I sat there, probably for a good 10 minutes, making my final decision of Prey. A somewhat unexpected development, though not wholly unseen, given the hints the game has dropped since I stepped into the Talos I space suit of Morgan Yu. I had already received my trophy for my playthrough style, but would I completely betray that in the final moments? Prey is full of moral quandaries as you wander through Talos I, in addition to a very open-ended story, which is why you’re seeing playthroughs that end in less than 20 minutes. But you’re certainly not going to get the full story that Arkane Studios has penned here, and that’d be a shame.
Arkane has done an amazing job of making Talos I feel like a lived-in place. One could easily draw comparisons to BioShock’s Rapture and not be far off. It’s a derelict station that has fallen into a complicated mess thanks to the Typhon, an alien race that is able to mimic, shapeshift, and adapt to its surroundings. It also gives humans amazing mental capabilities, and Talos I is the testing bed from TranStar’s experiments with the Typhon. But a secondary star in this game is the mostly dead cast of Talos I, for it feels like a place where people lived day-to-day lives. One side quest even has you treasure hunting to find a reward that was hidden by a D&D dungeon master, replete with character stat sheets. There’s also a ton of email conversations to catch up on, audio logs to listen to, and you can even hunt down individual team members thanks to tracking bracelets that each team member wears. Morgan himself (or herself, you choose at the beginning of the game) is something of an enigma, since one of the side effects of the testing he’s involved in results in repeated bouts of amnesia. So, throughout the game, Morgan is a bit of a blank slate, letting me interact with his brother, Alex, and the other live members of the Talos I crew as I saw fit.
The crux of the TranStar Talos I research, the Nueromod, is how you’ll earn new skills throughout Prey. They’re capable of doing almost anything to your grey matter. Want telekinesis skills? No problem. Need to learn an instrument? Piece of cake. They also give Morgan the abilities of the Typhon, which include fire blasts, mind hacking, electrical bursts, and a host of other skills. One of the caveats in learning these skills, however, is that they make you identifiable by the automated security systems of Talos I. So, there’s a bit of a trade-off, and unfortunately for me, I waited too long to decide to use Typhon skills. In trying to play it safe and not have too many enemies, I was hamstringing myself, and in Prey, you need every advantage you can get, even if it means making a few enemies in the process.
Prey is a difficult game, even at the "Normal" difficulty. And part of that is due to the unpredictable nature of the game. I can’t count how many times I was caught off guard by Typhon mimics, which are these spidery little bastards that can shapeshift into anything you see. Eventually you get an item that lets you identify them, but in the early going, they’ll be the cause of many jump scares, and plenty of quick saving. Overall Morgan feels rather weak, even by the end of the game when you’re hopped up on neuromods that boost your health and psy pools. What this game doesn’t really do a good job of is letting you experiment with new powers, so it’s constantly a trial by fire until you get the hang of your powers. Enemies are also relentless in chasing you down. It feels like Arkane took their Dishonored rules and applied them here, and unfortunately the stealth isn’t anywhere near as good, and I found myself dying a lot, and rolling back quite a bit of progress because I hadn’t been quick saving. And then there’s the Nightmare, a giant Typhon that can follow you pretty much anywhere once you are in its sights, so you’ll have to walk softly for a large portion of the game. But once you unlock some Typhon skills, the game/gun play starts to open up a bit and things get a little easier—but the Typhon will still surprise you, up through the end.
What’s also surprising is just how open this game is. Thanks to the depth of the weapons and neuromods, I was able to go everywhere within Talos I. Well, when I say "depth of weaponry" I really mean only one weapon: the Gloo Gun. This versatile weapon allows you to freeze enemies in place, but also create platforms for yourself to climb up to heights that are otherwise unreachable. The rest of the weaponry is your standard security fare: a pistol, a shotgun, and a beam weapon that’s effective against specific Typhon. These weapons are found all over Talos I, and you can recycle the extras in order to get materials to make ammo, neuromods, health kits, and other helpful items. I really like the recycling system, since it lets you make use of anything and everything, and the Recycler Charge weapon works like a grenade that sucks in objects and converts them to recyclable materials. I was worried that "exotic" materials would be hard to find, but it was actually the synthetic materials that were the hardest to find. I’d have appreciated slightly cheaper costs for the ammo, since that’s what eats up the majority of your resources, especially when it’s easy to fire a bunch of panicked shots that wind up hitting nothing. Finding ammo out in the wild is a risky proposition, too, since most enemies won’t drop more than one or two bullets. You’re more likely to find materials to convert, so you’ve got to gamble with what precious resources you do find.
It’s easy to become overwhelmed while exploring Talos I. There’s plenty of open-endedness in the objectives and story. You can do a quick escape, but if you want something meatier and more satisfying, like I do, then you can expect to spend a good 20 hours meandering from point to point. There are some rather crippling bugs, unfortunately, that I had to find some workarounds for. One critical NPC would fall through the floor—and she carried an important key. In another instance I wound up with broken waypoint markers, or had instances where objectives wouldn’t be marked. This is kind of expected in an open-ended game, but these were critical issues on what I thought was a critical path.
Prey is an interesting beast. I liked the setting, I liked the story, but the gameplay feels like it needs a few tweaks and updates in order to get it to an optimal level. Like I said, even "Normal" difficulty is a real challenge. I couldn’t fathom trying to play this on harder difficulties. Coupled with the bugs I was encountering, I constantly felt like the fight to reach the end wasn’t really something I had much control over. But I eventually persevered, and found a somewhat satisfying conclusion. The game’s overall experience was like a bell curve for me, starting off rough with little direction and really challenging enemies, then I felt like I hit my stride, and then the bugs came back and dragged the whole thing down. With a few quick patches, hopefully Arkane can get this game to match their grand vision.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
In a past life I worked with Interplay, EA, Harmonix, Konami, and a number of other developers. Now I'm working for a record label, a small arm of casual games in a media company along with Gaming Nexus, and anywhere else that sees fit to employ me.