky globules that can freeze or slow down enemies) and then puts them in the path of creatures that can kill them rather easily.
Players should approach Prey the way they would a survival horror game; ammo needs to be conserved and used sparingly, armour and health kits are hard to come by and players who take a head-on approach will see the reload screen over and over again.
Prey Review – Hiding in plain sight
The reason for this is that even the smallest enemies in the game are quite capable of dispatching Yu. These, incidentally, would be the Mimics, small spider like creatures that look like jet-black cousins to the Head Crabs in the Half Life games. Not only are they fast and hard to draw a bead on, like their namesake suggests, they can take on the form of inanimate objects. This means that unless the player watches for a tell-tale shimmer, they could soon find what they thought was a benign piece of scenery flying into their face.
There are more Typhon creatures to contend with – the Phantoms, which can take out Yu with two shots and in early stages are bullet sponges, are particularly nasty – but none cause the amount of jump-scares that the Mimics do. These aliens lend Prey a colossal amount of tension, since players are never sure whether they’re walking into an ambush.
Prey Review – An (annoyingly) tense experience
Between Yu’s vulnerability and the constant threat of attack that surrounds the player, Prey is a pretty tense experience throughout. That tension, however, can easily transform into annoyance as the game’s sluggish controls and (initially) ineffectual weapons make combat more of a chore than the white-knuckle ride the developers presumably intended it to be.
As players wander through Talos I – which incidentally looks like what might have happened if Rapture was a space station designed with the visual aesthetic from David Lynch’s adaptation of Dune in mind – they’ll pick up more effective weapons and items that seem useless to begin with, but they’ll find can be used to fashion helpful assets via Recycling and Fabricating terminals.
They’ll also pick up Neuromods, which allow them to open up talent trees granting Yu more abilities. Alongside standard fare – increased health, hacking abilities and larger inventory – players can also start to take on the powers of Typhon such as the ability to turn into inanimate objects or teleport. Those abilities come with a cost; the more Typhon powers Yu has, the more Talos I’s internal security will turn on him. Turrets, for example, which once to could be ignored or used against the Typhon, will attempt to gun the player down.
Prey Review – Verdict
Prey is an odd beast. It demands patience, perseverance and more than a little luck, and while it recalls many classic games of yesteryear, there’s nothing out there quite like it, and it’s nothing like the first Prey or its aborted sequel either.
Prey is likely to attract as many players as it repels. Some may be put off by the game’s combat – which occasionally crosses over the line from ‘tense’ into ‘annoying’ – and the fact that, like the games in Arkane’s Dishonored franchise, Prey throws interesting powers and mechanics at the player and then makes them pay a penalty for using them. But those players who want to be challenged and who are a sucker for a good story will find plenty to keep them engaged here. At the very least it should win points for going against the FPS power-trip grain.
- Prey was reviewed on a PS4. Review code was provided by the publisher.