Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: May 4, 2017
Platform: PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Genre: First-Person Shooter, Survival, Horror/Thriller
Note: Play Prey with headphones on, and in the dark. Trust me. The sound quality is absolutely incredible--the music and sound direction are amazing--so headphones massively boost the immersion you'll feel while playing this game.
I took my time playing Prey. If you don't know, Prey's publisher, Bethesda Softworks, doesn't give out early review copies any more. So reviews of its products tend to be later than they should be, and in Prey's case, weeks after release.
But I wouldn't have played this game any other way. Prey is legitimately one of the best games I've played in years. The story is so mind-bending, so unique, so...out of the ordinary from the pre-packaged shooter flak we get these days.
Arkane took a risk here, but it paid off in dividends. In fact, I'd go so far to say that everyone who likes video games should play Prey--especially if you've looked at the stars and wondered "what's out there?", but your imagination only brought forth nightmarish images straight out of an H.R. Giger artbook.
When you do play Prey--and it's my responsibility to convince you to actually buy this game given how impressive it is--you'll want to take it slowly. Savor its inky weirdness, let the shadowy tendrils creep up your imagination, soak in its chaotic atmosphere and otherworldliness, bask in the cold light of a star eclipsed by blackness.
And most of all, look everywhere. Seek. Find. This game is filled to the brim with little pieces of life, not unlike a vast broken mirror who's fragments are scattered across a tile floor. Pick up each fragment, examine it, listen and see: only then will you realize just how impressive this game actually is.
Treasures are hidden everywhere for you to discover. But so are horrors. More than anything, though, there are pieces of your broken memory to discover and give you an idea of who you actually are--and what you're responsible for. What you may or may not have done, and what lies beneath under the facade we try to believe in; in other words, Prey is a game built around taking off the masks we all wear to really look at what lies underneath.
The true star of Prey isn't the story (although the story is absolutely amazing), it's not the FPS elements, or the characters.
Talos I is the star of the show.
Talos I: A beautiful haunted house in space
Talos I showcases Arkane's skill and attention to detail. The space station is like a giant haunted house filled with secrets. With a wiped memory, players take the role of Morgan Yu and play detective to uncover the station's secrets.
Talos I is alive. Instead of housing incorporeal ghosts, it houses dark phantoms that haunt the artistic floors of the ship; these are shadows that come alive, and Talos I is filled with darkness. The Typhon aliens stalk the ship, leaving death and horrors in their wake.
What makes Talos I so incredible is not only the amount of detail Arkane put into every single floor and area of the ship, but how it genuinely feels real. It's such a lavish and truly beautiful piece of artwork that's marred with blood and shadows, immersing players into this alternate timeline where great technology exists alongside vintage styles.
I found myself in awe of how much effort Arkane put into Talos I to make it look and feel authentic, unique, and downright alive. Even though Talos I is a ghost ship, make no mistake, it has a life of its own--it's very different from Dead Space, which feels like a coffin in space.
Since the station is pretty much your home (outside of a few spacewalk sessions which are absolutely goddamn fantastic) it behooves Arkane to make every area feel worth exploring. And they went way above and beyond the call of duty: Talos I feels lived into the point where you feel like you're discovering the lives of the people who worked here just by visiting each area.
There are so many secrets hidden within the station's depths, so much to see and hear and experience...and so much to run from, too. Every area feels and looks different, and invites players to plumb its hallowed depths for secrets.
That's really the pull to this game--despite the impressive shooter elements, despite the powers, you want to know, and you want to explore. I haven't felt an allure this strong since Breath of the Wild, and Prey really taps that primal curiosity within me.
Part of it is fueled by my fascination with this alternate sci-fi world which Arkane only reveals bite-sized pieces of, but the other part is me simply want to see what lies behind the other corner. I want to see everything Talos I has to offer, from the amazing tree-filled Aboretum to the cold, lifeless intestines of the G.U.T.S. path-system.
Prey mirrors Dishonored's steampunk style, but with more advanced sci-fi flair. In a way, it feels like a BioShock in space...only one that has more character and sophistication.
As a result, the game has a mind of its own, a feel of its own, and it genuinely looks alive amidst all its death. I've not been so immersed in an environment since Alien Isolation.
But unlike the Sevsastopol Station, Talos I is a vast haunted house that's not dead yet--the ship is still alive with its crew trapped inside...trapped with those things...those shadows that come alive.
