Released: Out Now
Available on: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Platform Reviewed On: PS4 Pro
The Prey brand has had a lot of trouble over the years. After the first well received entry, the franchise immediately fell into trouble and it would look like Prey 2 would never arrive. That sadly turned out to be the case. Now, years later, Arkane Studios (behind the incredibly popular Dishonored series) have revived the series. But instead of being a remake/sequel to the original Prey, this game is more a reinvention, bearing very little similarities to the original and, if rumours are to be believed, the game was not originally intended to use the Prey name at all. But ignoring all that, how does the game fare?
Well ultimately the game is a success. Its fun, it’s thrilling, it’s scary. In short it’s everything a horror game should strive to be. Taking place aboard the space station Talos I, the game finds players waking up as amnesiac Morgan Yu and finding out their entire life as they know it has been a lie. With Talos I currently suffering an outbreak of a strange alien race known as the Typhon, it’s up to the player to figure out what to do, where to go and who to trust. And that’s all I’ll say about the plot. Because the best thing about Prey is the real sense of being at a disadvantage. Due to the player’s amnesia, there’s the overwhelming paranoia that every other character in the game is taking advantage of it. As many you encounter claim they are the only one you can trust, it’s up to the player to decide who is lying and who isn’t. For this is one of the most peculiar things about Prey. It’s sense of total freedom. While the game is ultimately a very linear game, it is still incredibly open for players to do what they like. Feel a certain character could betray you? Go ahead and kill them. There’s no repercussions. While the story itself is ultimately very shallow (much of the depth to the story is found through optional material), it’s still engaging enough that you want to see it through to the end. Especially since it’s probably one of the few times where it’s true that the story is truly your story.
This openness also extends to the game world itself. While some areas are locked away for story purposes, there’s nearly always a way around it. A way to open a door before it should be. This amount of total freedom that Prey offers players is almost unprecedented in today’s gaming world. Even games that promise to let players do what they like often make it impossible for certain characters to be killed or certain areas to be accessed before they can be. So this amount of freedom is a welcome one.
Prey’s freedom also extends to the gameplay. Arkane are big promoters of the “play your way” style and Prey is no different. Abilities are numerous and varied with one to suit every playstyle. Favour stealth over direct confrontation? You can upgrade your character to move quicker and quieter and hit harder with stealth attacks. Favour going in all guns blazing? Upgrades to health and weapon power are available. Favour using telepathic powers? Yep. Upgrades for that too. There’s enough upgrades to suit every player’s playstyle. I still find myself amazed how many options I have. I ultimately favoured a more balanced playstyle (in order to sample as many of the abilities as I could) and found the game allowed me to explore any ability path I chose that, by game’s end, I felt my Morgan Yu was utterly unique. Depending on playstyle, it’s very likely no two players will have the same experience. One player may find Prey a fun, all guns blazing action game while the other may find it a slow, tense horror thriller. This sort of style also makes Prey an immensely repayable game.
Prey’s enemies, the Typhon, are just as varied. While there are only a limited amount of enemies (there are only about 10 different enemy types from memory), the game mixes them up enough that no two encounters ever feel quite the same. From smaller enemies, Mimics, that can take the appearance of everyday objects to hide and to larger enemies who will actively seek you out, there’s enough variety that the game never feels unbalanced. Perhaps the best enemy type is the “Nightmare”, introduced once the player either reaches a certain point in the story or purchases too many upgrades. The Nightmare actively hunts players down for a limited period of 2-3 minutes. The player must then make a decision; kill it or run. Neither option is a permanent solution, because it will always be back. The sense of paranoia created here is amazing for the Nightmare’s appearances are truly unpredictable. Recalling memories of Nemesis from Resident Evil 3, the fear of always being hunted is amazing.
The game’s soundtrack is amazing as well. Apart from a few niggles (some sound effects are a little too loud, making for quite an uneven mix at times) everything sounds great. Mick Gordon (who did the score for the Doom reboot last year) does an excellent job here with a very electronic sounding score that, at times, manages to be more unsettling at times than the game itself.
Plus something has to be said about the scares. While the game does overdo “jump scares” at first, when an object you think is safe suddenly turns out to be Mimic accompanied by a loud musical sting, the game levels out after a while and while such sequences are still scary, the mix is a lot better. Likewise this adds to a lot of paranoia throughout the game; did that chair just move?
Combat is fast, fun and fluid. With a host of weapons and abilities on offer, there’s enough to suit every playstyle. A great mixture of guns, powers and other weapons gives you a large armament to face off against your foes with. While ammo can be limited at first which is frustrating, you can quickly find fabrication plans allowing you to craft as much ammo as you need. Requiring you have enough material that is. Being able to craft ammo is a bonus as some enemies are bullet sponges and will take a lot to put down.
The game also mixes things up by introducing Zero-Gravity. The outside of the station is free to explore, acting as a “fast-travel” system of sorts. The Zero-Gravity is a fun addition that is frustrating and awkward to use at first, but after a while it quickly becomes second nature and is preferable to trekking through the entire station (and all the enemies within) just to reach a certain area.
Perhaps the game owes more to System Shock than the original Prey, indeed the developers themselves have called the game a love letter to System Shock. Prey then, feels like a successful successor to the series. To sum up Prey, it’s a successful blend of System Shock, Bioshock and Alien: Isolation.
In a year that has already provided strong competition in the horror genre with Resident Evil VII: Biohazard, it’s hard to believe that a game has already come along that is better. Offering a longer story (if one chooses to seek out optional objectives like I did, the game can take over 18 hours to beat), addictive gameplay, lots of freedom and endless replayability; the Prey reboot more than lives up to its name and emerges as, not just a great game in its own right, but one of the best games, if not the best, of 2017 overall so far. An early Game of the Year contender? I’d argue that is very possible.