Prey Review- Suspense and Waiting

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Posted May 19, 2017 by Thomas James Juretus in Video Games

Developer: Arkane Studios Austin, Human Head Studios

Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

Release date: May 5, 2017

Available on: PC, PS4, Xbox One (reviewed)

Prey has had a bit of a tumultuous journey, and has altered a bit from the original 2006 game developed by Human Head Studios. A sequel had originally been planned after Bethesda Softworks acquired the IP, but they were reportedly unsatisfied with the progress Human Head made on the game. The sequel was scrapped in 2014 and turned over to Arkane Studios Austin for a complete redo. Arkane is, of course, best known for the two Dishonored games, and they attempted to bring their brand of freedom of choice style gameplay to the title. While the 2017 game has aliens and is a first person shooter, it has more in common with System Shock or Bioshock(itself a spiritual successor to System Shock) than it does with the 2006 original. Gone is the Native American mysticism in favor of some more traditional sci-fi trappings. The game does have a nice twist in the end, and while it is somewhat familiar (a certain movie may spring to some players’ minds), it works nicely. The gameplay is filled with plenty of exploration, though that in itself is marred by long loading times between areas (which require you to revisit often). Those load times and a couple of other issues hold this back from being as great as it could have been, despite being worth playing for fans of the genre.

The game takes place in 2032, where you play as Morgan Yu (you can play as either a male or female Morgan, but that choice doesn’t seem to really affect the overall story). Yu is a test subject, monitored by brother Alex, aboard the space station Talos 1. Quickly things go awry, and you realize that the world presented to you is not the world as it is. The station has been invaded by an alien force called the Typhon, and they come in a wide variety of shapes and forms. Small, octopus/spider like beings called Mimics disguise themselves as objects, lying in wait to spring a surprise attack. Phantoms are more humanoid, some covered with electricity and others with fire. Other Typhon can control people telepathically, while others affect equipment. Eventually you’ll get a Psychoscope that enables you to scan the aliens for weaknesses. Your goal is to find out what happened and to prevent the Typhon by reaching Earth.

As a stealth game, Prey rarely works. Unlike Dishonored, where your character has abilities to enable him to be more stealthy, Morgan is limited to creeping along in a crouch and taking over behind objects. A marker over a Typhon’s head lets you know if they’re aware of you or not (a white bar means you’re okay, red means they found you). There are tools to help you sneak by (a crossbow that shoots foam darts can be used as distraction, as can a lure type grenade), but as the game progresses and you get deeper into the station these methods become less effective. Running can be a viable option (it helps conserve ammo for your weapons, which can be scarce), but there are times (many of them, in fact) that will require you to fight. Fortunately, you have some means to do so.

Your first weapon is your handy dandy wrench, which you can beat a Typhon to a pulp (though you need to watch your stamina) and also aids in making repairs (once you unlock those perks) around the station. You have three gauges to keep an eye on, only two of which are important until around 8-10 hours in when you find the Psychoscope, a helmet that allows you to scan the Typhon. Neuromods are needed and can be placed into six skill trees (the first three- Scientist, Engineer, and Security- are available at the start, with three others unlocking later on). You’ll eventually find a silenced pistol and a shotgun, but one weapon of sorts that has a variety of uses is your gloo gun. The gloo gun won’t kill any enemy, but can incapacitate them long enough for you to bludgeon them with your wrench. The gloo gun can also put out fires, prevent arcing electrical panels (enabling you to get past or repair), and can even form steps to reach higher areas otherwise inaccessible. Each weapon can be upgraded (increasing your gunsmith or tech skills allow more upgrades), and spare weapons can be recycled for parts. You’ll need to watch your inventory, as it can fill up quickly and then you’ll need to decide what to keep and what to drop. Ammo can be scarce, so you need to keep that in mind, as well.

And you will be picking up everything you can, thanks to the game’s recycling/fabricating function. Finding a recycler allows you to turn all sorts of garbage (burnt circuit boards, banana peels, etc) as well as unwanted or extra items into materials. These materials are processed into little cubes or spheres, and are of different types (mineral, organic, and so on). These materials can then be used as a fabricator once you have the plans. Fabricators can help you make ammo, medkits, suit repair kits, and even Neuromods. Both machines won’t always be next to each other, but there are a fair amount of each spread across at various points across the station. They can be lifesavers if your ammo or health is running low, and you have enough materials to process. It’s a neat mechanic tempered by the fact that any item could turn out to be a Mimic when you reach for it. The game can be quite cruel when you’re low on health and offers you a nice, shiny medkit, only to have that medkit change and launch itself at your face. The Psychoscope helps greatly with that, as it will scan for Mimics and show you where there at. Until then, using you wrench to hit everything can be your best bet.

The Neuromods grant you multiple perks in the beginning, such as extra health, stamina, or give you the ability to repair things. You can approach the three initial skill trees any way you want, and mold them to your style of gameplay. don’t want to hunt for keycards and codes? Then you may want to spend your Neuromods on the hacking ability. The hacking ability unlocks a mini game in which you must guide a ball to a circle, press a button, then guide it to a second circle, and press the prompt button to successfully hack a device. This can be tricky at times, because you are on a timer, and hitting the red squares in the puzzle will stun you briefly. It takes some practice to accomplish the hacking game with ease, as well as a steady hand. Failure results in an electric shock, which knocks off health points. So you need to make sure your health is high enough before attempting to hack something. Other Neuromods help you upgrade your weapons further or lift heavy objects.

