Xbox360/Xbox One/Xbox One X

Game Review: Prey (Xbox One)

I entered a small office, I saw a computer terminal in front of me and was about to approach it when I noticed that beside it were two coffee mugs. I panicked and pulled out my pistol, the gun shook in my hand as I approached the mugs. I kept my eyes on each of them, waiting for one to strike, my grip tightening on the silenced pistol in my hand. I wiped the sweat from my forehead as I approached the monitor, hoping to find some crucial e-mail, but the two mugs had done nothing to warrant any hostile action and it was then that my paranoia wasn’t completely unfounded, for it wasn’t the mugs that sprung to life, it was the garbage can to the left that I hadn’t seen. The garbage can then formed into a Mimic, a stringy black creature that then darted under the desk and disappeared.

I looked over the desk and attempted to find the Mimic, my gun swinging left and right as I tried to find its location. When I entered the room there were two chairs on the floor, each of which was knocked over on its side, but now there was one extra chair that was upright just sitting there. I fired a few shots into the chair, it formed back into the Mimic and slithered its way towards me, I fired again, and again, and it exploded into a black mist, with chunks of its body landing at my feet. I turned around and went to the monitor, about to log in when that second coffee mug caught me off guard and formed into a Mimic and lunged at me.

Prey is a game that offers as much tension and fear as it does an overall blandness and a longing to the past. For a game that is so set on embracing what the future can bring us, it does so by borrowing mechanics from several other games. Arkane is known for the Dishonored series, and this game at times can totally feel like an extension of that effort, with characters and environments feeling as if they were easily lifted from that series, albeit looking far more futuristic. Prey also borrows from Bioshock a great deal with even placing a wrench as your first possible weapon, let alone mimicking much of what made that game what it was. I’ve heard more comparisons to that of System Shock, but that is a title I never did play or am that familiar with.

You play as Morgan Yu, a scientist that is the co-creator and testing agent for Neuromods, an injection-based system that can grant abilities to those who use them. The way to use and pick from a selection of abilities is nothing new to Arkane as Dishonored had a very similar system, but the way it is implemented here is more akin to that of Bioshock with its own ability-based Plasmids. These Neuromods are created from the Typhon, an alien race that has since taken over Talos I, the scientific research space station where it all began. When these Neuromods are removed, the subject loses all memories gained after the initial injection, and this is where you begin, as a Morgan who has lost his-or-her memories and, much like the player, is starting the game fresh without knowing much of what is going on.

As you try to piece together what has happened, you’ll do so by exploring Talos I. While graphically there is a little bit that disappoints in Prey, the utilitarian design aesthetic of the station is absolutely gorgeous with its colorful design that allows each and every color to just pop. Much of the Neo-Deco look that Arkane has put into the game is actually inspired by a real-life hotel in New York City called the Viceroy. The fiction is set up where the in-game company TranStar wanted the station to have a very expensive look to it, with wood walls, real leather and a regal grace to it. While the game takes place in 2035, the station itself is an effort that started in the late 50’s with much added to it just a few years after, giving us a reason for how the designs of the station feel old, yet strangely modern. There are moments in the game where you will need to travel outside the station, floating around in the vastness of space and despite some awkward controls, it can be really fun to see what waits for you in the black.

While Talos 1 is a very striking environment to explore, it is rather easy to get turned around in due to the overall sameness that many of the environments share. Thankfully, there is a fog of war to the map that allows you to know where you have and have not been. Much like Dishonored, there are multiple ways to get to your location, with several methods rewarding your curiosity or the way in which you have spec’d out your Morgan. Regardless of increasing your hacking skill or using the gloo cannon to create makeshift platforms, even despite the awful jumping and climbing mechanics, there is almost always a way to get to where you are trying to go.

The story in Prey is mostly told through voices on a radio, emails you find, or through audio logs that you’ll locate in offices or on the bodies of the dead. There are moments where the narrative gets very engaging, but it was rare that the game gripped me for more than a few fleeting moments. The core story of Prey is Morgan trying to figure out what to do about the station as it’s clearly a lost cause and it boils down to a choice about how to tackle your objectives and deal with the Typhon aboard the station. This, as well as a few side quests in the game, will shape the ending you will see before and after the credits roll. While there are some slight differences between these endings, they all take place in the same location and in some ways, end on the same note. There are some parts of the last few hours that will vary depending on who you save or how you confronted one of the characters that are added in the late game, but despite this, it has no real bearing on the events of the actual ending.

