Arkane Studios was tasked with reimagining 2006's Prey, a strange Xbox 360 sci-fi shooter known for its alien weapons, dimensional portals, and Cherokee protagonist. As a reboot, 2017's Prey has more in common with games like Dead Space, System Shock, and BioShock than its predecessor. It's still a first-person shooter, but Prey focuses more on its atmosphere than it does on combat or action.
Prey is a game that runs between being fun and being rote from one moment to the next. Its opening hours show an interesting premise that unfolds into a pretty by-the-numbers plot. Likewise, the tension of the first few areas is lost as you gain more weapons and powers. By 10 hours in, I was awash in items and ammo, and the enemies that were genuinely frightening became pushovers. Similarly, Prey's characters and backdrop make the small space station the game takes place in feel alive and cohesive. In spite of the dynamic setting, a lot of the gameplay feels like busy work. Playing Prey is the most conflicted I've ever felt while reviewing a game.
Prey (PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One, PC)
Developer: Arkane Studios
Genre: First-person shooter
Released: May 5, 2017
Played: Completed campaign in 35 hours
Prey was reviewed using a final retail copy purchased by the reviewer.
Prey is set in an alternate history, one where President John F. Kennedy wasn't killed, which propels humanity's resources into exploring space. Sensing this activity, an alien force called the Typhon attack Earth, which forces the United States and the U.S.S.R. to ally themselves against their common enemy. The space station Talon I they build together gets acquired by a company called TranStar, which then retrofits the station to study the Typhon. Along the way, TranStar gets rich off of developing neuromods, portable needles you can stick into your brain to improve your overall abilities. All of this story setup is told through Talos I's art deco posters, employee audio logs called TranScribes (get it?), and an in-game museum that sanitizes TranStar's history. This retrofuturism is cleverly done and probably the element that will draw the most BioShock comparisons.
You play as Morgan Yu, a scientist who you choose the gender of. This choice doesn't have any major story ramifications, but it's an interesting one nonetheless. The Yu family runs TranStar, and Morgan and brother Alex head the company's efforts on Talos I to experiment on the Typhon, trying to develop neuromods that will give themselves the Typhons' alien superpowers. Morgan experiments with these neuromods on himself, which gradually erase his memory with more administration.
An escaped Typhon interrupts these tests and reveals that the daily life Morgan has been leading is a facade. Talos I then becomes overrun by the Typhon. A mysterious guide named January tries to get Morgan to remember what the plan is in dealing with them. It doesn't take long for Morgan to discover that things are more dire than they appear.
The introduction to the Mimic, the weakest enemy in the game, makes you realize how powerful the Typhon can be. Mimics can transform into any object, and at the early stages, one Mimic can take you down pretty quickly if you're not paying attention to your surroundings. You later get an item that mitigates whacking random objects to make sure they aren't Mimics. Prey is pretty good at introducing new Typhon types, getting you accustomed to their attacks, and then throwing you an item or ability that makes dealing with them easier.
However, combat is not Prey's strong suit. Though Morgan starts off pretty weak, injecting yourself with more neuromods to increase your stats combined with using a shotgun tips the scales quickly in your favor. During my playthrough, I found myself skipping most encounters because I became overpowered early and was getting diminishing returns from fighting. The Typhon respawn randomly once you've cleared an area and two-shotting the most powerful enemy, the Nightmare, each time he returned stopped being fun. Another item you find later on lets you scan the Typhon, unlocking access to their unique abilities on the skill tree. These alien powers are cool, ranging from telepathy, mimicry, and the ability to shoot lightning, but unnecessary for dealing with Prey's enemies. The game's guns make short work of the Typhon. You'll also unlock the ability to create more ammo, items, and neuromods by recycling items, which further trivializes the game's combat.
The freedom to explore Talos I and tackle the game's quests in any order are Prey's best features. Want to kill every human NPC in the game you encounter? How about slipping in an air duct to avoid a nasty Typhon? Similar to games like Deus Ex, you can tackle obstacles your own way. Unlocking a door might mean you must transform into a coffee cup, slip through a crack, break a glass window, then shooting the unlock button with a toy crossbow. The GLOO Cannon is one of the crazy options at your disposal. It's a foam gun you can use to either slow down the Typhon mid-battle or to create platforms to traverse the bigger environments,
There are long load times in between Talos I's areas (upwards of one to two minutes on my PS4 Pro), which gave me a lot of time to consider my options. While in the middle of completing one objective, NPCs would come in over the radio to tell me about two to three other errands they want completed nearby. However, usually when I loaded into the next section, another NPC would tell me to go grab something from the place I just came from. If you have completionist tendencies, I'd recommend sticking to the main story quest and only completing quest lines for characters you like. Quest rewards are often unfulfilling, and while there are some great audio logs and emails that color Talos I's crew, they're not worth the time investment.
The main moral dilemma in Prey is whether the use of these neuromods makes you less human. Characters will often wonder aloud whether the pursuit of science above all else is worthwhile or not. Since Morgan is a known personality, watching him rediscover himself and answer these questions with your choices is intriguing. However, the story is very predictable, the choices are often binary, and the ending you receive (there are multiple) is lackluster. My ending was one line of dialogue and a two-second cutscene. The post-credits stinger was also similarly clumsy. Not worth it. Why set up this interesting take on the "memory loss protagonist" trope only to abandon it midway through? These compelling ideas feel like they were shortchanged or rushed in Prey.
For every element of Prey I enjoyed, there was another that bogged down the experience. Arkane has successfully resurrected this obscure IP, but it didn't go all the way with making this a great game. Prey works best when you're exploring Talos I and uncovering secrets, not when you're rushing through a horde of enemies on fetch quests. If there's a sequel, there's hope that there are enough concepts here to build gripping gameplay around. As it is, Prey is another average atmospheric first-person shooter aspiring for more.
"Prey is a first-person shooter with tense moments and a great premise that ultimately fall flat."
GOOD: Great atmosphere and unnerving opening hours. Freedom to explore and complete quests very open-ended. Slick weapon design.
BAD: Long loading times drag out tedious fetch quests. Combat becomes uninteresting quickly. Extremely predictable plot.