The sci-fi genre added a new game this May with Prey. Being shown off for the first time at E3 2016, people were glad to see the franchise being carried on after Prey 2 was cancelled a few years ago. It’s a game sure to draw comparisons from other games such as Bioshock or System Shock and for more reasons than the inclusion of a wrench. But the similarities it has to other games are so spot on sometimes that it doesn’t feel like its own game. Arkane Studios seem to have tried to copy the best parts of other games but missed the mark each time.
I can see why Bethesda released a demo for Prey a week before the game’s launch. The demo allowed players to play through the first hour of the game and get acclimated to the world they were building. The thing is, this first hour is the best part of the game. From the character introduction, being tested with morality choices and the soundtrack to really introduce the theme of the game, the first hour is awesome. It even had the kind of twist you would expect from a game that feels like Bioshock and the revelation of what is actually happening feels heavy on your character. This feeling isn’t revisited throughout the next ten hours of gameplay and story progression. Which is unfortunate because that first hour is really cool.
Some of the more positive points to the game include the sound design, which I alluded to a bit with the soundtrack. I really enjoy the synth-wave music thrown in to have a more 80’s sci-fi feel and it fits with the space station in ruins setting. The sound effects throughout the station, background noises and tonal changes entering new areas and space, in general, fit perfectly with the mood of the game. Enemy encounters are made that much horrifying by the sound effects that play when you’ve been spotted or are engaged in combat. Think of that siren noise that is played when things go wrong in the Alien movies now picture that screaming into your ears whenever a mimic surprises you. Bring a change of pants.
The narrative is intriguing when it’s around. Another Bioshock comparison is that the interaction you have with people early on is all done via voice communicators. (Much like the radios in Bioshock, see where this is going?) You get directions and thoughts from different characters in the game explaining what’s happening and how you need to stop it. Of course, the information works against each other so the issue of who to trust becomes prevalent. Kind of like how Bioshock… oh forget it, if you’re not seeing the clear recreation by now then you never will. The idea of who to trust in a game is a trope that I like very much, I just needed more of it from Prey. The communication after completing a quest is standard but while getting through levels and discovering things, the game could use more interaction from these other characters.
The mimics in the game are cool but as cool as they are, they’re often underutilised. While the idea of an enemy taking on any object in the game to hide and surprise you is pretty cool, it’s thrown away often times or the surprise is ruined. Again the game is scary and it’s scary early but that’s mixed with the lack of items you have at your disposal to fight back. It seems as though the more weapons you have at your disposal, the less the mimics care about surprising you and just attack you on sight. Prey starts with mimics being hidden and jumping at you and gets to a point where you’re opening a door and you see mimics run away and then attack you as they see fit. It takes away the idea of avoiding objects because you’re presented with the mimic right away instead of being lured in by a false sense of security.
That last passage should indicate that we’re going to get into the negatives of the game here. And before I describe the issues with Prey I’ll just go ahead and detail some technical issues I had. The game crashed on me four separate times and hard locked my console once (playing on the PlayStation 4). During one instance when I was trying to get into a room, the game clipped my character through a wall and throw me into a random room. Another time I was coming out of orbit and the game mistook a glass wall as a stable gravity zone and locked me between an unbreakable surface and a zero gravity zone that I could not get back through. This caused me to load up a previous save and start over.
I know it’s a Bethesda game and people expect bugs from any Bethesda title but at some point, you have to get it together. 12 hours of gameplay and four crashes? If we can give Telltale enough crap for not upgrading their engine, then we can give the same crap to Bethesda for not fixing the bugs in their games. The game doesn’t feel rushed or incomplete, just buggy. All right, now for gameplay issues.
The overall combat is fine, I enjoy games that make you vulnerable to the elements and enemies in most situations. You feel in a constant state of danger when entering a new area across the space station, especially when mimics are hidden in a room. The addition of powers your character can get, if you choose to, make the fights easier and levels the playing field a bit. The issue becomes the game doesn’t provide you with enough materials to make your desired approach to fighting always viable. The enemies get stronger as the game goes on but you’re not provided with the means to keep up with the enemies you encounter. Most of the game I was stuck with just a wrench and my quick thinking ability to run from mimics and phantoms. Keeping items and resources from you doesn’t add to the difficulty of the game it just makes it feel overly frustrating to fight three enemies at once.
