STAFF REVIEW of Prey (Xbox One)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017.
by Brent Roberts

Prey Box art Set the way back machine to 2006 and you'll come across an Xbox 360 game called Prey. It took its audience on a wild, psychological roller coaster ride, but it's execution resulted in a mixed reaction from the community, and for the longest time we heard whispers of a new Prey game in the works. As you can imagine, being over a decade since its initial offering there were many changes that took place over the course of the years, until now. Many moons have passed since Bethesda stepped in and acquired Prey, and the studio they tasked to bring it back to life was none other than Arkane Studios (the creators of Dishonored). After a while you get the sense that there was a chance for something special, but unfortunately so of this expectation was lost to the cosmos.

In a typical setting that we have seen multiple times over (space), you play the role of Morgan Yu who's a scientist that specializes in the development of Neuromods. These are devices that literally pierce your eye to give you new and enhanced abilities. Yes, stick this multi-needled gun device up to your eye, and pull the trigger and you get powers. So that's a very dark way of upgrading your character... Bioshock at least had a tonic. All this research takes place on board an orbiting station called Talos I. You proceed throughout the rounds of a normal day when something happens and you're fully exposed to an almost venom like symbiote species called the Typhon. Your world goes to black and you then awaken to a strange voice guiding you, which you are told is actually you, but more specifically a program of you that you created in a different time to assist you should the need ever arise.

Kind of confusing? Prey does a great job deploying a psychological ground game that drives your actions throughout the entire game; however, instead of developing this into something deep, expansive and intellectually puzzling, Prey seems to blend itself into more of an action shooter game. Your main priority becomes exploring a few areas of Talos until you kill everything, search everything, and then move onto the next unlocked area, all the while killing everything you can find in between. This is a huge let down because even though there's an element of duality and sacrifice woven into the plot threads, there's not really a driving force to keep the narrative at the mentally twisted level it needs to be. While the plot is a good story, there was definitely a missed opportunity here. If I could ask Arkane Studios one question it would be: "Would you kindly write a sequel that really took our minds on a mentally psychotic ride?"

Earlier you heard me mention the inclusion of duality and that is the cornerstone of Prey's entire storyline. When the crux of the story opens up to you, Prey decides to force you to deal with a moral system of choices. These choices determine what kind of person your character will become, but sadly these aren't plentiful enough in the game to warrant any significant level of depth. In fact, the majority of the mission work you do will feel like a very mundane chore and when you see how Prey decides to take the pieces and put them together, you feel underwhelmed and that to me was incredibly disappointing. You have an opportunity to take an IP that is over 10 years old, and re-imagine it in a dark, twisted, Tim Burton style manor and yet you make it a Disney Halloween Special instead.

To help set the stage for this grand performance, Talos I is set to deliver on many levels. First, the environments themselves tend to be more uniformed and less unique (given that it's a space station after all), but there are breathtaking images to view all throughout the station's windows of various stars, moons and planets. On top of that, you'll witness firsthand how Talos I tries to put a futuristic twist on classic elegance. In Prey, Talos I is supposed to be a premier outpost and you'll see a lot of that when you venture throughout the various parts of the map. However, given all of that, at the end of the day you're still in an orbiting space station and everything is going to have a familiar, uniformed, presentation and that I feel is another blown opportunity.

Since this game bears similar, yet very strong characteristics of Bioshock, I've heard of Talos I being referenced to as the Space version of Rapture and I can see why. However, the atmosphere of Rapture played right in tune with the plot, but in Prey you feel that it's more of an afterthought, if that. Now, despite that setback, it has to be mentioned that the ambient and atmospheric sounds and soundtrack of Prey are incredible. Listening to them on my Klipsch home theater system, and through some new headphones I am reviewing, I fell in love with the small little intricate parts that came together. You get this feeling when conflict arises and the strings and horns crescendo up to a climatic peak. On the other side of the coin though, Prey would then lull you into comfort again only to strike when you weren't ready. This tactic works wonderfully a couple of times at most, but seems to be frequent throughout the game making things a bit predictable as you progress.

