Prey Hands-On: A Deceptively Fun Experience
The Prey series has gone on a rather long an arduous journey since the first title released back in 2006. With multiple delays, rumors, and eventually a cancellation, it seemed like players were never going to dive back into this world again. Flash forward to 2016 during the Bethesda E3 conference where the big surprise of the night was that Prey was coming back in a big, terrifying way. Headed up by Arkane Studios, this choice-driven FPS felt like the love child between Dishonored and Bioshock.
Our story follows Morgan Yu, a seemingly normal scientist that is working with a company called Transtar on a series of different tests. However, after only a few minutes into this title, it’s clear that all isn’t as it appears as players are treated as if they are a patient undergoing a dangerous examination. Prey lays the seeds of deception and distrust from the very beginning, forcing the player to accept that they are already being lied too. This begins to feed into every aspect of the game, as this concept begins to create a sense of paranoia not only with the other characters but the environment, as well.
While my time was limited in terms of exploring the actual narrative, there were enough interesting scripted moments that certainly had the potential to springboard into a well-developed story. However, where the real tale begins to unravel is in exploring the sprawling space station known as Talos I. Much like Dishonored, players were encouraged to go off the main path and explore the various different areas that connected to the main lobby.
During my hands-on time with Prey, I saw everything from an employee lounge to a medical station, and even a tiny museum that offered some insight into the history of Transtar. Every location felt distinct and was well crafted, with multiple items to pillage, audio logs to listen to, or little tidbits to simply admire.
What was surprising is how Arkane wove some subtle survival elements into the game…
Exploration is at the heart of Prey, as players who decide to explore can also find valuable and scarce items such as Med-Kits or ammo. What was surprising is how Prey wove some subtle survival elements into the game, as managing your ammunition, healing items, and craft materials is key. For those who like to horde everything, Arkane has implemented various machines that can recycle your old goods into valuable materials needed to create items. This alleviated the worry of grabbing too much junk since a player can simply go reconstruct it into something far better for no cost. Sadly, I didn’t get any time to actually experiment with the crafting system itself, so the extent and complexity of this feature is still unknown.
Yet, if you want to actually survive on Talos I you will need to fight off a dangerous alien race known as Typhon. The base enemy that we countered were known as Mimics, which seemed like a nightmarish version of the Poison Headcrabs from Half-Life 2. What’s unique about these foes is that they can effectively copy themselves into anything in the world and hide there.
This means that if you are exploring and pick up a coffee cup that’s actually a Mimic in disguise it will leap out at you and attack. It’s this design choice that helps reinforce the concept of distrust as Mimics are surprisingly dangerous and agile for their size. This makes it imperative that you always have your guard up when entering a new room, as the player can easily be surrounded and killed.
Opening doors to new areas go from the mundane to a tense situation as Mimics that are just hanging about will spring into action and dash for cover. This will cause them to fade into the world leaving some of the room in disarray. Yet, where Prey really gets you is when an item like a now knocked over chair doesn’t turn out to be a Mimic at all. I found myself in one situation where the little fellas scattered throughout the room only to trick me into wasting a rare shotgun shell on an object that wasn’t them.
Most of the combat that I encountered usually resulted in me attempting to track the Mimics and then beat them to death with a wrench. I do worry that the scarcity of ammo will cause most players to ignore firearms and just opt for beating foes to death.
The other creature that was standing in our way is dubbed a Phantom and is a large shadowy figure that appears to have taken over a human in some capacity. They speak in garbled phrases and could rarely put anything more than a few sentences together during my time patrolling the medical ward. However, most of them were confined to locked rooms which required players to have a specific passkey or be upgraded in the hacking to open them.
Despite only having an hour, Neuromods (Prey’s version of Skill Points) came at a steady pace and were mainly hidden away rewarding those who took the time to explore every inch of a room. These can then be spent in any of the three different upgrade trees called Security, Scientist, and Engineer. You can mix and match between all three upgrade options and each one offers different benefits to how you approach the world.
For example, I dumped my early Neuromods into hacking and was able to crack the code to a small security hub that gave me both an Audio Log and some much-needed ammo. We were told by Arkane’s Lead Designer Ricardo Bare and the Lead System’s Designer Seth Shain that you’ll be able to acquire certain alien powers, however, this was not part of our preview.
Rest assured Prey is not simply Dishonored set in space, but a game that is clearly trying to carve out its own identity. While the actual Prey name is still a curious choice, Talos I was both beautiful and haunting. Even though the combat felt a bit too familiar in regards to the other titles it’s taking inspiration from, the enemies are a delight to face-off against. While we are still some time away from fully unraveling this story, there is no doubt that Prey has a chance to be one of the best games of 2o17. Now if you excuse me I need to check all my coffee mugs to make sure they won’t try to kill me later on.