Prey is the latest game to come from Bethesda’s publishing arm, and as a creation of Dishonored dev Arkane Studios, this sci-fi shooter has some serious pedigree.
Unfortunately Prey is very much less than the sum of its parts; for every genuinely great idea (and there are plenty), the experience is marred by some pretty underwhelming design choices – by the time the credits roll you’ll more than likely be impressed, but I couldn’t shake the feeling I’d seen it all before.
The story is perhaps best described as a sci-fi thriller with a cheeky dash of horror. You’ll play as Morgan Yu, who can be male or female depending on your preference – it’s up to Yu (see what I did there?).
It’s not getting too spoilery to say that the game focuses on an experiment gone horribly wrong in a space station where friendly faces are now few and far between, because they’ve pretty much all been butchered by the monsters that stalk the corridors (more on these beasts shortly).
There are twists and turns aplenty, which works out quite nicely given that there were periods where – for me- the gameplay would grow stagnant, leaving the narrative hooks to serve as the strongest incentive to push on through the eerie space station.
The station itself has echoes of BioShock’s underwater Rapture, though lacks even a fraction of the charm. Perhaps on of Prey’s biggest shortcomings is that the space station itself is seriously short on character.
There’s fun to be had poking through the emails and files of its deceased inhabitants, but visually the world around you is just a bit… meh.
I don’t mean to say that it’s graphically bad, to be clear, Prey looks brilliant on a technical level – I just meant that the actual designs are a bit of a letdown. From labs to lobbies to living quarters, every thing looks relatively bland, which isn’t ideal in a game where you’ll be backtracking a fair bit.
The gameplay itself is a mixture of FPS, stealth, and exploration, and doesn’t really do any of it terribly well. You’ll trot back and forth across the space station on a quest to discover exactly what happened, foraging a mixture of conventional firepower and psychic attacks as you go.
Each weapon and attack feels distinctly different, and experimentation is often encouraged to get past the many enemies and obstacles waiting for you. Early encounters in the game can be pretty tedious given that you’re encouraged to conserve your equipment, but the average encounter can easily leave you pissing away bullets and health, which kind of forces you to take a stealthy approach.
My main problem with stealth comes from the most common alien threat – mimics. Mimics can take on the appearance of anything, be it a bit of bog roll, a chair, or computer.
For the first hour, I was in awe of this simple yet effective idea. Walking into a room knowing that anything in there could turn into an alien and kill me was absolutely thrilling.
However, after about two hours of play you begin to realise that every room you walk into will house at least one mimic. This takes away the suspense and replaces it with frustration and exasperation. Good horror films don’t consist of a jump scare in every scene, and Prey relies too heavily on the Mimic idea for far too long.
Throw in the fact that Mimics aren’t actually a massive threat (a few well timed hits with your standard wrench attack will do them in), and you’ll just stop caring about them after long.
It’s especially annoying when you’re pretty much forced to rely on stealth in certain sections, only to be all too painfully aware that your sneaking around can be undone at any moment by a hairbush or stack of files that turns into a Mimic and blows your cover, inviting much larger and scarier aliens to come rip your arms off.
The bigger threats are predominately made up of Phantoms and rogue robots. The former are hulking black monstrosities that can teleport, shoot lasers, and generally ruin your day- encounters with these beasts are more frustrating than anything else.
The more powers and weapons you unlock, the more opportunities you’re afforded to tackle any given situation. This sounds great on paper (and has proven worth in recent titles like Zelda and Horizon: Zero Dawn), but Prey’s eagerness to encourage player-made moments often leads to unfocused and irritating sections.
Prey isn’t without its high points. The first time you step out of the space station into the the murky depths is eerily beautiful – Arkane have created a convincing Zero-G experience, complete with floaty movements and pleasingly dreamy sound design.
The impressive array of weapons, powers and upgrades at your disposal also make returning to old areas feel exciting and relevant, even if the slightly clunky combat controls detract from the possibilities available to you.
Overall, Prey is a very good game, and will no doubt be regarded a great game by many. While certain aspects of the adventure are bound to stay with me for weeks to come, too much of what it tries to do has been done before, and done better.