Written by Beckett Van Stralen
Yesterday, I finally completed Prey – the game I’ve been hating to love and loving to hate over the last month. I write this review with mixed feelings, as I’m a huge fan of science fiction and the story Arkane is trying to tell, yet with all the parts assembled, all that’s left is the shell of a game that had the potential to be truly incredible. The pillars that support this game are cracked in their foundation, which is extremely evident when you set out on your journey as the amnesiac protagonist Morgan Yu to solve the mystery of the extraterrestrial outbreak plaguing the space station Talos I. However, there are definitely some positive beats here – the story hooks you deeply within the opening minutes of the game, and the excellent level design begs you to explore and find alternative paths to your objective. There are also some fantastic sections involving zero-gravity movement, and the narrative attempts to give your actions meaning, no matter how large or small the impact is. Unfortunately, while bringing these desired traits to the table, Prey suffers from uninspired quests mired with bugs, excessive loading times, huge spikes in difficulty, and the lack of a cohesive story throughout the campaign that results in a bit of a narrative puddle at the game’s conclusion.
Prey’s story takes place within an alternate timeline where John F. Kennedy survives his assassination attempt, and as a result, he pushes for renewed focus on Space Exploration. This causes an acceleration of technological and scientific advancement. Fast forward to the year 2032 – the player takes control of Morgan Yu, the Vice President of the TranStar Corporation, who is preparing to be shipped out to conduct research onboard the company-owned Talos I space station. During some preparatory tests, the alien race known as the Typhon are revealed, and to avoid any spoilers, simply all hell breaks loose, and it’s up to the player to get to the bottom of the mystery of why the Typhon are taking over Talos I. Soon after full control is given to the player, the story plays out mainly through Transcribe conversations, notes, audio logs, and NPC interactions. Only towards the end do we get cutscenes (in-game and FMV), which feels like a missed opportunity. The story is there for those who wish to spend the time pouring through notes, books, and audio logs scattered about the station, but for others leading busy lives with limited free time to sink their teeth into Prey, this is something tedious, and shouldn’t be necessary to get the full narrative of the game’s world and prior events leading up to the beginning of the main campaign.
What the story successfully achieves, however, is giving your actions meaning through the choices the player makes. For example, the player encounters an NPC who begs Morgan to risk his/her life by retrieving the medicine which helps the NPC breathe. Not only that, but it’s implied that Morgan and this NPC have prior history (through further investigation of said audio logs and notes). Your personal operator, January, pipes in to remind you that this NPC in question should’ve never been on the space station in the first place, and it was Morgan’s decision to allow her access, despite her disclosed medical condition. While this side quest merely has you going to Location A to bring an item back to Location B, these little bits of information provide substance and realism, pushing the player to examine their moral compass. Another moment that made me step back and reconsider what I’d just done was when I found myself united with a group of NPCs that were trying to hold out against the Typhon. Standard game procedure up until that point was to gather food to eat, and any resources to recycle and use their materials for fabrication. When I found the NPCs, tons of food was scattered all over an office table. As I grabbed the last scrap of food, an NPC seated across from the table remarked, “…You’re really going to take all that for yourself?” It made me pause for a second and regret my actions. Then I felt like an asshole. The act of gathering that food didn’t make a difference to the ending I received, but as I said, it gave meaning to the choices I made while in the shoes of Morgan Yu.
I’ll also mention that Prey’s campaign took me roughly 17 hours to complete, which is substantial for a first person shooter. This was largely due to the side quests I spent time completing. The game’s conclusion would’ve come fairly quickly otherwise.
Prey’s gameplay tries to be complex and offer many different avenues of approach to mission objectives, but seems to suffer from a minor identity crisis in terms of stealth versus offensive play. Throughout the main campaign, the player will be searching for items called Neuromods – these are at the center of the research being conducted on Talos I and are the most valuable resource to find in the game. Using these upgrades grants the player access to additional skills and Typhon abilities, from hacking into security systems to being able to mimic objects found throughout the station. In the beginning I was optimizing my skills and upgrades to be stealth-focused with my game difficulty set on hard. Because of this choice, I died. A lot. Due to the lack of discoverable neuromods in the beginning of the game and the often-occurring difficulty spikes, I felt like I had no choice but to reduce the difficulty and rethink my skill choices to support a more offensive playstyle.
