Review: Prey (Computer)
Prey: Official GBAtemp Review
The FPS genre has had some really good entries of late; DOOM, Resident Evil 7, Dishonored 2. But notice the pattern here? They are all followups to a previous title. Prey on the other hand shares just its namesake with the 2006 title. It's a re-imagining of the IP that borrows features from games like Bioshock, System Shock and Dishonored to deliver an uncommon sci-fi horror experience.
First Day On The Job
*** Warning: Minor plot spoiler ahead ***
In Prey, you
pray play as Morgan Yu, the protagonist (whose gender you can choose) with conjunctivitis who experiences deja-vu from the get-go. This is because Morgan's been played with by people in lab coats, making him experience the 'same day' over and over again for... science? Before he can even stumble into an existential crisis, a mysterious person, presenting himself as January, calls Morgan on his phone (space phone?) and helps him escape his simulation room and find the answer to his most pertinent question: where's the toilet what's going on?!
His life has been a lie!
Turns out Morgan Yu is some kind of big shot in the Talos I research facility, a space station littered with art deco up in, well, space and oh, it's 2032, President JFK didn't die, the Space Race took a whole new dimension and we've made contact with aliens which we now call "Typhons".
The Typhons were under study in Talos I in the hopes to benefit mankind. But of course they broke containment and are spreading fast throughout the station, taking down every crew members in their way. Now it's Morgan's task to halt the Typhon spread, aid survivors, prevent this threat from reaching Earth and be the hero everyone deserves. Okay, that part is a bit cliché, but hey humanity's fate is in your hands, so game on!
*** End of spoilers ***
Through A Glass Darkly
The game's opening sequence starts off with a bang! that is sure to engross you enough to keep on going in order to discover what happens next. However, 'next' takes quite some time to happen due to the slow progression of the story, especially during the first half of the game.
The latter is interestingly narrated in a mostly passive way; you'll learn bits and pieces of what happened on Talos I before and after the outbreak by snooping in your ex-colleagues' emails, notes and audio logs. This method of environmental storytelling, despite being totally passive, brilliantly fleshes out the NPCs' personalities, allows you to make your own opinion of crew members and brings the game's universe to life. Such exploration is also rewarded: peek into your ex-colleagues' workstation to get clues/blueprints about items & weapons in the vicinity, passwords to locked rooms, download map data and even fill in the story. In so doing, you can even find alternative ways to reach your objectives if, say you're low on life and suit armor and you can't take on the Phantom blocking the way. Don't have access to a room? Look around for a vent or search the corpse of someone who worked there. Think outside the box! Literally, since you can leave the space station to 'fast travel' your way to another location in zero-G. You can find a way to any location on Talos I if you look hard enough. Get creative! The different play styles that Prey allows in this manner will make the experience unique to each player.
The open-ended exploration the game offers allows you to follow your own path in order to complete your objectives; be it the main ones or side quests. The latter are abound and on top of serving as fillers for the story, will often reward you with goodies like blueprints of weapons or ammo. While this freedom is very much welcome, it doesn't always work out in the game's best interests. For instance, you've probably heard of people beating the game in less than half an hour. Please don't do that. The game deserves your attention and the average 20 hours of your life to complete. It's worth it!
The Keys To The Kingdom
Following the outbreak, Talos I is infested with Typhons and while the game counts 15 different types, the most common is the Mimic. As its name suggests, this spider-like creature can take the form of objects around it and will leave you doubting everything in your surrounding. On top of that, corrupted operators (hovering robots that, when in working condition, help patch you up) will come at you with their mechanical might.
To counter your enemies, you'll have the usual gamut of firearms at your service plus some more sci-fi ones. You'll find several (and their ammo) as you explore Talos I and if you've found the blueprints to some, you can craft them at any time at a Fabrication Station with the proper materials (Tip: Don't keep two of the same weapon; recycle the extras for their minerals instead). You will learn pretty early that your indispensable weapon is the GLOO gun; in addition to gluing (heh) Typhons in place before you whack or shoot them down, it can help you reach otherwise unreachable places. Feel free to be creative with it! Just try not to use it to complete the game in less than half an hour!
Depending on the difficulty level set, the Typhons will require more damage before they bite the dust. As such, you have to be weary of your ammo count and you might want to awaken the explorer in you to look for blueprints of ammo and powerful guns in Talos I and you'll be golden.
The sci-fi novelty that Prey introduces to aid you in combat is the use of Neuromods. These revolutionary devices are capable of enhancing humanity with a variety of expert abilities and skills and are the fruit of Talos I’s Psychotronics Division's hard work. Imagine instantly obtaining the skill, knowledge, and experience of a famed concert pianist or the accuracy and precision of a world championship marksman. That's what Neuromods promise and deliver. But for Morgan's current purpose in Talos I, they can be used to boost abilities that will help in your survival. A Skill Tree allows you to select how you wish to use these injectable modules to strengthen your abilities in different fields like Scientist, Engineer, Security. Naturally, the higher up the Skill Tree, the more Neuromods are required. The latter are scarce to find at first but you can find the blueprints that'll allow you to craft them.
