When I first started up Bethesda’s reboot of Prey, I came across similar feelings I had while playing the first Bioshock, where the initial moments are so mysterious that it’s impossible to not feel compelled to figure out what’s going on. Like Bioshock, Prey does a fantastic job of immediately selling its premise and hooking you with the feeling that everything isn’t what it seems, all the while filling the entire game with lore and side stories that make the universe feel organic in a sci-fi setting. This reboot of 2006’s Prey has a lot of elements that impress and wow, even if a few are glaring issues that are hard to ignore.
Prey takes place a couple decades in the future on a space station called Talos I. You play as Morgan Yu, a male or female, depending on your choice, who’s tasked with fighting off aliens, known as the Typhon. A mysterious figure called January contacts Morgan and states that he or she needs to destroy the station before the Typhon reach Earth and enact the same carnage on there that they’ve unleashed on Talos I. And unleashed carnage they have. Once you exit the introduction level, it’s immediately clear that Talos I has been through hell. Typhon are littered around every corner, while endless bodies of the Talos crew lay in their wake.
The introduction to Prey is one of the best openings I’ve played in a long time. It immediately sells the plot and drives intrigue through the roof with its immediate twist and set up. It’s a constant driving force throughout the game, as each bread crumb laid out makes it hard to want to stop uncovering what is happening on Talos I and what Morgan’s place is in all of it. While some segments dwindle intrigue and the finale can be a little underwhelming, the ride is refreshing and is one of the best game plots so far in 2017.
While this isn’t necessarily a horror game, almost every corner can produce a jump scare or tension because of the Typhon’s sneaky nature. The most common type of Typhon, called a mimic, can take the form of any small object nearby to camouflage itself and strike when you least suspect it. This lead to moments where I’d take Morgan’s wrench and start bashing items around each room in a paranoid panic to ensure that I wouldn’t be attacked by something that was a coffee cup just seconds ago.
Having to fear every inanimate object isn’t a problem throughout the game, luckily, because you’ll discover some scanning goggles that allow you to discover mimics, tag enemies, as well as scan all types of baddies for various information. Scanning enemies requires them to be alive at the time, and each scan can yield more information like what they’re resistant to or weak against, as well as powers that can be learned from that specific enemy. The only unfortunate aspect of this comes from almost always having the goggles active, which can be distracting from the game itself.
Abilities can be learned by using neuromods, a device with with needles which, when injected, can help Morgan learn new abilities. These vary from basic functions like hacking and repairing, to Typhon-related powers like turning into small items like a mimic or controlling enemies’ minds for a short period of time. Once you start seeking out neuromods out and research new powers, Morgan becomes a Typhon’s worst nightmare by turning their powers against them. Hacking their minds to fight for you for a short time is one of the highlights in the game, as it allows you to turn the odds in your favor when powerful Typhons come in bulk.
Most of your time in Prey revolves around exploring the aftermath of the Typhon’s takeover of Talos I. The whole station is littered with history both before and after the takeover, and it makes the entire station’s history feel organic. Terminals are littered throughout the station, and you can read emails between crew members that tell both relevant and irrelevant stories to your mission. Because these are so well written and offer intriguing insight into the lives of those aboard Talos I, every email was a must read and furthered my engagement into what had happened and what is happening to the station. These emails can also yield information like side quests or codes that will get you into safes or hidden areas that usually provide lots of helpful items.
Combat in Prey is inventive at times, and at others, it seems loose and unmanageable. The core problem throughout almost all of Prey is that most of the Typhon aren’t fun to fight whatsoever. The small and agile mimics are hard to hit, and you’ll be swatting at your feet like you’re trying to hit a spider with a rolled-up magazine. Even when you do fight larger enemies – and there are some big ones – hits with the melee wrench weapon feel like it’s bouncing off enemies, while ranged weapons handle like they’re floating and don’t have a good punch to them when fired. Most of the enemies are like bullet sponges, and ammo isn’t the easiest thing to come upon around the station. The combat isn’t entirely bad, as certain powers and weapons are satisfying – like the explosive power of the Q-Beam – but most of it is a serviceable device to bridge the plot together.
Stealth also makes its way into Prey, although it’s shallow and feels unnecessary. Crouching will initiate the stealth mechanic, making a bar appear above each enemy’s head that’ll let you know if you’re hidden or the next target for the Typhon to suck the life out of. Stealth detection is inconsistent, and there aren’t many segments where stealth can be a legitimate strategy to progress rather than a momentary reprieve from combat.
The main story of Prey takes around 20 hours to complete if you do mostly just main quests with a few side quests on the side, but competitions can easily double that time if they seek to 100 percent it. Most of my favorite parts in the game were the side quests, where the simple plots were engaging enough to keep attention without becoming too much of a distraction from the main story’s momentum.
Prey’s fascinating universe and intriguing story will keep the journey through Talos I exhilarating – even though the messy combat does its best to ruin that. This isn’t the next Bioshock in terms of overall quality and engagement, but it’ll scratch that same itch for those looking for a similar experience. Bethesda has an property with a ton of potential here, and with a few fixes, this could be the next great franchise. Until then, this is a solid single player journey that’s worth your time.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of Prey by Arkane Studios. Review copy provided by Bethesda Softworks.
- Gripping universe
- Exploring Talos
- Passable combat
- Shallow stealth mechanics