Once you get the Psychoscope, three new skill trees open up. These are Typhon powers, and can allow you to release a blast of energy at a foe, take control of enemies, or even transform yourself into small objects to move about unnoticed (though if you’re discovered, you’ll revert to human form and come under attack). Typhon powers fill up that third meter on the bottom of your screen, and you’ll need Psi hypos to fill that once it’s depleted. Using the powers drains your Psi bar, so you need to be mindful of that. Also, equipping Typhon powers comes at a certain cost. I won’t divulge that here for the sake of spoilers, but will say it is a risk/reward set-up, and that you’ll need to keep that in mind.

In addition to powers and guns, you’ll also find different types of grenades to use. EMP grenades help against hostile turrets or certain types of Typhon. Nullwave grenades can halt psychic attacks. Your Psychoscope can help in revealing what each Typhon is weak against. One of the more helpful is the Recycler Grenades. These grenades form a vortex that sucks surrounding items and/or beings in and changes them to materials for the fabricator. Larger Typhon will require the use of multiple grenades, or, at the very least, can be weakened enough to be put down by a minimal use of ammunition. It’s helpful to do that, as most of the enemies are bullet sponges, and larger Typhon can cause you to blow through your resources in a hurry, leaving you in a vulnerable state until you find more. While it’s somewhat understandable that the Typhon are bullet sponges (after all, they all seem to be made out of a black goo), it can prove to be frustrating for some players, as you’ll experience your fair share of deaths (both cheap and deserved) throughout the course of your playthrough.

The main story overall is fairly interesting, and certain key choices will determine which one of the multiple endings you’ll receive. Stay tuned through the credits, as another choice will grant you one of two post credits endings. These endings in particular offer a nifty reveal, and make it worth playing through the game at least once. During your travels about Talos 1 you’ll encounter other surviving crew members, many of whom will have some side quests of their own for you to tackle. Not all of these are particularly interesting, but a couple point to the attachments Morgan had with some crew members, and these are more worthy of your time. How many of the side quests you choose can affect your ending as well as the amount of you playthrough. My first playthrough was around 24 hours, but I mostly concentrated on the main story line. Doing the side quests can easily balloon your play time to between 30 and 40 hours. Your time also is affected by how much you explore.

And Talos 1 is certainly an environment that beckons to be explored. There are plenty of rooms, offices, and departments to check out. Most of these are your standard sci-fi settings (corridors with piping, maintenance shafts, shuttle bays, and etc) mixed with carpeted offices and living quarters. The centerpiece is the Arboretum, a forested park located near the station’s center. The Arboretum offers a nice contrast visually with the rest of the station, offering views of towering trees and quiet benches among pathways lined with hedges. you can also unlock airlocks and take a space walk. This can be disorienting at times, but helps as a fast travel of sorts provided you unlock the airlocks to begin with. It makes for another unique way to explore, helping you to uncover more of the secrets surrounding the Typhon invasion. Unfortunately, exploration is hampered by one the game’s most glaring faults: that of long load times between areas. Had the game had a more linear progression, this would not be a problematic. However, since you repeatedly go back and forth between areas, you’ll see these long load times far too often. It repeatedly broke the immersion for me, and stifled any suspense built up until you entered another area. It’s truly frustrating when running through multiple areas, only to have to stop and wait. And wait.

Aside from the loading times, two other issues stood out to me in hampering my enjoyment of the game. One is the powers/weapons wheel, which can feel clumsy to navigate, especially when in a hurry during combat. You can only equip three favorite weapons to the directional buttons (one, inexplicably, is permanently tied up with your flashlight) and only one power is mapped to your left trigger button. This felt clumsy when trying to switch to something that wasn’t favorited, as well as accessing health items and to refill your Psi meter. Repairing your suit always requires you to enter your inventory to use a repair kit. Certain robots can help (medical droids replenish health, engineering droids repair your suit, and science droids refill your Psi meter), provided they’re not corrupted. There is some light platforming in the game as well, but it can be inconsistent, one time allowing you to climb one area while keeping you from climbing a similar area elsewhere. Jumps don’t always work to well, sometimes requiring multiple attempts. The platforming is a minor quibble, but was something that affected my overall enjoyment of the game.

In all, Prey is a decent sci-fi adventure, but doesn’t quite appraoch the heights of a Bioshock or even Dead Space. There’s an interesting main story with multiple endings that hold a nice reveal, but some side quests aren’t up to snuff. A clumsy weapon/powers wheel can hamper combat for some, and that may get quite frustrating with bullet sponge enemies that aren’t entirely interesting. Exploration is slightly hampered by some inconsistent platforming, but the real drag on exploration are the long load times between areas, which just bring the game to a screeching halt. This, more than anything, hurt my immersion and lowered my enjoyment overall. A shame, as Prey does do a fine job at maintaining its level of suspense, only to have that interrupted when you move to a new area. A game that makes you scream in space is a good thing, but when those screams are more for telling the game to load already, things are a bit different. Prey does enough right to at least warrant one playthrough. Some major bugs reportedly affected the PC version negatively, but a patch apparently has corrected this at the time of me writing this review. I only encountered some minor frame rate slowdown and once instance of the game freezing temporarily (it restarted without having to restart my Xbox One). The game is worth your time, whether that’s through a rental or purchase is up to you.



7.5

Final Score

8/10

Pros

  • Interesting story
  • Multiple endings
  • Plenty to explore

Cons

  • Long loading times
  • Bullet sponge enemies
  • Some uninteresting side quests
  • Clumsy weapons/powers wheel
  • Inconsistent platforming



About the Author

Thomas James Juretus