Review: Prey

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Prey is the latest creation from Arkane Studios, veterans of the FPS genre after the release of the widely loved Dishonored games.  Prey, or Prey 2017 as some people call it, has been trivialised as “Bioshock/Dishonored in space”, and to some extent this is true, there are a lot of similarities in the style of those three games, but also a lot of unique differences personal to Prey.  The main protagonist is Morgan Yu, with a purposely ambiguous name to fit either a male or female player character, you are a scientist aboard the space station Talos 1, and second in command of Transtar, the company that owns said space station and funds all the mysterious and sometimes morally questionable research happening aboard.  You begin your story waking up to a view of a picturesque view of a sprawling city, the sun is shining, this is the day you start your ‘new job’ at Transtar.  Your induction includes doing some trivial tests in rooms as scientists look on, scribbling down notes and talking between one another, confused and dismayed.  Suddenly you get your first shock sighting of the game’s enemy, an alien race known as the Typhon, as a Typhon Cacoplasmus, dubbed a mimic, marks a brutal entrance for the antagonist as it rams one of its 4 limbs down the throat of a scientist.  As the scientists are ambushed and you look on in horror, a gas seeps into your test room and you wake up starting your day again, all very suspicious.  This time around however, there are clues as to the reality of your situation, allowing you to break out of this one simulated day that been turned “into the rest of your life”.

As you move out of your luxury prison with no knowledge as to your life before this, you are contacted by January, an AI version of yourself plugged into the body of an operator, one of the many helpful/annoying robots hovering around Talos 1.  He tells you that you are being experimented on by your brother Alex Yu and that the Typhon have since taken over the station, giving you the pretext needed to gear up and… sneak around, hide and hope you don’t get spotted until you’re strong enough to actually fight back.  Prey lays out the back story of the Yu brothers very nicely, leaving the player’s history a scrambled mess of brain matter and fragmented thoughts and memories, all the while painting Alex in an ambiguous light.  He can be seen as friend or foe depending on how you choose to interpret the game as you gradually piece together your shattered past using the multitude of emails mentioning you, Alex, Transtar, Talos 1 and how all of it ties together.  I could go further into detail but I would be doing the game a huge disservice as it is one of it’s greatest achievements, Prey really creates a great and enthralling narrative that draws you in further and further as the game progresses.

Another thing this game does extremely well is atmosphere, the feel of Talos 1 is amazing and I loved exploring it and discovering every caveat to every single character on the station, alive or dead, each one has a tale to tell, not once will you find a corpse without an interesting and unique back story.  The station itself feels vast, open and desolate.  You start the game believing you are still on Earth, but when you discover you are in fact in space by encountering the same view in the screenshot below (only with a bit less clean majesty and a lot less living people) it really changes the dynamic of the game, for me it already made me feel abandoned and alone, at the behest of the extraterrestrial predators stalking through Talos 1 with an instinctual malice emanating from every enemy.

As you progress through Prey you discover Neuromods. Neuromods are touted as the next step in human evolution, although they have an insidious backstory that I won’t spoil here. They allow you to directly implant the abilities and skills of other notable people in history essentially making you a superhuman.  You can run like an Olympian or think like Einstein, as you can imagine these Neuromods are rare and coveted, usually reserved for the upper echelons of society on Talos 1. Each Neuromod can bolster your ability to traverse Talos 1, or butcher the Typhon, exponentially. This makes for some incredibly fun and diverse gameplay, you can play through the game multiple time exploring different skill trees for many different combinations of play styles.  My first and favourite play through utilised a stealth orientated setup, a fully upgraded shotgun, extra stealth critical damage and silent sprinting is one deadly combination. I felt like one of the Phantoms, darting from cover to cover unseen and occasionally one-hitting an enemy. A little bit further into the game and it is revealed that you can use a psychoscope (a device your amnesiac self developed, unbeknownst to the player) a type of headset with goggles designed to analyse Typhon and various other things in your environment. Once you have scanned in enough of a certain enemy you unlock new powers based on the type of enemy scanned. For example, you can scan the mimics and unlock the ability to mimic items yourself, useful for hiding and overcoming obstacles such as a small window, too small for Morgan the human, but just the right size for Morgan the coffee mug.

Another big part of Prey is the ability to leave Talos 1, or enter parts of the station with the artificial gravity switched off.  This really adds a whole new layer to the game, and I was shocked at how much I found myself enjoying it, thinking it would just be moving from one area to the next.  The lack of gravity makes combat harder, especially when the enemies you encounter in these zero G zones are already used to hovering around and can pick you apart easily if you panic at the sight of them and flail helplessly to your swift demise.  A lot of people disliked the Cystoids which are essentially living proximity mines… that move and chase any movement they detect near them.  I personally enjoyed having them around, it made me act a bit more carefully in space as opposed to just propelling myself into a piece of space wreckage without a second thought, I would take my time to creep around the edges at a low-speed to make sure I couldn’t see or hear any of those exploding black lumps.  On the occasion that I did fly in nonchalantly, I would often come face to face with a group of angry shapes looming out of the darkness ready to martyr themselves for the Typhon cause, albeit by instinct, forcing you to part ways with one of the (thousands) of suit repair kits you can find around the station.  The fabrication machines dotted around Talos 1 also added to the game, it allows you to customise your play through to your gaming style.  Stealth, balls out combat, psi powers, all of these can be aided along by fabricating items to suit your needs.  9mm ammo for your silenced pistol, some neuromods to put into the stealth abilities, or maybe some neuromods to increase your psi potential and some psi hypos to keep you topped up in combat.

Overall, I loved Prey. I thoroughly enjoyed the desolate, empty and isolated feeling Talos 1 gave you as you explored it, a stark contrast to the starting mission as you run through your simulated day, complete with a relaxing helicopter ride with a great view, only to be thrust into a totally different and horrifying reality.  The Typhon were a breath of fresh air for me personally when it comes to alien races.  I thought the fact they were physically present but very focused around psychic ability and being semi-ethereal, from a different dimension and with one goal in mind, the assimilation of the people inside Talos 1, and the subsequent destruction of the station, and then perhaps all human life left in the universe.  I loved fighting the Typhon, they felt like a real and soulless enemy to sink your teeth into, no moral ambiguity to them at all, your goals were whittled down to survive, and destroy them.  I also liked how the game presented you with many different perspectives on your brother Alex.  Some people hated him, some admired him, and regardless of everything else, he was still your brother.  This final fact was hit home many times with him speaking to you about your parents, your life on earth, and as you uncover more transcribes and emails I feel as though the game makes you form your own opinion on Alex, which was a fresh experience as opposed to the usual ‘this character is bad, because we needed a bad guy for the plot line to progress’.  Your relationship with Alex feels unique, organic and realistic and I think it adds a lot to the game personally, what with you trying to scavenge and piece together your fractured past, Alex keeping secrets from you (but potentially with your own good in mind) and the Typhon threat constantly growing and creeping closer, Prey felt alive and exciting for me the entire way through.  I would definitely recommend this game to any sci-fi fan, and anyone who loved the way Dishonored played.

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