Hey. You know how in horror games you have to fear what might be lurking around the corner, or what snarling beasty is in wait to pop out of nowhere? Well, you guys the team over at Bethesda have created a game that will make you fear literally everything in a room down to the most inanimate object. Yep, even a coffee cup.
In PREY you take on the role of Morgan Yu. Morgan spends his days being a test subject on a space station called Talos 1. Morgan’s time aboard the research facility is spent experimenting with alien tech from an alien race known as the Typhon. It isn’t long before you find out that the world around you is a sort of Truman Show situation at your expense. When the Typhon are suddenly released aboard Talos 1, it becomes a fight to make sure that none of the aliens reach earth.
I’m in love with the alternate timeline for this game. The backstory pre-supposes that President Kennedy hadn’t been assassinated, leading to the space-race continuing and evolving. That of course lead to major advancement in technology and space travel.Talos’s production design is amazing on its own. The deco art style is as much part of our history as it is something from a future we will never see. It seems both analogue and digital. It is both inviting and alienating and pulls off some eye-popping adjustments along the way.
If you have played System Shock or Bioshock, controls and gameplay will be familiar to you. These involve an environment that allows several different ways to accomplish your task, depending on the skills you choose to upgrade. Different skill trees lead to more powerful abilities. Some focus on your core strength and hacking skills while others focus on Typhon powers. The more Typhon powers you use, will lead you to become less human and more at risk of losing your humanity in the long run. The game play is smooth and its reactive beats feel natural allowing for further immersion.
You are given several ways to complete areas, each of these offer their own set of challenges. For example, if you choose to crawl through a vent and avoid detection, those options are there for you. If you choose to go in and tear the room up with Typhon abilities those are available as well. With so many great Typhon based powers it was really hard to stick to one. These powers allow you to mimic objects, move objects with your mind, set things of fire, set traps, etc. Since these powers are all accrued from the Typhon, naturally they have those powers too. This allows those pesky dudes to use mimic, and that alone makes for one of the most horrifying experiences in gaming. This literally makes any object around you a possible enemy, one that is waiting to jump out and scare all hell from you.
One type of enemy is the poltergeist Typhon. These are really interesting and their own breed of nightmare fuel. These dudes, are completely invisible but, much like a Paranormal Activity entity, are capable of throwing objects around and causing all kinds of scary havoc. Once you can pinpoint their location they are easy to dispatch, but hunting them down is a pretty interesting challenge all on its own.
The Typhon come in all different shapes and size and with their own unique abilities. Some cloak, some shoot plasma beams, some shoot fire and some are giants that hunt you down when they detect you are using their power.
Maybe one of the most liberating things about Prey is how it lets you do your own thing and choose your own way of doing said thing. Since the story is unveiled around you through emails, notes and other hidden items and interfaces, it isn’t always necessary for you to do every single thing. If you choose to you can sneak by enemies and stick to primary missions and blow through the game. That option will shorten the game and allow you to finish in half the time. Where is the fun in that though? I chose to do as much as I could and spent well over 70 hours of game time exploring Talos 1 and upgrading as many of my skills as I could. This meant that I was meticulous about finding all side mission content and stuff that ultimately didn’t matter in the long run. There are plenty of things that don’t matter but are fun for novelties sake. Like, in the case of finding Dungeons and Dragons-esque players character sheets. Like I said, not everything matters but it sure is a way to kill time while getting the most bang for your buck in terms of gameplay.
At its heart, this is also a really good survival-horror game, or at least it has sensibilities of being one. Firepower is finite, Typhon powers are based on a limited supply. The option to simply kill your enemies straight out isn’t always there. This makes for some gnarly challenges along the way and I’m always looking for a good challenge. On your path, you are able to use different sorts of materials in order to create weapons, ammo and other power up’s using a vending machine-like device called a “Fabricators.” These are helpful but are pretty sparsely placed around the huge space station making your use of them as much a strategy as your attacks.
From head to toe, Prey is a homage to all things cool in horror and sci-fi films. It borrows from elements of The Thing, They Live, The Matrix, etc… to give you something that feels partly new and partly borrowed. Most heavily the game relies on homages to John Carpenter’s The Thing by creating a paranoid clusterfuck of a scenario. You are unable to trust anyone around you to the extent of being petrified of inanimate objects like coffee cups and mops. I never felt safe even when I was “alone” and that was a feeling that is reserved specifically to Prey.
Exploration was where the goods were at for me – that and figuring out how to use my Typhon powers in different combinations. It wasn’t until the game forced me to follow a path in order to finish, that I found myself semi-bored. To be completely fair the climax of the game is well-done and is based on choice, but that choice doesn’t disconnect you from who you felt you were during the campaign. These choices are very much exactly who you were when you played and selected your Neuromod upgrades.
“I never felt safe even when I was “alone” and
that was a feeling that is reserved specifically to Prey.”
One of the first weapons you get is a divisive little bit of awesomeness called the GLOO Cannon. This weapon is a blast throughout, it allows you to freeze Typhon alien in place and allows for you to create paths up and down walls. In a way, this gun is a condensed thesis of the game. Sure, you are able to do what you want with it but it also creates a path that must eventually be taken. I love this gun and will probably get my vote for best weapon of the year. It is innocuous, cool and a blast to play with.
Outside of the freedom you enjoy and the creative ways you can combo the hell out of the baddies, this game feels little bit flat in terms of the main characters and, to some extent, the story as a whole. The bits of flatness are pushed out from time to time by an interesting mission or a new mystery but for the most part it has a lot of the same problems that Dishonored 2 had in that regard.
I loved the music in Prey. These intense music que’s inject moments pregnant with tension and do so in a way that feels like music que’s similar to those from John Carpenter’s Halloween. The ambient tunes are engaging and nerd fuel for us film geeks. This composer’s work is some of my favorite this year.
This game is an isolationists dream come true, or possibly their nightmare manifested. It really does a great job of reminding you how alone you are on Talos. Some of the sound design during zero-gravity space walk, is almost deafening in its choices to remain quiet and still. Prey is a game that instills true paranoia and that is no easy feat. It really managed to strike some nerves along the way. It is as equally cool as it is terrifying and those balances are really hard to pull off in the genre. If you are a Bioshock or System Shock fan, this is a game that you need to pick up immediately, it offers something a lot different than you are likely to get this year anywhere else. Despite the flat character and sometimes dry story, Prey still manages to hit a highpoint in this year’s FPS category, it is creative and will scare the hell out of you.