Review: Prey (PC) competently channels the games that inspired it

Arkane Studios’ Prey, published by Bethesda Softworks,  is a competent spiritual successor to virtually all the prominent PC games that ever had “shock” in their titles (such as System Shock and Bioshock).

Prey delivers an enjoyable if occasionally frustrating experience, although it does relatively little to truly distinguish itself from the games that clearly inspired it, right down to virtually every major sci-fi story trope. But if you ever enjoyed the games that inspired Prey, you’ll probably find Prey to be an entertaining and overall worthwhile experience.

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The Shotgun — always a welcome addition to any arsenal.

Welcome to TranStar Corporation.

You play researcher Morgan Yu, who awakens on Talos I—a massive research station created by global megacorporation TranStar. TranStar is run by a shadowy cabal of investors, and they have been busy  researching world-changing technology called neuromods—implants that instantly give humans new skills, such as playing the piano or speaking a foreign language.

In addition, TransStar discovers an alien species called the Typhon, and (cue Muhahahaha) begins questionable experiments that involve integrating Typhon abilities into neuromods to give humans actual super powers, such as telekinesis, energy projection, and many others.

Integrating alien neurology into human neurology. What could possibly go wrong?

Predictably, everything. Yu awakens to find the aftermath of a disaster and a lot of dead bodies. The Typhon have overrun Talos I, and your memory is screwy because of neuromod experimentation. But it’s up to Yu to save the day.

Cave Johnson would be proud.

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The GOO gun can immobilize enemies and create blobs of goo to create makeshift stairways,  enabling you to reach new heights (and areas).

Yu are the only hope

Those familiar with System Shock and Bioshock will immediately recognize many of the same game mechanics in Prey, which combines a dash of survival horror with plenty of FPS and stealth mechanics.

Although Prey can be creepy at times, it’s rarely truly scary—admittedly something that disappointed me a bit. Even the Typhon Mimics, which disguise themselves as everyday objects and then transform to eat your face – just aren’t that scary or surprising. The more dangerous Typhon, while best avoided, are even less scary for the most part. And maybe Talos I is just too brightly lit to truly convey a sense of dread. It feels a bit like being trapped alone in an empty but well-lit shopping mall.

Regardless, in the early and mid-game you must use your resources (ammunition, health packs, etc.) and the environment wisely to help you survive, circumvent, and dispatch enemies. Ammunition can be scarce, but there is almost always a way to sneak around any enemies through duct work, scaling walls, or other routes that may sometimes require the right skills.

For example, if you have the right skills upgraded you can hack security doors (through a rather annoying mini-game), or even clear barriers (strength) to reveal hidden service panels or unblock doorways.  You can also use the GOO gun—a unique gun that shoots globs of goop to freeze enemies— to create make-shift stairs you can climb on to reach high ground.

You can also use the environment to inhibit, damage, and kill enemies. Lock them in a room, shoot gas pipes (which immediately spew flames), or ignite (conveniently spilled) flammable liquids or the very, very abundant fuel canisters lying about.

Is having all those fuel canisters on a space station a good idea?

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The Psychoscope adds a ‘Monster Hunter’ aspect to the game. Scan Typhon with it to unlock new items in the Typhon skill trees.

Building a new Yu

Prey has an extensive tech tree for upgrading abilities to suit preferred play style. Neuromods are the currency for upgrading skills divided into 6 primary  tech trees—3 alien tech trees (Energy, Telepathy, and Morphing), and 3 human ones (Engineer, Security, Scientist). Human skills generally cover hacking, stealth, strength, gun play, and more.

Typhon abilities include energy projection, telekinesis, morphing (stealth/distraction), and many others. (Personally, being a ‘jack of many’ trades style player I upgraded abilities across a broad spectrum and didn’t specialize much.)

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LOOT EVERYTHING. ALWAYS.

Yu is also equipped with a special customizable suit and a helmet device called a Psychoscope. Both the suit and psychoscope can be customized with various interchangeable chipsets and modifications you’ll find in the game. And unlike skills (which are permanent upgrades), your suit and psychoscope configurations can be changed at will. The Psychoscope is also used to scan Typhon and unlock new Typhon abilities in your skill tree.

[By the time I finished the game I’d scarcely completed 1/3 of the various skill and tech options, and I completed a fair number of side quests. I was actually a little surprised that, after finishing the game, it didn’t offer a “New Game +” option that would let you restart the game but keep your neuromods. ]

Resource management and crafting (i.e. collecting lots of junk to turn into useful stuff) is also important, and there are skills to enhance this for you as well. For example, some skills enable you to get more resources when you loot a dead Typhon. Another enables you to glean more raw materials when you recycle all the useless junk you’ll find around the station.

Why do so many dead bodies have old baseball mits and a banana peel?

‘Junk’ resources—wires, burnt circuit boards, banana peels, and others—can be collected and recycled at recycling stations, which turns you junk into raw materials (classified as mineral, synthetic, and others). (Don’t worry hoarders–there are upgrades for inventory space too…)

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One of the game’s funnier in-jokes: Apparently some of the crew enjoy the occasional game of a Dungeons and Dragons style tabletop RPG.

Raw materials can be turned into useful stuff using Fabricators, which is where you’ll craft items like ammunition, neuromods, health kits, and anything else for which you’ve found blueprints.

You’ll tend to go through feast-or-famine periods when it comes to ammunition, health packs, and resources in general. This sometimes increase the survival ‘horror’ elements but also makes for occasionally frustrating play—especially if your current save state puts you in a nearly impossible to survive situation.

In space, no one can hear Yu loot

One of Prey’s more innovative mechanics is the use of zero gravity. You can exit the space station and freely explore outside of it. It’s rarely necessary but it is useful. There’s loot to be gained from the many unfortunate, floating souls, including key cards, ammo, information, and more. You’ll probably want to take at least one extended trip outside the station if only to loot everything.

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Thanksfully, the dead bodies don’t get up. Ever.

The quest and journal system could be a tad better. You may often find yourself unsure of where to go or what to do. Sometimes quest markers seem to disappear for no reason. Many of them simply list “multiple objectives” and leave you guessing what they are. It’s adequate but could be better.

The game features multiple endings and possibilities depending on which side quests you choose to complete and how you complete them. There’s an interesting ‘twist’ ending (post credits), and if you want the ‘best’ ending, you’ll need to complete a number of key side quests and basically a) don’t be a jerk; and b) save lives.

Overall—8/10 Highly Recommended

I enjoyed Prey even though it’s based on pretty well-worn tropes and familiar mechanics Although it never feels very original, Prey is still a generally well-executed game in its genre, and it can sit comfortably on the shoulders of its inspirations. (If I had more time I’d probably play through it again and try to complete *all* the side quests.)

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