Mid-Year Roundup: Prey

Happy mid-year! That’s right, folks. The year is halfway over so let’s take a moment to reflect on some of my favorite games to have dropped so far.

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Arkane Studios knows how to make a fun game. They have a proven track record with the Dishonored franchise, and, with the backing and foresight of Bethesda, I’d be surprised if they ever make a bad game while under the ZeniMax umbrella.

That being said, Prey released with some god-awful bugs (at least on PS4 from what I’ve gathered). The input lag was so unbearable that it made the already frustrating combat system completely unplayable. The soundtrack and effects volume would randomly spike to ear piercing levels, and there were some weird sound design bugs. This game didn’t release completed – at least not for PlayStation.

BUT – big but here – after a week or so when the patches started rolling out, the game was playable. And very good.

You play as an either male or female (player choice) Morgan Yu, a scientist aboard a space station that was designed to contain and study a strange and somewhat mysterious alien creature collectively known as the Typhon. The Typhon have an interesting biology. They tend to be somewhat amorphous, have psychic abilities, and can alter their genetic makeup to take the form of another object. So... obviously, we need to lock these bad boys up and inject their powers into ourselves. You know – to save humanity or whatever.

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In typical sci-fi fashion, the aliens break loose and begin killing and destroying nearly all in their path. Prey has an interesting enough main story to keep you hooked, but it’s nothing spectacular. It’s pretty basic. The stories that shine the most are from Prey’s characters.

Morgan is somewhat of a blank canvas - there isn’t much to like or dislike, but the stories that you discover as you explore are rich and full of heart. These are told through audio logs mostly, emails, some recorded videos, and the environment. You really get the sense that people – real life people - were living in this space station.

You’ll dig up emails about D&D matches, and later find character sheets in desks and at tables. An audio log will vent about a coworker who built a nerf gun, meanwhile you previously found the gun along with plans to start a station wide nerf war. There are stories about love and loss, and the experiments that went wrong, and how it all started to weigh heavily on the crew.

These stories are far and away the best thing about Prey. They made space feel human. They gave the cold vacuum life.

The game-play is fun and there are some neat abilities to learn by upgrading your Typhon skill tree, but the combat is very clunky and leaves much to be desired. I avoided a fight as often as I could, and leaned more towards upgrading my hacking abilities. And enemies are strong! Prey is not an easy game to gun your way through. This combination made for a frustrating end game when more and more enemies started showing up. It felt like the game was trying to force you to fight, and I wasn’t having any of it.

An element to the game-play that I found the most interesting was the type of Typhon called Mimic. A Mimic is a small Typhon that leaps and crawls around with the use it’s tentacle-like appendages. They’re relatively easy to dispatch of, but as their name alludes to, they can ‘mimic’ other objects. This put me on edge for the first third of the game while I was still getting my bearings.

Well-lit rooms without an enemy in sight filled me with dread. Anything could be one of these creatures. I found myself panicked at times; attacking lifeless objects for fear they would spring at me and reveal their true nature. Chairs, potted plants, coffee mugs – all these things and more would suffer the wrath of my paranoia and wrench.

Prey’s ‘open-world’, Metroid-Vania exploratory style of progression is handled very well. The environments are beautifully done with an aesthetic similar to that of Bioshock. The levels are well laid out and designed with multiple ways to progress.

The one drawback to the Metroid-Vania level design is that traveling between each contained segment of station is met with a long (VERY LONG) loading screen. This is only mildly annoying in the first two-thirds of the game, but the last leg suffers dramatically when you have to travel between multiple segments of the station – and therefore multiple loading screens.  After the input lag, the load times are my biggest complaint.

All my complaints aside, Prey has stuck with me. I think back on it with mixed feelings, but most them good. I think this was a great revival of the Prey name, even though it has nothing to do with the 2006 title, and I can’t wait to see Arkane take this game up a notch with a sequel in the coming years.