AHHHH! It’s the aliens from that one X-COM trailer!
Over the years the shooter genre has split into two primary factions: action-based (Call of Duty, Destiny, Battlefield, etc.) and story-based (BioShock, Deus Ex and so on). Prey, the newest title from Bethesda Softworks, is definitely the latter — and about as diametrically opposed to its last shooter, DOOM, as you can get.
Bethesda succeeded wildly with DOOM, one of our favourite games of 2016. Now let’s see if it can do it again with Prey, a reimagining of the 2006 title of the same name.
Much of the precision you’d expect to find in the aforementioned action-based shooters is absent here, and with weapon upgrades that improve things like accuracy percentage, it’s fair to surmise that part of your ability to gun down foes is being handled under the hood. It’s not overly sloppy, but you don’t do things like aim down the sight or pick off enemies from long distance.
You’ll have access to a decent collection of weapons as you progress, ranging from a basic pistol to more exotic fare like a GLOO cannon that shoots an adhesive that can temporarily incapacitate targets or also be used to create makeshift stairs. Up to three selections can be assigned to your d-pad for quick switching while the rest can be brought up via a radial menu.
In addition to your weapons, you’ll also have access to a number of supernatural augmentations that can be unlocked — some are human mods, while others are alien in nature. The use of these consumes Psy energy, and you can have only one equipped at a time. If you acquire enough of them it makes the radial menu multi layered and a bit unwieldy to navigate.
Even with all these options to defend yourself, Prey feels best when you’re adopting a stealthy approach or engaging one or two enemies at a time. That can be done for 90-to-95 per cent of the engagements in the game, but on those rare occasions when you face an expanded assault, the lack of precision can cause you to take some frustrating damage or waste finite ammunition.
Also of note are the zero-gravity sections that take place outside of the space station. While the overall control experience is decent, it can be disorienting and imprecise when you have to maneuver through tight spaces or engage the enemy. The silver lining is that the problem doesn’t arise very often.
While Prey doesn’t have exceptional graphics, the space station is well constructed and helps serve as an important “character” in the plot. There’s loads of detail work, and for those willing to invest enough time there’s a lot of information that can be discovered by exploring thoroughly. Major load times between each area are an annoyance, particularly when back tracking and attempting to move quickly.
Voice acting is generally well done, even if some accents feel a little stereotypical. There’s a lot of back story and exposition to be found here, and the fact that it’s delivered effectively is hugely important to the game’s success. Music is good, but we weren’t huge fans of the white noise phenomenon of the aliens. Something more threatening would’ve been a better choice.
Set in the 2030s, Prey casts you as Morgan Yu, brother (or sister) of Alex Yu, who runs operations aboard the space station Talos I where the team is studying an alien species known as mimics. During a routine test, a mimic gets loose and attacks one of the scientists. After you’re hustled out of the testing area, you awaken to find the station in peril with limited memory of what’s happened.
From there the game becomes one of discovery as you attempt to piece together the events that have led to mimics gaining control of the station, including their origins, the experiments and innovation taking place on Talos I, your brother’s culpability in said events and your own as well. It’s an interesting journey, one that takes a few twists and turns along the way.
Mission structure is pretty standard with main objectives supplemented by optional quests — some of those will affect the way the game concludes. As you’d expect, there are hits and misses among the secondary stuff, with some being fairly involved and rewarding you with items and/or additional back story and others feeling like glorified fetch quests.
One of the nice features of Prey is that many objectives can be accomplished in more than one way, allowing some flexibility for those that prefer a straight fight to all this sneaking around and vice versa. You’ll also find plenty of applications for the game’s sizable skill tree, which allows you to unlock all manner of abilities and buffs to enhance Morgan and further tailor your approach.
Nearly everything you find on Talos I carries some value as objects are dropped into recycling machines scattered throughout the station and turned into raw materials. Those materials are then used to create weapons, ammo and anything else you can find a blueprint for. It definitely incentivizes exploring since you can construct weapon upgrade kits and “neuromods,” which are used to unlock abilities.
Prey does a lot of things well, and it’s a compelling game that can push up past 25 hours depending on how dedicated an explorer you are, but it’s worth reiterating that the actual combat isn’t great. We already mentioned that it’s better if you’re cautious. Even then, however, the jerky nature of some types of mimics and difficulty fighting multiple foes makes battles some of the game’s low points.
Despite a few flaws, most notably its middling shooting elements, Prey creates an interesting world aboard Talos I that’s rife with things to discover for interested players.