This progress also has to deal with the progress of your character, as you have worked on developing a way to enhance your abilities, hence the Neuromods. However, by studying the alien Typhon themselves you can gain access to alien enhanced abilities. Now you may be asking, "Can I become a hybrid alien human with extreme powers?" and the answer is "yes you can". But as we all know, everything has a price to pay. In this instance should you decide to upgrade your character, and include alien traits, human devices, such as turrets, will now start to see you as a threat and target you. Rest easy because you can hack them to make them not target you, but you have to get in close to do this. While we are on the topic of mods and enhancements, I cannot stress how important it is for you to plan your path of upgrades ahead of time. I say this because the cost to upgrade your skills to the 2nd and 3rd levels dramatically increases like my health insurance cost. Make sure you plan ahead because a 'Jack of All Traits' is a master of none.

Now to acquire these powers you will be required to scan your Typhon enemies with your Psychoscope. Scanning the enemies while in a scoped view will allow you to work towards unlocking Typhon abilities and powers. The two primary Typhon enemies you will come across are Mimics and Phantoms. Mimics are a small spider like symbiote that have one distinct characteristic that makes them a deadly adversary, and that is that Mimics can replicate any object. So, let's say you are in an office area for the first time and you look around and see nothing out of the ordinary. This is what Mimics want you to think because in reality you could be in a room with half a dozen of them and you would never know. In order to make the detection process simpler you will have to use the acquired Psychoscope to scan the area, but when you do that you're going to be burdened with a little bit of tunnel vision, but it's a small price to pay for scouting out something that can spring from any object and attack you rapidly and ferociously.

The second are the Phantoms and they are what you would regard as human Typhon experiments gone horribly wrong. These walking abominations are either evolved Mimics or members of the Talos I crew that have been turned. These Phantoms take an absolute beating and are hard to bring down as they move faster than Mimics and hit much, much harder. In fact, one of the best strategies is to use your GLOO gun to temporarily freeze an enemy and then unload on them with your wrench (I would suggest using a firearm, however, ammo isn't plentiful unless you want to spend the resources to make it), or better yet, let a friendly turret tear them to pieces while you keep them in suspended motion. I bring this to your attention because you're going to be hard pressed to keep your suit in a manageable state throughout all these fights so repair kits are few and far between.

Thankfully, to help you keep track and store everything you need, you can expand on your inventory system which works on a grid style storage layout where items take 1 square and weapons can take 2, 3 or more. I brought up the whole upgrading abilities a while back, and upgrading your storage is one of those abilities. Also, with the suit repair kits you'll find, you will come across weapon upgrade kits which work ok, except if you want to start bringing the noise to the enemies, you'll need to spend quite a lot of Neuromods. In regards to the space of your storage, always (and I can't stress this enough) pay attention for where there is a recycle station. Here is where you can dump your crumpled pieces of paper, banana skin peels, used cigars, etc. and turn them into resources that you need to make certain blueprint plans such as med kits, shotgun ammo, and so much more. You'll be doing a lot of backtracking throughout Prey, so I strongly suggest that as you pass through areas again that you pay a short visit to the recycle stations to help keep available space in your inventory.

Prey, despite all the faults and setbacks I have noted, is actually a quality game from start to finish. It has plenty of content that will keep you air locked in for hours on end, and given the faults, you'll be spending so much time exploring that you may not even regard them as faults at all. After 10 years the gaming world was ready for another Prey, and Arkane Studios was up for the challenge and they succeeded more than they failed. Prey does deliver a sound introduction to an IP that has seen a troubled development process, and yes even though there are some drawbacks, there is a tremendous foundation for an incredible future. Do I think Prey could be game of the year? No. Do I think Arkane Studios could make Prey into an amazing gaming series? Yes.

Please work on that story for the sequel.

Overall: 8.7 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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