Genre: Sci-Fi FPS/Survival Horror
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developers: Arkane Studios/Human Head Studios
Platforms: PS4, PC, XB1
Most modern shooters would allow you to breeze through the tutorial enemies, gaining fantastic weapons early on and dominating from the start. This attitude is what made my initial experience with the game so frustrating. Once I realized the game demanded a more thoughtful approach from me, everything clicked and I was entirely sold on Prey.
Many Paths to Victory
Prey is a game that provides players with multiple pathways to overcome enemies and obstacles, the most dynamic of which is the ability system.
Abilities are split into two groups—human and typhon—which are split into three groups each: engineer, scientist, and security for human and morph; telepathy and energy for typhon. These abilities go beyond making you more powerful as they add an RPG element to the game, since each skill tree comes with its own set of strengths and weaknesses.
A player who invests heavily in the scientist tree will have lesser damage output but can acquire more materials through crafting and more health and armour from packs. Engineers will be able to repair machinery around the Talos I space station, making use of turrets and dispensers. Those who invest in the Typhon tree will gain God-like powers, from psychic blasts that nullify enemy abilities, to the ability to mimic objects for stealth, but they will have the station's defenses turn against them since they aren't recognised as human anymore. These are just some of the examples, showing the layer of depth and agency one can find through upgrades.
Aside from being visually stunning, Prey's level design is as intricate as it is interconnected. The areas found within the singular space station all manage to be stunningly detailed, complimenting the choice-based gameplay. Most levels offer a variety of paths to reach their objectives. Players can bypass entire areas if they have abilities, such as hacking and strength, which can allow doors to be unlocked and forced open. Alternatively, players can progress in a straightforward manner, blasting through enemies and opening vents to sneak their way through, or get especially creative by using items like the Gloo Cannon to create make-shift platforms and staircases. The player is in charge of their own adventure.
The open-ended levels make exploring and discovery of items, which are vital to gameplay and story, an absolute joy. There is so much potential for experimentation and discovery that the game gains quite a bit of replay value.
Exploration can be frustrating due to long loading times and some awkward traversal mechanics. Every time the player wishes to travel between larger areas, they are greeted by a loading screen that lasts several minutes. This is especially annoying when backtracking to an area you just left in order to recycle materials and open up space in your inventory, which is a common occurrence.
Movement feels inconsistent, especially when platforming. Prompts to grab onto ledges don't appear reliable, resulting in many unnecessary falls and restarts. The player also tends to have control wrestled away from them when entering tight areas, where the character bobs up and down and sways violently.
Prey blends quite a few genres together, its survival horror influences being especially noticeable. Horror is in the DNA of this game, from its inventory management system, to its vague story and sterile atmosphere.
Inventory management and crafting play a critical role in Prey. Inventory space is limited, with items taking up slots according to their size. Larger items yield more resources when recycled, but also take up valuable space; however, resources can be transformed into items and weapons, forcing the player to do a lot of forethought.
Players must decide whether proceeding and leaving behind items or backtracking to recycle items is a priority to them, as well as whether or not spending ammo and special items is a good idea given their current situation.
Each enemy requires a different strategy, with some being weak to effects such as shock damage or psychic blast, enhancing the game's RPG elements. Every encounter is taxing on resources so stealth is a better option, at times, and against more powerful enemies the game reminds me of the excellent game, Resident Evil 7.
Abilities and weapons begin to offer up some devastating combos and make combos as diverse as progression. Enemies can be stunned, frozen, mind-controlled and more, allowing you to dictate your play style further.
Some gripes I do have with enemies and combat are in their lack of variety and inaccuracy, respectively.
Having an alien race as the antagonists could have inspired the designers to create some truly mind-blowing and fear-inspiring creatures, but instead, every enemy is a variation of "a mass of black tentacles" with some basic drones thrown in as well. Enemies all work very interestingly, mechanical, but certain enemies feel unfairly powerful. The Technomancer is a perfect example. In addition to being able to kill your character in around three attacks, it can posses automated attack drones to get you killed even faster. This makes some areas more annoying than fun since the challenge doesn't feel fair.
Weapons lack any sort of satisfying impact. Shooting feels inaccurate as shots don't really seem to line up with the reticle. Shots also bounce off most enemies, without inflicting much of a stun effect, stacking the difficulty further.
Everything Is Going To Be Okay
Lastly, I feel Prey's world-building and atmosphere deserve special mention and praise.
Prey's story is intentionally vague, with players discovering more about the world through scattered audio logs, notes, and emails. This makes it feel as if the world is independent of you. You get the sense that there was once a genuine community aboard the ship, filled with strong personalities.
These notes help fill in the gaps of a mystery involving evil corporations and experiments on aliens, with a surprising twist.
The soundtrack takes a very interesting direction. The synthesized tunes are very effective in portraying a variety of moods, from relaxation to sheer panic. They fit the sci-fi theme very well and enhance the unfamiliar and synthetic nature of the game.
Genres have been meticulously blended to provide what plays like a combination of a survival horror, FPS, and action RPG, with none of the elements overpowering each other.
The atmosphere and story are surprisingly fleshed out through the use of exploration, smart level design, and unique soundtrack, all bringing the unsettling and alien tone of the story to life.
Prey does suffer with regards to movement as control over the character requires finesse during platforming and stealth sections. Enemies are a little bland in terms of design and feel unfair at times due to how strong their abilities are.
Final Verdict: 8/10
- Countless options made available
- Great level design/inter-connectivity
- Seamless blend of genres
- Finicky movement
- Weapons lack impact
- Poor enemy variety