Arkane plays around with a lot of classic themes here, but the principal one is this: you never know what's really going on. Once you have a handle on the situation, you read something that throws you off, you see something impossible, uncover some clue that changes your mind.
As players you're constantly grasping at a rope slicked with oil, trying desperately to get a good grip...but often just sliding down. Once you finally get a grip and start climbing, someone turns the world upside down, and you have to start all over again. Or you fall into the black chasm of nothingness that is a Typhon's mind.
Make no mistake, Prey is absolutely a mind-twisting experience. And as you unravel its secrets, you're still never let off the whirling mind-breaking amusement park ride.
There's also a distinct theme about transformation. Morgan shifts and changes mentally, Talos I changes, and most importantly, you change. The game is so effective in making you change your mind and experience that it genuinely feels like a few games mixed into one--phased into one.
But what makes Prey so appealing is that it's so different even despite its familiar themes. It's hypnotically beautiful even in its dark alternate timeline, with every level on Talos I being a literal feast for the eyes. It's entrancing despite the horrors you uncover, and just genuinely feels original.
That's a rare feeling for games these days.
Prey's subject matter, visuals, and atmosphere borrow from the fringes of sci-fi, but also the deep heart of the genre. It presents you with mysteries that branch out across many threads, and answers said mysteries with reality distortions.
There are shades of 2001: A Space Odyssey here with the Talos I's grand complexity, wisps of H.P. Lovecraft's inter-dimensional specters, and the plot is right of Rod Serling's imagination. I found myself constantly thinking back to the twists in shows like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, and the Typhon itself reminded me of the black oil from The X-Files.
Prey also borrows from other games like Dead Space, System Shock, and even old-school Doom with its staggered progression and locked-off areas.
This game is a delicious mix of psychological horror with deep thriller tension and action-based combat, all interwoven into a profound and striking story arc that'll twist your mind around. It's hypnotic, beautiful, and really speaks to anyone whose ever wondered if aliens could be something so different that we'd never understand them.
Prey is a competent shooter, but it doesn't force you to just blast your enemies like Doom. The game borrow's Dishonored's multi-dimensional approach and lets players solve problems in a massive number of ways.
If you want to, you can play this entire game without actually fighting enemies. There's tons of alternate routes--vents, pipes you can jump on and walk above enemies, etc.--to avoid conflict, and tons of different ways to use hazard traps to take baddies out. You can sneak by, throw giant computers at foes, or become a half-alien wizard and blast lightning, fire, kinetic beams, or just confuse enemies by becoming a coffee cup (yes, you can really do this).
Arkane is known for giving players the freedom to tackle situations their own way, and Prey is one of the purest embodiments of experimentation and freedom. Just like the scientists on Talos I, players experiment with Prey's variety of weapons and abilities to take on the Typhon, get around obstacles, circumvent locked doors, and explore.
Talos I has an impressive verticality to it which players can scale with ingenious strategies: make a staircase out of snowballs with your GLOO Cannon and turn the game into a mini platform, scaling the entire ship, or use Recycler grenades to "eat" obstacles blocking your path and get to that sweet loot. Prey rewards players for thinking outside of the box when it comes to solving problems (and it also does so in regards to the story and decision-making).
As a gamer, I absolutely love it when a game rewards me for trying new things. That's in part why I love Prey; it always rewards my exploration and experimentation in some way, whether it's a hidden comic book or maybe a transcribe recorder that tells a little mini-storyline from the dead crew, or just the satisfaction in seeing my diabolical trap blasting an unsuspecting Phantom to smithereens.
And trust me, take your time in Prey and look everywhere. Leave no stone un-turned. This isn't a game to rush towards the end (the ending is literally one of the best endings in any game I've ever seen, mind you).
The Typhon: tough, terrifying, and terrifically original
Now let's talk about the Typhon for a bit.
Prey's aliens are called the Typhon, and I have to say that these creatures are incredibly well-done. I love sci-fi that turns the alien trope on its head, and Prey does this exceedingly well. In fact, I might like the Typhon more than I like the classic xenomorph from aliens.
What makes the Typhon so impressive is that it's so...weird. So intangible. These creatures are real, but they're also not--there from somewhere else, almost a shadow of another world. They're almost like smoke, almost like shadows made real. These monsters feast on our minds and can actually become us, not unlike the poor souls that serve as incubators as xenomorphs.
To really understand why the Typhon are so terrifying you have to pay attention to the story and read all the transcribes. Trust me; it's worth it. The payoff is amazingly well thought out and still gives me chills to this day.
