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Written by  :  Kaddy B. (796)
Written on  :  Mar 06, 2018
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  3.71 Stars3.71 Stars3.71 Stars3.71 Stars3.71 Stars

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A case of mistaken identity

The Good

  • Incredible atmosphere
  • Expressive and highly emergent mechanics
  • Beautifully optimized & visually gorgeous
  • Excellent Soundtrack
  • GLOO Gun!
  • Some interesting narrative ideas
  • PSI Powers are fun
  • Excellent level design

The Bad

  • Story is poorly told
  • Somewhat bland world & characters
  • Lacks an identity of its own
  • A few too many frustrating mechanics
  • Incredibly slow, and sometimes meaningless, skill progression

The Bottom Line

Prey is a case of mistaken identity, and proof that sometimes a name matters more than people might expect.

For those who do not remember, 2006's Prey was a wildly imaginative title that, while nothing spectacular, at least was distinct enough to leave an impact on the minds of many. More notably, however, it had a curious legacy wherein its cancelled sequel arguably garnered more hype than the first game ever received in its lengthy development cycle. Prey 2 was a title many hotly anticipated despite almost no gameplay being shown, largely due to its premise alone striking many as original, exciting, and just plain badass.

And that legitimately hurt peoples perceptions of what this 2017 title was to be. The trailer for this new Prey was intriguing in its own right due to its general mindfuckery, but as a whole did not seem as wildly different, imaginative, or exciting as the previews for the cancelled Prey 2. It didn't help that the game in previews looked familiar in other regards, too.

Which is a shame, because while it may not be the best of its own little sub-genre, this new Prey is a fantastic game with plenty of its own worth.

Perhaps Bethesda's best course of action would have been to snap up the rights to the franchise because that is ultimately what Prey most resembles. It is very much a direct successor to the legendary System Shock 2. It even resembles that title far more than said games own official spiritual successor in BioShock.

Anyone who has played SS2 will feel immediately familiar with Prey: You are trapped aboard an isolated locale out in space, you traverse it deck by deck gathering everything you need to survive, ammunition and other items are precious and often scarce, you listen to logs left by the crew before you to piece together what happened, etc. etc. etc. Even minor abilities from System Shock 2 like the ability to mantle are copied wholesale. This imitation of Shock's formula proves to be both Prey's greatest strength and its greatest weakness.

On the one hand, the world is highly interactive & the mechanics far deeper than most other games on the market, leading to an incredibly emergent playstyle. Often the most memorable moments are not scripted, but come from the amount of possible interactions with the world. I will always remember moments such as the time I was running from a giant, nigh unkillable beast only to have another creature spew out little explosive balls that cracked the glass and caused the nightmare beast to fall through the floor, granting me ample time to runaway. Or the time early on when I was weak and barely knew how to deal with enemies and after being killed over and over by a new foe I had no experience with, yet I ultimately defeated it by running around the map, collecting gun-turrets to set up an ambush. Or the time I killed a hostile human NPC by complete accident by pushing a corpse atop his head, knocking him down long enough for me to swoop in and cave his skull in with a wrench.

On the other hand... Prey just doesn't have much of an identity to call its own. While it is true that BioShock dumbed much of System Shock 2's mechanics down to a staggering degree, BioShock remains the more immediately memorable and compelling title because its world, characters, and concepts were so imaginative, so unique, and so well-crafted that even if BioShock were just a standard shooter people would still remember it. Truly, that's ultimately what happened with BioShock Infinite. But Prey doesn't really have much to call its own. It's a pastiche of familiar sci-fi ideas mixed with an art-style that is part BioShock, part System Shock, and filled with bland characters who don't have much to them beyond what the plot demands of them. There isn't anyone here as memorable as Shodan, or the Many, or the Splicers, or Sander Cohen.

It';s a shame because the narrative does have interesting ideas; in fact the core concept behind the Typhon themselves is fascinating and kind of terrifying. An alien creature that grows inside your own brain and feeds off of neurosis is certainly interesting; but the game doesn't build on them enough to really make them a memorable enemy, and their somewhat bland designs don't help either. I can see what Arkane was going for with the design of the Typhon - living ink-blot tests - but their vision was perhaps too hard to convincingly animate, and so they merely resemble shadow versions of things we are familiar with. Familiarity is a killer for creatures meant to be terrifying, and they fail to even create what BioShock did with its splicers by making them look familiar enough to be empathetic but monstrous enough to be disturbing.

Prey does put more effort into some of its weapon concepts though. The GLOO gun is easily the standout of the bunch, a fun multipurpose weapon that in the long run helps save ammunition by making melee more viable while also having the cheapest ammo type to manufacture while also allowing you to create bridges and walkways up walls at will, thus aiding exploration. There are also the Recycle Grenades, which create little blackholes that suck anything nearby in and recycle their constituent parts into materials that can be used to craft new items. While crafting is hardly anything new (let alone new to immersive sims) Prey's system is highly intuitive and surprisingly fun to use, and it doesn't defang the fear surrounding precious materials and ammunition being in short supply like I initially anticipated.

One other unfortunate niggle with the game is that it does sometimes become burdened by somewhat frustrating mechanics. It takes simply far too long for you to feel like you are gaining any sort of substantial power, and moreover the way enemies respawn and areas fill with more powerful enemies than before makes backtracking much more of a chore than it should be. Items and resources don't respawn and while the game does try to compensate by having these new foes drop more items in areas you've been in, it sometimes makes the risk of going back to old areas simply not worth it, which is a shame because there are many side tasks to gather and some which are very much worth your time.

The Nightmare typhon is also an idea that is interesting but more frustrating than it is fun. You will eventually be faced with a creature known as the Nightmare which is a massive monster that can kill you in mere seconds which creates an event wherein you must either escape the creature & wait down a timer, or nut-up and try to kill it which is a very, very difficult feat until much later in the game. This feature leads to much frustration, and while there is a side-quest that is supposed to grant you a way to deal with this creature - said method is limited in quantity. It should create tension and fear, but it often happens at the most inopportune moment and sitting around like a plum waiting for the timer to cool-down is more of an annoyance than anything.

A simple solution, I feel, to the painfully slow climb up on the skill ladder would be to make research much more worth your time than it is. In System Shock 2 and BioShock research was valuable because it upgraded how much damage you did to enemies, and while the research tool in Prey DOES highlight the weakness of certain enemies, it doesn't do anything to increase the damage dealt. That function would have been greatly appreciated, far more than the actual function of the research tool, which is to unlock the ability to buy new Typhon abilities. No, it doesn't GIVE you those abilities - merely the option to unlock them using Neuromods, items which essentially act as skillpoints.

That said, Typhon abilities still ARE one of the games cooler aspects. They are this games equivalent to the Psi modudles from Shock 2 and do everything from conventional-but-still-cool powers like psionic beams to the absolute wildcard of being able to turn into props; which is more useful than one might imagine.

In the end, Prey is an extremely solid immersive sim. It is not as strong as Deus Ex, or System Shock 2, or even the original BioShock but the fact of the matter is this kind of game comes along so rarely and stands so far above most other shooters in terms of depth and interactivity that it is still absolutely worth a look and is easily better than many other games on the market.

Immersive Sims are a rare enough treat that even a slightly more bitter one is incredibly sweet.