Arkane’s A team is back, following their smash hit Dishonored is Prey, a sci-fi shooter that follows up on the 2006 title of the same name. Now, if there’s anything to get out of the way now, it’s that Prey 2017 is effectively a new IP. With fresh world and style of gameplay, it ultimately carries little to no resemblance to the original. It honestly seems fairly likely that Bethesda requested the game be called Prey, purely to make people shut up about Prey 2, which, frankly, I’m not going to do. Where’s my space bounty hunter game, Bethesda?
I’m not gonna hold this against Arkane, though. It’s clear they had their own vision, with the name not meaning much beyond marketing. Outside of a name, they’ve been given the freedom to do as they wish and fulfil their vision of making… System Shock 2. Yeah, if this and Dishonored have proven anything, it’s that Arkane likes Looking Glass Studios. Dishonored was their homage to Thief, and I guess the natural next step was their take on the System Shock games. The skill system built for a variety of play-styles, the abandoned space station setting, the psi powers, the audio log driven story, it’s all there. Honestly, if I was any lazier, I could just ask how much you want a modernised SS2 and end the review here.
However, it has some noteworthy elements of its own. I love how much this game focusses on freedom of playstyle, to the point where your creativity will define your enjoyment factor with the game. While other games allow for this, it’s often defined by a few restrictive modes of play. A good example is Watch_Dogs 2, which offers stealth, action, or hacking as ways to approach any situation, on top of multiple entry points. Prey gives you freedom to come up with playstyles of your own, to the point where it can feel like it’s providing you tools to break its own game.
Take the GLOO gun, for example. It launches hunks of glue that are a good tool for slowing down enemies. However, with a little ingenuity, you can use glue chunks as climbing tools to get to unreachable places, so a crafty player with a GLOO gun can skip large chunks of levels and barely encounter enemies. Hell, for me, combat involved less guns and more a combination of the heavy lifting and telekinetic skills, allowing me to throw heavy things from a distance. Because even the toughest enemies are no match for 3 flying fridges, a medical cabinet, and a pile of compost bags. There are countless examples of this kind of design, and it’s fantastic to feel like you’ve outsmarted the game’s own systems.
…at least, when it all works correctly. See, Prey has 2 major faults, the first being it’s abominably buggy. Now, we’ve all seen IGN’s controversial 4.0, and while save corruption has been patched, it doesn’t save the game from multiple problematic bugs. Physics glitches often mean trying to grab, throw, and place anything is a gamble of hoping the physics work as intended. If physics objects even slightly clip into anything, they get stuck, making it often a pain to carry anything larger than the smallest items. Add to that how stacking items on top of each-other can occasionally result in clipping issues. These wouldn’t be a problem if not for it also breaking the entire level’s physics, preventing you from picking up anything on the level.
At least that’s solved with a quick-load. The bigger pain in my playthrough was the game’s tendency to delete things from my inventory. One level transition was insistent on deleting one of my best guns, until I rearranged my inventory to make it delete something less crucial for me to progress. But at least, in that case, I noticed it early enough to find a workaround. I’ve also been caught in moments where my GLOO gun ran out of ammo, despite knowing I had plenty last time I used it, and a lovely experience where I received radiation poisoning. Not a big deal, until I realised all 8 of my anti-radiation pills had just vanished. This is the stuff that really should’ve been picked up in QA, and it continues Bethesda’s trend of choosing launch dates over stable releases.
Now, my other major problem is with the game’s plot. The game’s story was penned by the absolute genius writer, Chris Avellone, and in places, it shows. He knows how to handle very human characters, which is on display in some of the side content of the game. I love the detail they put into representing a few crew members playing a Dungeons and Dragons game, right down to finding their individual character sheets. There’s also multiple audio logs and environmental clues that point to a romance between 2 women in the ship’s crew. It’s incredibly cute and haunting, thanks to, y’know, everyone being dead and all.
However, the main story is where the cracks start to show. I get where they’re going with it, attempting to make the player face an existential crisis over who they are and what defines them. It’s a good way to draw parallels with the freedom of playstyle the game offers. But it’s vague and underwhelming in how it presents that plot. Over the course of the game, you’re also given hints of hidden character motivations and potential betrayal, but it goes nowhere with these twists. You’re just told to pick who to trust and given no proper explanation of anyone’s true motives, despite it being very clear that there are hidden agendas at play. This isn’t helped by the game displaying little to no consequence for your actions. You might trust someone and roll with that until the end. But without going too deep into spoiler territory, by the end, it just drops it all, making it all feel pointless. What an awful excuse for a “twist” ending, by the way. It feels like something that would’ve been potentially interesting if they put it halfway into the game and let you play out the result. But at the end, it’s just an “oh, that happened, I guess” moment, and deflates the whole experience.
Praise must be given to the environments, though. Arkane has done a great job of making Talos 1 feel like a consistent, real location. Despite areas being broken up by loading screens, they still make it all feel naturally connected. Every location feels like it makes sense to be where it is and all comes together to create a fantastic illusion of a functioning space station. It also makes traversing through every part of the station feel like a learning experience. By the end, you’ll know how the station is powered, how the life support works, what an average crew member’s day was probably like, and all sorts of other little details that go a long way in supporting the game’s immersive element.
So, ultimately, I’d call Prey an inconsistent experience. When it all works, it works well. Making use of creative strategies in a consistent feeling environment provides a brilliant illusion of realistically conquering a scenario. It’s just a shame that the game is also intent on breaking it’s own illusion fairly often. Pick it up if you like playing games in weird and possibly unintended ways; just expect little from the game’s story and come in with a decent tolerance for bugs.