The crafting mechanic is a simple yet effective one; collect trash of any kind (even banana peels!) to recycle into useful minerals at a Material Recycler that you can then use at a Fabricator to craft the stuff whose plans you possess. The trash-collecting part is pretty devious since you'll often end up picking up disguised Mimics, making way for cheap but effective jump-scares. To fuel the atmosphere, the ambient sound will keep you on your toes and the recurring weird groans and screeches perpetuate an uneasy feeling. It doesn't help to alleviate the tension when the occasional debris hit the spaceship's hull with an unannounced clang!
It goes without saying that you don't have to go all out on all the enemies. You can opt for the stealth way and there are abilities that'll help you in this path. And remember that sometimes, it is better to just run...
Later on, you'll acquire a Psychoscope which will reveal the Energy, Morph, and Telepathy skill trees that are actually Typhon-based abilities. Even then, all Typhon abilities are unknown until they are researched by scanning Typhon organisms with the Psychoscope. Each new scan may lead to the discovery of a new ability. And boy oh boy, these are the most exciting abilities that you can unlock in the game. They'll allow you to morph into objects like Mimics do, use Kinetic Blast to deal damage to enemies, control gravity, even create your own Phantom to fight for you and much, much more!
When your life goal is to be a banana that floats in space...
As exciting as the Typhon abilities sound, they come with risks in fine prints. If two or more Typhon abilities are installed, the station’s security turrets will no longer recognize you as human and attack. While they pose a significant threat, they can be temporarily disabled and even hacked to ignore you. With three Typhon abilities installed, you’ll draw the attention of a Nightmare, a Typhon you'll want to stay away from. Additionally, January warns you early on to not lose your humanity with Typhon mods for fear of unknown consequences...
This creates an interesting moral conundrum in the game: stay human and challenge the alien Typhons against the odds or fight fire with fire by adopting their abilities to your benefit?
Before I Give You The Key
Moral choices are no stranger to the game either. You'll encounter side quests where you'll have to choose whether to help fellow survivors who are trapped with a mind-controlling Telepath Typhon or ignore their plea and stay out of harm's way; let a crew member die because Morgan doesn't like them or go to their rescue?
The decisions are yours to make in Prey, based on what you deem right or wrong, and will eventually influence the ending. Even if each approach can't be executed perfectly, the possibility of having different play styles will appeal to a wider range of gamers; just don't expect a stealth game à la Metal Gear (hiding doesn't always spare the attention of Typhons) nor Battlefield-esque FPS combat (brute force isn't always the way to defeat Typhons). In my opinion, the game is best played by mixing different approaches depending on the situation. This applies to upgrading Morgan's skill tree as well. This non-linearity made for an unusually creative gameplay for me.
While the game can now be enjoyed as it was meant to, there were reports of game-breaking bugs at launch that have since been addressed with an update. Even if my PC playthrough went smoothly, it is understandably frustrating to lose all of one's effort in this way with such an anticipated game.
Speaking of anticipation, the visuals are not quite what the E3 trailer promised it to be:
As seen in the E3 reveal trailer
Screenshot from Candyland's comparison video
The foliage look... not so impressive either...
While it's not Resident Evil 7 good, it's not Syberia 3 bad either. But that mattered little to me as even if it's not the best-looking game out there, the gameplay and plot were what I look forward to, as with every other games I play.
This Side Up
Prey is an amalgam of sorts, borrowing strongly from its predecessors in the genre, spices things up in an interesting universe that delivers a satisfying experience even if it doesn't boast amazing visuals. It's a game for those curious by nature and enjoy indulging in a game's universe for hours on. However, the game isn't perfect and even suffered from game-breaking bugs at launch.
Whee! Spacewalking w/ trusty wrench!
+ Captivating atmosphere
+ Freedom of exploration
+ Brilliant environmental story telling
+ Varying play styles
+ Different endings
- Clichéd plot at times
- Slow progression of story
- Sub-par graphics
- Game-breaking bugs at launch
While the game doesn't have the best visuals out there, it is a good example that a gripping story and a solid gameplay can make for a great game. However, the bugs reported by some at launch was understandably a let down.
The variety of play styles allows for interesting and varied approach to each situation, even if they aren't optimally executed.
The main story itself is huge, taking somewhere between 15 and 20 hours on average to complete. On top of that, for the completionists, there are lots of side quests that will help you piece together the whole picture of what is going on in Talos I. As for those looking for a challenge, the various difficulty levels will satisfy your needs. The 'Normal' difficulty itself is pretty challenging while 'Nightmare' mode claims that “nothing can save you”.
out of 10
(not an average)
Prey is a game that borrows strongly from its predecessors in the genre, mashes up several play styles with heavy exploration and delivers a surprisingly satisfying experience.