Once you get to the end, you see something that may threaten your grasp on reality. At least it did for me, anyway. (I'm not going to spoil it, but I'm making you aware of it because my words may sway your decision to buy the game or not, and if you love weird sci-fi where your decisions actually count, and you experience original weirdness at every turn, you'll want to jump into the void with two feet.)
Not only are the Typhon terrifying and original, but they're also quite fun. Some of the species can literally mimic objects throughout the ship, so you never know what's actually real and what isn't.
That's actually the main premise of the story itself, and one of the game's strongest themes.
The mimics can turn into anything, so I found myself smacking nearby objects with a wrench just to make sure. This adds a deep tension to the game, and you constantly feel like you're being watched, as if something is just waiting to spring up on you.
In many ways, Prey makes you feel like, well, prey. You feel hunted, but are given the tools to even the odds quite a bit, especially if you experiment and pay attention. But like I said, Prey isn't just about overcoming enemies with bullets. You can definitely do that and brute-force you way through most encounters, but it's much more fun to mix and match skills and try new things.
Now I will say that Prey did piss me off more than a few times, but I can't dock the game points for that, and I'll tell you why. Prey challenges you in many different ways. Sometimes these ways are frustrating, especially in my case where I was trying to do enough things and beat the game in time to get the review out.
But like I said before, Prey isn't a game to rush through. You look everywhere, seek, find, and savor every last weird drop it offers.
Prey will have you searching all across Talos I for keycards, emails, schematics, and even bodies of fallen crew. You'll constantly retrace your steps to unlock doors previously locked to you, kind of like classic Doom. Sometimes you'll even have to think outside the box to solve puzzle-like areas or pay very close attention to your surroundings (there's one part where a crew member is hidden inside of a GLOO ball, and you can't proceed without getting her keycard).
But every time you retrace your steps, things are a little different each time. The ship becomes more and more corrupted with Typhon, and you'll be able to access new areas and gather new loot that was previously locked off. That element of transformation is strongly prevalent throughout and has a way of making the old new again via a kind of haunting metamorphosis.
Prepare to die
There's also many, many times where I died from being too brave, being stupid, or simply not knowing how best to take down an enemy. Like I said, this game is about the challenge, and if you misappropriate your materials (ammo, health packs, suit repair packs, and psi hypos) you'll most likely die.
At one point I had progressed really far into the G.U.T.S to the Cargo Bay, but I was running low on shotgun ammo. This was before I had neuromods to spend on nifty Typhon abilities. Instead of retracing my steps to the nearest Fabricator to make more ammo, I proceeded, hoping to find another Fabricator to replenish my ammo.
Instead, I found Phantoms. And not ordinary Phantoms: the horrible Voltaic Phantoms. After killing one Phantom, I ran out of shotgun ammo and became a sitting duck. It was actually pretty interesting, and I was so vulnerable I snuck past enemies...only to get blasted for my brazen move.
Despite all of its great points, there are a few things that might put some gamers off. Resource management is a key pillar of Prey, and you have to constantly gather junk to convert into materials with "recyclers," which reduce everyday junk, food, ammo, weapons and even Typhon remains into usable materials.
These materials can then be converted into just about anything in the game via awesome 3D printers called Fabricators. There's only one caveat: specific items are locked behind schematics. You have to find the schematics for the Q-Beam, the game's most powerful weapon, before you can make it.
But if you explore, you'll find tons of schematics and materials to make nifty items. You can even craft Neuromods, which give you skill points to unlock new abilities. You can also make medkits, suit repair modules (almost like your shield rating in Doom), precious ammo, and weapon upgrade kits.
So Arkane gives you the tools to potentially make a truly bad-ass character, but you have to decide who (or what) you want to be. Want Morgan to embrace the Typhon to unlock awesome powers? Sure. Want to stay human and just level up your shotgun to the max and run-and-gun everything? Go right ahead. Feel like using the stun gun to zap foes and then smack them with a wrench? Good idea.
So you're constantly picking up every piece of junk you can find to turn it into scrap and fuel your progress. But what if you don't find a Recycler to convert mats? Your suit fills up fast, even with upgrades. Often you'll have to drop items, and sometimes even weapons, to make room for essential gear.
What's more is that you have to rely on Fabricators as guaranteed ways to replenish certain things, such as shotgun shells, EMP batteries, medkits, and neuromods. The game does give you quite a few neuromods and does dole out ammo and other essentials at a nice pace, but the problem is you never know where said items are going to be.