I’m not one that typically enjoys reading in games and I often overlook and just ignore the emails and notes found in games. I do; however, love audio logs and the ones here are really enjoyable to listen too. I did try to read several of the emails and frankly, not many of them kept my interest. If I found an audio log to listen to and there was a terminal nearby for that person, I would read it to find more information about a locked room or something that helped me with my objective. For a player that is very intent on learning every bit of the lore created, there is a wealth of story and character here for those that want to take it all in. While there are few examples of Morgan actually conversing with another character in person, it does happen occasionally and it usually came with a few problems. I would have characters chatting with me on the radio while another character would be talking right in front of me, making me miss most of the dialogue. This happened fairly often and became a pretty annoying issue and forced me to reload the game several times.

While the enemies you encounter are not exactly original, the ways in which you encounter them can make or break your excitement about them. Wondering if a Mimic is a few feet from you as you explore had me paranoid for a few hours but that tension started to fade the more powerful I became, and eventually the Mimic lost its ability to scare me at all. The Phantom enemies which are created by corrupted human bodies can make for some fairly fun encounters as there are three different styles of them;  thermal, etheric and voltaic. There are also Poltergeists that almost always stay cloaked and much like many of the threats you encounter can use abilities that Morgan themselves can learn. There is a large and menacing creature called the Nightmare and taking this beast down can consume a lot of resources, but there is a side quest later on that will make these titans a complete non-issue. The first half of the game is where you will encounter almost every type of foe that the game offers and for much of that, there is some genuine fear to facing off with them, but that really starts to fade as the enemies don’t adapt or evolve to change things up and this can lead to very repetitive battles.

If you neglect the alien abilities and remain human throughout the game then you won’t have to worry about Operators or turrets turning against you as these robotic forces can deal some pretty decent damage. While the game does allow you the choice to play stealthy, I found that there are moments where this doesn’t really work out as well and a more forceful approach is required. You have a good deal of freedom in how to craft your Morgan, putting Neuromods in a wide variety of skills, but there are several skills that if you avoid them and attempt to play a certain way, then you will find the game incredibly challenging for the wrong reasons. The difficulty curve can be nasty one minute and far too easy the next and this imbalance is consistent throughout the game.

To fend off the Typhon threat, Morgan has access to only a few weapons; a wrench, silenced pistol, shotgun, gloo cannon, stun gun, and the Q-beam. You also have a few throwing items that can shut down the robotic operators and turrets or turn a variety of items into much-needed materials. There is also a dart crossbow but that isn’t useful as a weapon and something you use to help you reach panels that you simply cannot reach. A few of the weapons can be upgraded to dish out more damage or reduce the reload speed. While you will find most weapons just laying about or next to several dead bodies, you can also craft them should you find the required blueprints.

Some of the weapons work rather well under most circumstances like the gloo cannon halting enemies in their tracks, opening them up to a solid blast from the shotgun or a few swings of the wrench. The stun gun is very useful for the more robotic enemies and can almost work like the gloo cannon to others, causing enemies to just stand there shaking from the electrical charge. The Q-beam is a beast of a weapon and worked fairly well, provided you kept finding ammo for it. I found that I tended to keep the pistol, gloo cannon and shotgun as my main three, with quickly swapping to my stun gun for when Operators or turrets would show up as my Morgan had several alien abilities at her disposal.

As effective as you want weapons like a shotgun or a laser rifle to be, I found that no matter the foe, they all tend to soak up more bullets that you want to spare, especially when conserving ammo can be the deciding factor in life or death. On harder difficulties, spending too much ammo on a single foe can be counter productive to your next encounter when you simply don’t have the resources to win. While bullet cushions are nothing new to gaming, the enemies in Prey just seem to take far too many rounds to put down. The game is also designed in a way that you will want to use combinations of weapons to help in limiting how much ammo you use, like freezing an enemy in place with the gloo cannon or the stun gun and then swinging the wrench a few times, especially the fast moving Mimic. I don’t even want to know how many bullets I wasted trying to hit it as it frantically moved around the room.

