REVIEW – Welcome to Talos-1, on a space station in a near-future, where an experiment has gone wrong, and dark bodied aliens are tearing apart everything and massacring everybody. You are Morgan Yu, the main protagonist of Prey, the new sci-fi horror action-RPG from the French-based Arcane Studios.
The Prey IP has been through a lot of hardship and ownership switching for the past decade or so. The original Prey was about a Native American trying to survive on an alien ship that abducted him, and his girlfriend. It featured themes of religion, weird weapons and an environment that was unique for a 2006 game.
It also sold more than one million in a month, and a sequel was in development which would ultimately be shelved due to not living up to the standards of Human Head Studios. After years of leaving the IP on the shelf, Arkane Studios and Bethesda has decided to reboot Prey for the modern audiences with a release date for 2017.
The game Prey (2017), however, has no references or any connection to the old Human Head Studios game and instead tries to introduce us to its vision of its own. Rather than dealing with Aliens harvesting bodies, weird Native American spirituality, and fast paced gameplay, we are offered a much more mind-bending storyline, RPG-esque upgrade trees, and a slower paced combat (though this will depend on the choices the player makes). The world of Talos-1 awaits the player with danger and conspiracy, and after nearly thirty hours later I must say that this was a fun ride.
The story of Prey takes place on Talos 1, a highly-advanced research station orbiting around our Moon, and is the home to the most brilliant minds from Earth. All paid for by the TranStar Corporation a private company that has been experimenting with a new technology called Neuromods. This item allows the user to be proficient with any skill the Neuromod contains, and only an injection through the eyes is required for the effects to work. Our main character Morgan Yu is part of the research team, and on his first day at work, not everything goes as planned. After a few initial tests, and introduction to the rest of the team, sadly all hell breaks loose, with the Typhon breaking containment.
The player from this point on gets full control of Morgan Yu, and how he/she shapes the story and fate of Talos 1. Without spoiling anything important, the story is written by Chris Avellone who worked on such games as Fallout 2, Fallout: New Vegas, Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, and more recently Torment: Tides of Numenera. The quality of Prey’s story is excellent, and I was impressed by the main mission, and side-quest varieties, plus the game is full of lore, small story tidbits that can be read from notes, computer logs, and books. The story will take around 10-12 hours if rushed through, but I would not recommend it, as this game is best taken in slowly, to enjoy all of the narrative bits.
The sidequests are especially fun, as they have an actual consequence to the overall story, but they are not overbearing to provide you with a “good ending.” Instead, even within those sidequests, we can decide on what the outcome will be for the characters. Also just because a decision we thought was the right one does not mean it is, as the game pulls a lot of gut punches, and for those always trying to do the best they can be torn at a few points in Prey.
By the end, you’ll be confused, amazed, and shocked at the same time as to what Prey means.
Shoot it your way
Prey is a mix of action, and RPG elements, and the best way I could describe it is a spiritual sequel to System Shock 1. The game lets you do whatever you want, and tackle an objective or character any way you wish to do so. It also features two distinct skill trees, one for human ability upgrades, and the other is for Typhon abilities. You cannot max out both trees, so you’ll have to decide on which proficiencies you pick up. Will you be a master hacker? A Gunslinger with dead eye aim? Or maybe your Morgan will be fully loaded with alien powers? It all depends on the player, although finding the right balance is tricky. If you rely too much on human weapons, you might find yourself out of ammo, or if you go with full Typhon powers, well the human NPCs, and automated turrets will not take to you too kindly.
You can either hack a terminal to open a cargo hold that has necessary materials to build a weapon you desire, or you can go around and try to recover the code from a workstation or a dead body. Same goes for combat where if you can damage enemies to a certain point you can hack them (if you have the necessary skills in the human skill tree). On the Typhon skill tree though you’ll have the ability to take direct control over machines, and turrets. There is no “right answer” for the combat part of the gameplay, and since you cannot max out both skill trees, there are disadvantages. However it is not only combating where the game allows you to do what you want, but the environment and level design is also built this way.
Explore it your way
Talos 1 is a massive Research and Development space station linked together by the main elevator, multiple gravity lifts, and the space station can be entered through airlocks from the outside. At the beginning of the game, most of the locations are blocked off. However, as you progress through the story, you’ll gain more skills to elevate the blocks in your path, or even encounter characters that provide you with the means to traverse blocked locations. Keycards, codes, hacking and even a special skill will allow you to move through Talos 1 quickly. Although most of the sections are massive, and if you are an Obsessive Compulsive Person you can end up wandering the first section of the game for two to three hours.
