Prey Review – Harrowing Space Odyssey (PS4)
After a long hiatus, the Prey series is back with a re-imagining of the original. Arkane Studios (Dishonored) has developed their take on the game, and after many teases these past few months, the time has come to see if new life has been breathed into this resurrected franchise.
In Prey, you play as Morgan Yu, a researcher aboard the Talos-1 space station (even if you’re not completely aware of it at the time). While performing your duties, things do not go as planned, and an alien outbreak wipes out a majority of the crew in hardly any time at all. Morgan is thrust into the middle of all of this with a major case of amnesia, and while the player character is mute much like Gordon Freeman of Half-Life, they are guided by a robotic Operator that goes by the name January. These Operators are hovering assistants, and January is special in that it has encoded intelligence and memories of Morgan from before their amnesia. Morgan is voiced for either gender, which is chosen at the very start of the game. Other than changing the voice work, there are no noticeable differences in how the game plays based on your gender decision.
While Prey is a first-person shooter, it has plenty of depth to it as well. Beyond the multi-tiered abilities at your disposal (more on that in a bit), there is also inventory management to contend with. You can only carry so much on your person, and eventually you’ll need to decide how badly you need to hang on to that banana peel, or if you’re better off swapping it for some ammo you found lying around. Why should you care about tossing a banana peel? Well, Prey features a junk-based economy of sorts. Interspersed throughout the space station are recycling stations. Using the junk you’ve picked up while surviving, you can obtain materials in varying quantities depending on the item inserted. Nearby these recycling machines are fabricators, which are the future’s hyper-cool version of 3D printers. Using blueprints that you have obtained, you can manufacture many of the game’s items, such as weapons, ammunition, medkits, and Neuromods.
The all-important Neuromods allow you to unlock new powers. A question of losing your identity comes into play, though: if you unlock too many Typhon powers, turrets will no longer recognize you as “human,” and you will be shot on sight. But these are very powerful abilities. Your suit and Psychoscope can also be upgraded, adding to an already diverse set of ability choices to cater to any gamer’s play style. To top things off, you can also upgrade your traditional weapons with upgrade kits found throughout your travels, with higher-level upgrades requiring certain abilities in order to unlock.
As mentioned in our last preview, Prey is a strictly solitary experience. There are no multiplayer modes to be found. While the item mimicking and alien abilities could have presented unique mechanics, Arkane Studios admirably chose to use all their available resources to craft a lengthier single-player campaign. Indeed, play time for Prey will likely average around 20 hours for most gamers, and perhaps 30 or more hours to complete all side missions. While the side missions are optional, many times they confer benefits that are worth your time, and how you treat other survivors who give you these missions can dictate which of Prey’s multiple endings you reach.
Arkane Studios developed Prey using the CryEngine. This results in a smooth-running game that tends to hold up quite well with a lot of effects firing off at the same time. Presentation is impressive – you really get a sense of how massive the space station is as you explore its many rooms and secret compartments. One of the game’s most impressive areas would have to be outside the space station. Out in the vasty nothingness, you can see out to the farthest reaches of the space station, and you might even take a few minutes to float in place and take in the view of both the Moon and Earth, as you orbit around the former. The sense of scale present in these sections is impressive. I only saw one graphics issue approximately a dozen hours into the game, where the HUD appeared to lag behind my actions. A restart of the game fixed this. There are also the occasional graphics flashes, particularly at the corners of some objects such as desks. All of the game’s high-poly models also come with a price: loading times for each of the station’s large areas can be measured in minutes.
In a game with psychological horror such as Prey, ambiance is important. Thankfully, Prey nails it with blood-streaked offices and an enemy that can take the form of any object in the room. The Mimic will mess with you, as it scurries past you an into the next room. Once you follow, the room will appear normal, but all is not as it seems. The AI running the game allows the Mimic to turn into a random object in the room, and it’ll be your job to try and determine which object it chose to duplicate. Emergent gameplay also occurs throughout the rest of the game, with random encounters in areas that you have already visited. This ensures that you never really feel terribly safe, even in areas guarded by turrets. Prey’s soundtrack also adds to the tension, with music that ramps up in intensity as you battle Typhons, and retro-futuristic sound effects that play whenever you complete an objective or otherwise update a mission.
Fight for Your Life
Where Prey breaks away from the games that it borrows concepts from is in its combat. The first eight or so hours of the campaign allows you to get used to the game’s Psi abilities, which are more along the lines of Deus Ex – think added carrying capability, more health, better stealth. But then, you unlock Typhon abilities, and are able to harness energy, morphing, and telepathy-based skills, each of which are unlocked by using a Psychoscope to scan enemies using the R3 button. In a rather nerve-wracking (and brilliant) twist, the Psychoscope requires live specimens. So, if you want to unlock some of the game’s most powerful abilities, you’ll have to fight your own fight-or-flight impulses, and scan the game’s most powerful enemies, before killing them.
While combat is unique in Prey, it is also one area that may frustrate some gamers. While you have a decent arsenal of weapons at your disposal, ammunition is constantly at a premium, as are resources to fabricate ammunition. Even on the game’s Normal difficulty setting, most enemies can kill you in just a couple of hits. So, combat requires you to always stay vigilant, but it is satisfying to figure out which mixture of mechanics will take down a Telepath enemy.
Arkane Studios has another hit on their hands in the form of Prey. Some minor bugs aside, this is a horror fan’s dream come true. Prey may appear to be a first-person shooter on the surface, but there’s an RPG hidden just underneath its shiny graphics. You have the freedom to approach Prey in any way you desire, and it’s unlikely any two players will have the same experience. With an intriguing story, impressive ambiance, and challenging gameplay, Prey is a must-own game that has found a unique take on psychological horror in game form.
Review code for Prey provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.