Apart from the weapons in Prey you also have abilities that you’ll use the Neuromods to unlock. These can range from turning yourself into an object like a coffee mug, powerful kinetic blasts, or taking over the minds of nearby threats. There are a fairly impressive amount of abilities that you can use in a variety of ways and should you want to play the game entirely human, Prey is designed around that as well. Human abilities are designed around taking more damage, your hacking skills and being able to repair broken objects like turrets. There are several skills that you will want to unlock early on and finding Neuromods can be fairly easy, so you never feel like you are going to be blocked from learning a much-needed skill for too long.

Collecting items to craft in games usually varies on your wanting to craft in that particular game, but Prey’s crafting system is vital to your success in the game, regardless of what difficulty you’ve chosen. When you explore the environments and find random junk, those items can be converted into specific materials. When you find a blueprint to an item, you merely need to spend the items required and you can craft various things like ammo, guns, or Neuromod’s themselves. I found that ammo and medkits were my best use of the materials I gathered. There is a way to create unlimited items with the recycler, so feel free to look it up should you find yourself having a tough time with the game.

I’ve already mentioned that the visuals for the environments are rather impressive with only a few areas failing to live up to the rest of the game. The same can’t be said for the people and the enemies. The people that you interact with or find dead on the ground, are just painful to look at, with models that seem pulled from a game from last gen. I can’t think of a single human character in this game that has a good or even passable character model. The enemies themselves are rather generic and also feel lifted from other games. While Prey does use enemies like the Mimic in cool and interesting ways, there is nothing groundbreaking or original about any foe you encounter. The game is also set up in a way where there are no direct bosses to fight or a type of enemy that you can’t stop talking about with your friends. There is one enemy that you see in the final few hours that I wish would have been staged in a way where you could have battled it, but it is merely set dressing and lead to much disappointment.

The audio in the game is fairly enjoyable as the voice acting is pretty good, with a few characters voiced by the likes of film actors Walton Goggins and Benedict Wong. The rest of the cast is filled with a few names like Tom Kenny and Steve Blum, but other than those names, everyone else is people you’ve heard their voices before but probably didn’t know their names. Your own character does have a voice in the messages that you have left for yourself, but sadly, your own character doesn’t talk outside of those messages. The game plays on tension fairly well with sound effects to let you know a Mimic may be nearby, or some fear inducing tunes to set the mood in a darkly lit room.

The game features some awfully long load times with the average wait being a minute and a half. When you are going from location to location and passing through three to four load screens, you can feel the drag set in very quickly. In fact, starting the game you will go through three separate load screens just to play. The last issue that I really have to mention is the shifting left and right your character does as you move. It’s one of the first shooters I have seen this happen with and it makes aiming a bit of a pain unless you stop moving entirely. Trying to line up a shot as you move towards something is nearly impossible as your cursor slowly bounces all over the place.

Prey will last you around 25-30 hours in length should you tackle the majority of the side quests and embrace many of the emails and audio logs in the game. After about 20-24 hours, I was starting to wear out on the game. It’s not that Prey does anything bad, it is just an average game that you start to notice its flaws jump at you like a Mimic from a desk. There are some fun moments here and there but there is nothing remarkable about the game to point out a good moment from the next. The gloo cannon is fun to use and explore the world with, and the paranoia of approaching an immobile object in fear that it might be a Mimic is fun for a few hours, but it starts to lose its charm very quickly. The story is alright but didn’t grip me as much as I wanted, and the lack of really memorable encounters left me fairly bored. The combat that does occur can be enjoyable, and finding a way into a room you previously thought impossible is a thrilling moment.

Prey is an average game that doesn’t really do anything special. It is a combination of Dishonored and Bioshock set in space and that should be a fun and entertaining concept, but sadly lacks the soul and charm of what those particular games gave us.

Prey was reviewed on a retail copy and all screen shots were captured on an Xbox One console and uploaded through the Windows 10 app.

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