Prey did something for me no game has in a long time, and that’s make me feel like I was almost back aboard the Von Braun, the starship in System Shock 2. Prey’s story takes place in 2032, aboard a space station that was jointly created by the United States and Russia in the late 20th century. A private company, TranStar, took over the space station decades later after it was abandoned and began conducting some very interesting experiments. The protagonist, scientist and high-ranking employee at TranStar Morgan Yu, finds him/herself (you decide at the start of the game which gender) discovers that he is in the midst of one of these mind-bending experiments.
What ties Prey closely to System Shock 2 is the sense of the unknown, of exploration, and of constant uneasiness. Trust and the truth are luxuries that seem a lightyear away. The near-future sci-fi setting and premise, chilling echoes of a once vibrant past-life aboard the ship/station, and dangerous enemies lurking about further add to the synergy between the games. Prey is played from the first person, and includes enough weapons and combat to be considered a FPS, but it also contains a strong RPG element, with a large and expandable inventory, blueprints, crafting, item damage, and a deep and compelling skill tree. Prey really succeeds in dropping players into an immediately enthralling story that leaves your head spinning with some many questions.
It’s hard to get into much detail about the story because Prey is one of those games that you absolutely do not want to have spoiled for you. The less you know entering, the better, and I came into this game with little more than the knowledge that it was developed by Arkane, makers of Dishonored (and lest we forget Arx Fatalis, one of my all time favorites) and published by Bethesda. The soundtrack was done by Mick Gordan as well — same dude that brought us the perfectly-fitting DOOM soundtrack just last year. While I won’t get into much detail about Prey, I can work my way around the edges of the experience.
After an opening sequence, your free to roam about Talos I and discover its many, many secrets. Alien enemies that range from the annoying to the incredibly intimidating (mostly erring on the intimidating side) are scattered about. You can use your wits and stealth to often avoid conflict, a path I chose because the combat is fairly unforgiving. There’s no magic health refill mechanic here; scavenge for food and medkits, or a water fountain that restores one precious health point per (lengthy) drink (kind of like Duke Nukem 3D actually). That’s not to say the combat is overly hard, but it can be frustrating and it does starkly contrast with the mysterious, chilling, thriller like atmosphere of the rest of the experience. Sometimes this contrast is too abrupt, and you go from reading emails and listening to audio logs to coming within an inch of having to reload your last save game. Fortunately? You can quick save at any time and also save to multiple slots, too.
While the combat in Prey and how it’s presented is sometimes a setback, typically everything else about the game is captivating and enjoyable. Talos I has a story to tell, and you’re free to explore it as you see fit and as you gain more and more access to areas through skills like hacking or by finding — or creating — alternate paths. One of the first weapons you get remains one of the most utilized items throughout the game, the Gloo Cannon. This item allows you to cover enemies, very temporarily mind you, in foam-like goo that allows you to then finish them much more easily than you would otherwise. That’s the combat use case anyway, but the gloo can also be used to put out fires and create a makeshift staircase or platform to reach, new heights, very cool in that regard.
Morgan also learns new abilities through the installation of Neuromods. Neuromods are cybernetic enhancements that give you supernatural powers. Your humanity gets exchanged for a more alien physiology, both a blessing and eventually a curse when it comes to surviving aboard Talos I. This is because those helpful auto-turrets placed at different spots around the station (which require skill to repair and upgrade) are great to run back towards when you’re being chased by the Typhon. However, the turrets work by detecting alien, and the more Neuromod you’ve installed, the more alien you appear, and suddenly you’re a target as well.
Prey establishes an interesting atmosphere early on and maintains that, with only a few disagreements along the way. Lengthy load times are likely going to get reduced with patches and combat is sometimes more annoying and pace-breaking than I would like, but overall, Prey gives more than enough back in return to offer a compelling experience.