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8 Things I Learnt From the Prey: Opening Hour Demo

Bethesda and Arcane studios will release their brand new sci-fi shooter Prey on May 5. The game is shaping up to be one of the most interesting releases this year and looks set to continue Bethesda’s streak of delivering quality story driven first person shooters.

Earlier this weekend, a demo went live for Prey offering players a chance to play through the opening hour of the game. Seeing as Bethesda have once again refused to offer review copies for Prey before release, this demo is as good a look as we’ll get at the game before it drops next week. The Opening Hour Demo is an extremely strong start to the game, one which offers an extensive preview of the game’s main themes and game play mechanics. There’s a hell of a lot to unpack so in the interest of keeping my thoughts compact, I have come up with a list of 10 things I’ve learnt playing the Prey: Opening Hour Demo. Let’s get started.

The Game is Bloody Beautiful

One of the very first things which struck me about the game was its awesome visuals. Namely the way that the game makes seemingly random objects stand out and demand the players attention. There’s a deep attention to detail in the level design. Lighting is used smartly to guide the player towards points of interest and the whole game has a dystopian, futuristic level of shine. Character animations are wonderfully presented, subtle movements like waving a wrench look natural and fluid solidifying the first person perspective.

There’s an Almost Overwhelming Array of Objects to Interact With

Prey features an intuitive and extensive crafting system in which any object can be recycled into its core components and used to upgrade weapons. This means that each room is filled to the brim with objects to loot and examine. There’s also a tonne of reading material strewn around the world which add context and depth to the story. Almost everything can be picked up and thrown too. With sufficient upgrades it’s possible to lift fridges, TVs and vending machines. It’s all a little overwhelming but that’s probably due to my completionist style of play, in reality all of this depth is optional. If you feel like you want to read through every book and leave no closet unopened then go ahead, there’s also the option to take a more direct route if that’s more your style. This aspect of the game is likely why the developers have estimated the play time at 20-40 hours, some will spend more time exploring while others will mainline the story in way less time.

The Typhon are Freaking Terrifying

The Typhon are the alien baddies you’ll be encountering throughout Prey. There’s a variety of types but the thread that connects them all together is the ability to mimic absolutely anything in the world around them. There was a moment in the demo where I found myself walking through a room with big glass windows with testing rooms on the other side. They seemed ordinary enough, one just had a singular chair in the middle of the room. I decided to take a closer look so confidently strutted up to the glass, wrench in hand. As I got closer the chair transformed before my eyes. A horrifying, sinewy black mass erupted from the object revealing an alien life form which proceeded to run at the glass. It burst through. I was woefully under-prepared and lost a lot of health beating it to death with my trusty wrench. Prey is full of moments like this. Often, enemy encounters turn into a deadly game of hide and seek as the enemy runs into the next room and transforms into a coffee cup or a med pack. This mechanic gives the game a massive sense of dread and tension with every room you enter. It’s, in a word, terrifying.

The Soundtrack is Absolutely Perfect

Bethesda proved last year with DOOM that a great soundtrack goes a long way. Prey carries this mentality and revels in it. The soundtrack is a synth-heavy and bombastic retro affair. It wallows in its 80’s sci-fi influences while keeping a futuristic tinge to the whole thing. The score is very good at letting you know when enemies are present. When you are seen everything kicks up to 11 which perfectly compliments the action all the while giving the player a mild heart attack.

Prey is an Arcane Game Through and Through

With the Dishonored series, Arkane Studios perfected the player freedom and multiple-path style of gaming which has been prevalent ever since. Prey is no exception. There’s a huge amount of player freedom in everything from the weapon choices to the way you navigate the open areas of the game. In the demo there’s a perfect example of this. In order to reach an objective you can choose to upgrade hacking and break through a door or you can crawl up into the vents and bypass it. The game is full of these choices. When faced with a room full of enemies it’s possible to sneak through. There’s also the option to startle them and lead them into security turrets. And of course you can just charge in Gloo cannon in hand and face the Typhon head on. The skill tree is also very versatile in order to suit a multitude of play styles. You can upgrade your health and stamina or choose to get better at hacking by purely upgrading your repairing skills. As a result, no two playthroughs will be the same. I suspect that this emphasis on player freedom and experimentation will end up being one of Prey’s greatest assets.

The Combat is a Little Clunky

I absolutely adored almost every aspect of this demo right up until the moment I encountered an enemy and was forced to fight. At the time I was only armed with a wrench which when faced with the incredibly quick and unpredictable enemies was incredibly difficult to say the least. My heart jumped when I finally spotted a shotgun I could use and immediately put it to use. What I discovered though is that the shooting in Prey unfortunately feels very archaic. When faced with multiple enemies it can be incredibly difficult to keep track and land a shot. The inclusion of the Gloo Cannon did made things a little easier by slowing the enemies down but the core problems remained the same. Maybe it’s just that shooting mechanics have been so well perfected in recent games. Going from a game like Doom or Destiny into Prey will no doubt be a little jarring, my only hope is that the shooting eventually clicks further into the game.

Prey Features Some Very Deep Sci-Fi

Neuromods, memory loss and quantum brain activity are all huge parts of Prey‘s main themes. It’s all very deep sci-fi which never shies away from complex and jargon filled exposition. Luckily most of this is optional reading, though the main story line is already shaping up to be a high concept affair. In Prey, people are experimenting with modifications involved with brain function. The results range from telepathy and IQ increases to superhuman strength. If all of this is reminding you of a certain underwater city by the name of Rapture then that’s perfectly natural, Prey wears its influences well and truly on its sleeve.

In Prey, Environmental Storytelling is King

What struck me most about Prey‘s environments was how every inch of them was designed to tell a story. Offices are teaming with personal nic-nacs. Bodies give subtle clues of how the individual met their demise and emails and phone calls all help round out the story. This is all no surprise to fans of the Dishonored series which featured a world full of interesting stories, all told through subtle environmental cues.

The Opening Hour Demo has left me hungry for the rest of the game. It perfectly set up the story by creating mystery very early on and by establishing the systems the player will be using. We’ll have to see if all of these elements come together on May 5 when Prey releases but until then there’s plenty in this demo to explore.

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My name is Jake Green. Currently living in Sheffield and rambling about video games. I have a soft spot for VR, and value storytelling in games above all else.