Arkane Studio has built quite a reputation for itself as the go-to developer for daunting, supernatural thrillers set in dark worlds. The studio has found enormous success within the realm of the foreboding first-person shooter, consistently crafting eerie hallways filled with malicious monsters. It was “Dishonored,” released back in 2012, when the developer really hit its stride, and the team has carried the same artistic vision and supernatural presence that it honed with that franchise into their latest release “Prey”. While it may not be an absolute perfect transition, the game will certainly have players jumping out of their seats from time to time.
The beginning moments of “Prey” are more than enough to draw you into the next 30 or more hours that the game takes to complete. It’s one of the major reasons I think Bethesda let players test the first hour of the game, it’s a tremendous hook to get people to sign-up for the full-experience. The setup into the supernatural world is presented perfectly, and could rival the best of twists from any opening blockbuster.
Without any spoilers, the game starts out pretty basic. Players will play as a female or male protagonist of their choosing, and explore and survive Talos I. That’s the basics, within that world are several storylines and subplots that you are left to discover on your own. The game’s immediate antagonists are creatures called ‘Mimics,’ named after their ability to disguise themselves as everyday items and furniture. This is where most of the jump-scares come into play, as any med-pack or banana peel that you find on the floor could easily morph into a sudden enemy and kill you as you are reaching for it. The game also tends to ‘reload’ surrounding areas after certain events, so the hallway that you passed going into a room, could suddenly have a mimic waiting to scare you when you come back later. These are great (albeit cheap) thrills that could be a part of any thriller, but are essential to the game’s story. In Arkane Studio’s defense, the mimics are a central plot-point, instead of just a gimmick thrown into the game for some quick gasps.
Combat is pretty standard, you have your weapons and GLOO gun (which incapacitates enemies for a short time) along with a long-list of supernatural or psionic powers. Ammo is sparse in the game, so you will find hitting mimics with your wrench is a necessity if you want to survive the bigger baddies later on. This ammo shortage is basically how the game awards stealth play, so choose your battles early on in the game. “Prey” still suffers from the same awkward first-person melee combat that all first-person games struggle with. As the enemy spins circles around you, hitting you a dozen or more times, you will most likely be flaying about and swinging as fast as you can at the black blur buzzing about your screen. For the most part, the melee combat still works well, or at least as well as can be expected for a FPS. The melee combat is made easier thanks to the GLOO Gun that I mentioned earlier. The gun solidifies enemies with hardening foam, and keeps them in one place for the ol’ wrenchy wrench smashy-smash game. Just don’t run out of GLOO Gun ammo.
Most of the game is built around suspense, not just from the aliens that are trying to kill you, but about the central location of the game, and the staff of other humans you might interact with. While I give the creators an A+ for creativity, I felt that they tipped their hand way too early in the central story. I won’t spoil anything here, but I wish they kept the suspense in the story a little more vague throughout the midpoint of the game. This is just one of the many storylines you can follow while you play though, and there are plenty of side-quests and optional missions that will explain more about the situation you walked into aboard Talos 1.
Here’s where I talk about my complaint, and it’s not a major one I admit. The game’s story, suspense, and general gameplay all come to a complete stop with the inventory, powers, and weapons management systems. The developers have equipped you with a ton of abilities, items, weapons, powers, and grenades, but going into all of these systems tends to kill the suspense that was building. There is a weapon-wheel at your disposal, and there is a favorites system, along with a quick-access D-pad system, yet that still wasn’t enough to toggle all of the items that you need to work with. Jumping into the skills system pauses the game, eating pauses the game, upgrading weapons pauses the game, and we haven’t even got into crafting yet. All of this pausing and un-pausing helps you manage the enormous array of items and powers at your disposal, so it’s a good thing to have, but I don’t think that it fits will in a game that depends on the atmosphere and suspense like “Prey” does.
I think if you streamlined all of it, even if you had to remove a few of the features to limit players use of the UI, it would be an amazingly immersive experience. Instead, you are swiping through menus and shifting around gear constantly, where you should be exploring and ‘prey-ing’ you don’t find a mimic. There’s a middle ground that could be reached here, between an inventory of ‘Skyrim’ level proportions and the fluid gameplay of ‘Portal,’ and ‘Prey’ is just a little too UI heavy at the moment. Arkane Studios really threw the kitchen sink at you with the list of abilities, skills and upgrades that you are working with, so at least almost every typer of player can find their favorite route.
On the Crafting side, the system is relatively easy. All found items in the game can be broken down into their basic components, so stock up on everything you come across in the beginning. Using ‘Recycling Machines,’ the delicious eel paste you found will be turned into a glorious solid cube of organic material. The tin you found will get turned into a similar sphere of metal. You use these components at what is essentially a 3D printer, which turns your cubes and spheres into med-packs and shotgun shells. I found dumping a dozen items into the hopper and recycling them into perfect little squares extremely satisfying, and I love seeing real-life tech like 3D printing being outfitted with a simple sci-fi twist.
You can watch the official launch trailer for the game below.
On a technical level, the game ran almost completely crash-free during my testing. I tested the PC version using the Gigabyte G1 1080 we have at the office, and while achieving 60fps on a 4K screen was hassle-free, I did have two crashes. After those beginning crashes, everything seemed to work just fine though, so I think PC users should be pleased with the game. There were a few bodies floating in the air from time to time, and I shot through my fair share of walls, but I would give this launch a passing grade on the PC. Just be sure that you update to the latest AMD and NVIDIA drivers before you play.
While the game itself may take you a week or so to finish, depending on your play-style, I found it to be a great thriller. Crafting a unique sci-fi thriller with aliens isn’t easy, and the story itself should keep even the most die-hard sci-fi fans interested throughout the entire game.