While the game takes place in a space station, the developers were able to implement different art styles thanks to the alternative history presented in the world of Prey. Some of it looks highly stylized, and futuristic, while other parts of the interior are reminiscent of all Soviet Cold War design. It is a mixed mesh of styles all collaborating in the final design of Talos 1. This can also be seen not just on the inside environments of the station, but on the outside design of it. The top part of it is high tech looking, while the lower parts are just old remnants of the previous projects trying to research the Typhon organisms.
Exploring these environments are not just fun, but also a challenge themselves since there are sections of the station that are cut off due to the damage caused by the aliens. There’s a fair amount to explore outside within the vicinity of Talos 1’s exterior. Sidequests, enemies, and other smaller buildings will not make the space around Talos 1 feel empty.
The environments in Prey are well designed and keep the player engaged throughout the story. While it is not a gigantic landmass like Ghost Recon: Wildlands, or The Witcher 3, but some of the interconnectivity is reminiscent to the old System Shock games, and a more recent example would be the Dark Souls series. It is populated with meaningful quests, NPCs, enemies, and it never feels bloated.
Gore and Mick Gordon
Prey is powered by the CryEngine, and even on the consoles, the game looks stunning. The shadows, the level of detail, and the animation are all handled well by the engine. The outside and the inside locations are exceedingly detailed, and even though as mentioned previously it is not a gigantic map, it still has beautiful locations, such as the first time we exit the station and see it from the outside. The animation for the NPCs is good, and the enemies (especially the Typhon) move around with deadly beauty. Voice acting is great, and all of the actors provide their A game for Prey. Speaking of beautiful the locations while the game is a colorful science-fiction horror with elements of thriller it never goes full blown 18+ horror with guts hanging everywhere. Instead, it is much more subdued and creepy atmosphere mainly thanks to the way the monsters work and their design. There are no guts hanging, but there are some genuinely frightening moments, due to the way the scenes are animated and shown.
The eternal shape-shifting mimics that will keep the player on its toes are aided by none- other than Mick Gordon who composed the soundtrack for the reboot of Doom. While it has no epic 14-minute rock songs, but instead Prey has a soundtrack that will wreck your nerves, and make the hair stand on your back. It is a mix of 80s synth, and The Thing.
While Prey may not be a Crysis or an Uncharted 4, its style can elevate it out of the pile of open and semi-open worlds.
Glitch in the system
While Prey is an excellent game, it is not without its mistakes and issues. The game has noticeable pop-in on the console versions both on environmental textures, and characters. Also while the game features a massively interconnected space station, sadly there are still long load times between the sections. In fact, it can load two times before continuing with the game. Quick loading sort of works around this double loading, but even then it can take a bit of time to reload after death, in particular on the console versions. Furthermore, and while I have not experienced this on the Xbox One version, there is a bit of controller issue on the PlayStation 4 version, with the deadzone being off, and the input lag being unbearable. Hopefully, a future patch will resolve this issue, but until then get ready to set some expectations. However I did experience some issues with the sound mixing, and while in the demo this was worse, here in the full version it is still not completely fixed. Music and sound effects can overshadow conversations between characters, as the game seems to provide a lower volume for those conversations, compared to the other sounds during gameplay.
The enemies themselves while stylish, lack in variety, and we only get around 5-8 different enemy types, and that is even counting all the differences within the enemy types. Sure the mimics can become a cup of coffee, but seeing them for the billionth time is not the best. Also, the game is not the best played with a controller, and while it is certainly doable, it is not recommended for higher difficulties.
The story while being superb, and the sidequests also meaningful, does have a few problems, regarding pacing, and some of the character motivations are not the best.
A new hunt is on
Prey the reboot is a fantastic game, albeit with a few issues that could have been ironed out, but in the end, it can provide us with a new fun experience. The best spiritual sequel to System Shock I have seen, and hopefully Arkane Studios continues to deliver.
+ Great story, and quests
+ Spectacular ambiance, and music
+ Fun abilities to use
– Pop-in is annoying on consoles
– Controls and combat is not the best
– Lack of enemy variety
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Arkane Studios
Release date: May 5, 2017