On the plus side, what the gameplay excels in doing is providing many tools to complete your objectives. If there’s a door that you lack the key card or code to open, keep your eyes peeled – there is likely a maintenance tunnel or window you can break through to get to your destination. Entering hard to reach places has never been easier with the addition of the GLOO Gun, which has multiple uses. Shooting “GLOO” globs onto the walls creates a protruding surface that allows Morgan to stand on it. When executed it can be a bit flimsy, but can also be extremely helpful with gaining the extra height needed to pull yourself onto a platform that’s just out of reach. The GLOO Gun’s use doesn’t stop there – pumping enemies full of “GLOO” temporarily immobilizes them and allows Morgan to deal extra damage when they are in this state. Even further, the GLOO Gun can be used to shoot electrical panels with arcing electricity – this removes the threat of being damaged and allows Morgan to move closer to the panel and repair it.
The setting of Talos I is pure eye candy and one of the game’s high points. The architecture and design seems to have come right out of the 1960s, and has a very similar aesthetic to the style utilized in Bioshock’s underwater city of Rapture. It begs to be explored, and as more areas of the station are discovered, there is a large variety of environments, each with a unique look. Bright, golden colours and hues are utilized in the station’s common areas where civilians and company executives mingle, while the research and development areas resemble the sterile white and grey tones found in doctor’s offices or hospital waiting rooms.
There are multiple ways of carving a path to your objective, and Prey rewards you for seeking out these alternate paths and exploring every possible nook and cranny. The environments explored aren’t restricted to the interior of Talos I either. The exterior of the space station also demands exploration, and can be used as a hub of sorts to quickly make your way from one area of the station to another. Navigating Talos I's exterior is always an interesting experience due to the zero gravity mechanics. Combat can be slightly taxing, but blasting around space is always enjoyable and the controls are surprisingly intuitive.
When a game offers side quests, I usually opt to complete as many of them as I can, as long as I find them engaging and feel they add substance to my own personal narrative within the game’s world. With Prey, there are some interesting side quests that add to Prey’s lore and give you a better idea of what went on at Talos I before Morgan’s journey began, but unfortunately most of them amount to simple fetch quests. It also needs to be mentioned that many quests I attempted to complete during my playthrough were plagued with bugs. Multiple quests would have me locate my objectives by using the personnel tracker available at security stations, and the crew members would not show up as being trackable. Later on I’d stumble across them, and searching their bodies would not start the next step in the quest. This is unfortunate because there were some intriguing storylines I wanted to flesh out, but irritation at the bugs and the time I’d spent already trying to move the quests along had me wanting to continue on. There were definitely some memorable moments I was glad to have experienced (one side quest story line that stands out involves a mysterious station cook), but they weren’t enough to right the wrongs of Prey’s overall story.
When I first heard about Prey, I was extremely excited. It seemed to have everything I wanted out of a science fiction first person shooter – an engaging and twisting story, gameplay that can be purely tailored to the player’s desired playstyle, outstanding graphics, a terrific science fiction setting, and a game developed by Arkane. Yet, with all these elements combined, Prey becomes a lackluster experience that fails to live up to its true potential. While there are memorable parts in the overall narrative, the lack of a cohesive story told throughout the game, excessive loading times, a noticeable amount of quest-breaking bugs, and gameplay that appears to encourage playstyle freedom but ultimately forces you down a restricted path, prevent Prey from reaching its true potential.
FINAL REVIEW: 7/10
Reviewer Note: My playthrough of Prey was on Version 1.04 - immediately after I completed it, version 1.05 was released. Because I create content in my spare time while working a full time job, I did not go back to complete another playthrough of Prey to see if the patch makes a difference in the gameplay and side quests. What I can say is I did not encounter any game-breaking bugs or glitches other players had reported for Prey v. 1.04.. The only bugs that directly affected my game were those that prevented side quests from being completed.