The lack of resources and items you come across really effect the gameplay. You don’t have the ammo to play the game like a shooter and you don’t have the enough Psi to keep up with abilities if that’s how you choose to play. Limiting resources really hinder the “play how you want” idea and it actually becomes a bigger issue of the game based on how you approach the game.
Prey, much like Dishonored, allows players to approach situations and combat how they want. But where Dishonored gives you abilities and dares you not to use them, Prey gives you abilities and punishes you for picking them. It seems as though the game has an idea of what the right abilities are to use but gives no indication as to which to choose. Throughout the game, I was faced with challenges that were tailor made for an ability I hadn’t unlocked and while I searched for another answer to the puzzle, ultimately I found out I just needed to locate more Neuromods to upgrade abilities. So instead of playing the game how I wanted, which you’re encouraged to do, I often saw myself running around for an extra hour just to get a new upgrade to continue through the game.
I say puzzle but that is a strong description for what would just be a locked door or a passageway. There are no real puzzles just things in your way that want you to use abilities you don’t have without an indication that you should have unlocked it before hand. There was a time in the game where I needed to collect three turrets, one of which was broken. After collecting the first two I had to scurry across the space station to find enough materials to make two Neuromods to upgrade my repair ability to then fix the turret to be able to continue. Now, to the game’s credit, it said I had other means of opening the door without the turrets. Although, I looked for this alternate route and never came across an answer. So an hour later for a mission step that should have taken roughly 15 minutes took closer to an hour.
The last issue I had with playing how you want, Prey gives you the ability to stealth through the game. You can crouch and sneak through areas to avoid enemies in case you’re out of resources. The issue is the stealth mechanic just doesn’t work. Speaking bluntly, being in a room with a Phantom, crouched behind something, nine times out of ten I was discovered and chased. Also, the smaller mimics don’t have heads so it’s difficult to tell where they’re looking in the first place. Stealth was never a viable option throughout my playthrough.
Hiding and sneaking doesn’t work and if you invested your Neuromods into sneaking be prepared for sections of the games where you are forced to run into something trying to kill you. There are a lot of instances where the only passage you have is cluttered with enemies you need to fight or attempt to run past to continue.
The abilities aren’t the only gameplay issues I had. If you caught the pun in the title, you could assume this game has a lot of fetch quests. And you would have assumed correctly. To say this game has a lot of fetch quests may be an understatement because this game in nothing but fetch quests.
Think of running a foot race and getting to the finish line only to be told you can cross the finish line unless you have special shoes. You’re told where the shoes are and luckily they are somewhere in the path of the race but you need to go find them somewhere halfway through the course. After getting the shoes you can sprint all the way back to the finish line and move on. Easy enough, doesn’t seem too bad but the kicker is once you finish that first race you better be ready to perform that same formula again. This is the mission design of Prey. Not just for one mission, for every mission.
Seemingly every single mission is you running to a location, finding out there is something preventing you from continuing and having you turn back to find an item to get through. I don’t know if Arkane Studios is just really proud of the levels they have built or what their thinking was when making each quest but they want you to see everything about three times it seems. I’m okay with the occasional fetch quest here and there but this game is really boiled down to being locked out, needing an extra item or password, finding it and returning. Over and over and over again.
Prey breathes sci-fi disaster and attempts to hit all the high notes you’d want from a sci-fi game. Unfortunately, it seems as though the game tries to pull too many ideas from other games that it can’t stand out on its own. If you’ve played Bioshock, Dead Space or Alien: Isolation then you’ve already played a better version of this game. This game feels exactly like other games that already exist and it’s just not as good as those.
Mixing weak game design with a frustrating skill tree and being asked to mindlessly run around a space station constantly just kill the fun of the game. Gameplay is king and when the game lacks solid gameplay it kills off any of the positives the narrative or visuals have. There are high points in this game but it’s not nearly enough to make it a fun experience for the player. At the core, Prey doesn’t know what game it wants to be and it doesn’t realize the “play how you want” idea that it pushes on you.