But the trick is you can't be everything.
You have to choose, and you have to plan your next move out. You constantly have to guess what's on the other side of the breach--almost like a cosmonaut looking into a black hole and trying to guess what's on the other side.
Unless you use the glitch to get infinite materials, you can't unlock everything and make infinite medkits, neuromods, weapon upgrades, and ammo to ensure you never die.
While playing Prey, you always have to make decisions. Who do I save? Where do I go, and how do I get there? Should I take the time to look around every corner, carefully planning my moves, or just run in and hope for the best? Should I even care about the crew or just let them die--hell, should I just kill them now?
All of these decisions matter. Even if it feels like they don't, they do. Everything you do in this game matters--everyone you see, everything you uncover, all of it is important.
The story: bending stars and breaking minds
Prey's strongest suit is its story. I can't talk about it too much for fear of giving out key details, but I will say that the game is worth buying at full price just for the story alone. There's satisfying twists and turns as you fill in the blanks and uncover what happened on the Talos I, and Arkane creates such an engaging mythos for players to mull over.
Prey stimulates your senses and makes you think, but like I said way before, you're constantly grasping at an oily rope; once you're almost at the top and ready to escape, someone flips the box over, and you slide right back down.
And the ending...good god. Prey legitimately has one of the best endings to any game I've ever played.
I'm amazed at how well Arkane captured the zero-G sequences of this game. The studio perfectly mirrors the disorientation of floating in space, offering an authentic experience that's full of tension and challenge.
Gunshots will push you back, accelerating too fast will send you hurtling forward, making your own impatience into a weapon that can kill you. There's no up or down in zero-G, and the game embraces that, too.
These sequences really underline the main theme of the game: vertigo-inducing disorientation, up and down are constantly flipped in a torrent of spatial confusion, and being able to float out into the black abyss of space.
Not only did Arkane completely go above and beyond perfectly exemplifying the physics of zero-G space, but they did so with such style; while outside of the Talos I you get your first opportunity to actually scale and size the cyclopean station, that great haunted house in the stars.
You can fly across its entire surface out in space, look at every detail, explore hull breaches and unlock more secrets. You can fight aliens in zero-G, which magnifies the disorientation by two-fold.
I recommend spending some time just looking around in space, just seeing and drinking in the atmosphere. It's clear that Prey is a passion project for Arkane, and I'm very impressed with their level of dedication to every little detail.
Prey is a hauntingly fun jaunt through an alternate universe that taps a stunning level of originality while keeping true to classic old-school sci-fi, horror, and thriller tropes.
It delivers a truly hypnotic story that circles macabre and madness while brandishing a mesmerizing haunted house in space, and arms players with staggering freedom that belongs in an open-world game, not a singleplayer shooter.
Prey breaks the mold in many ways: it's original, it's fun, and most of all, it's utterly captivating.
Arkane is at the top of their game here, and I'd go so far to say that Prey, not Dishonored, is the studio's magnum opus. This is the game that the company should be best known for; with such adept skill, grace, and original flair, Arkane has successfully breathed new life into a re-imagined franchise.
Prey is less Arkane's take on classic sci-fi themes and games than it is a total transformation of them, and represents the pinnacle of storytelling prowess.
I hope that this game does well so Arkane can continue making games like this. In an age where single player shooters are dying out, being replaced with online-based multiplayer and microtransactions, Arkane redefines our expectations for what story-based shooters can be.
+ Incredible mind-bending story arc
+ One of the best endings I've ever experienced
+ 40 hour+ single player campaign
+ Amazing sound quality and music
+ Mesmerizing level design totally immerses players
+ Massive level of freedom
+ GLOO cannon is incredibly fun to use
+ Strong FPS mechanics
+ Typhon enemies are unique and original
+ Nice array of powers and abilities
+ Decent replay value
+ Zero-G sequences are quite impressive
+ Every quest feels important in its own way
+ Genuinely makes players want to explore the entire station
- Over-reliance on Fabricators at times
- Inventory fills up too fast with materials
- Resource management can be tedious
- Tough for beginners
- Very very long loading times (up to a minute on PS4)
- Minor hiccups and glitches
The Bottom Line: Prey is a masterful re-imagining that delivers a stunning storyline while condensing an open world's worth of exploration and visual flair into an enclosed space. Everyone should play this game.
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