Prey (2017) Review

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Arkane recently released their 1.02 Patch for Prey and with that decisive patch I’ve deemed it appropriate to finally present my review of the game in earnest. Prior to the patch the PC build of the game was virtually unplayable which was integral to my review considering I typically play through games on at least two of the three or four platforms they’re typically offered on so as to make sure there aren’t incredible differences in performance between one or another.

You’ve undoubtedly enthusiastically witnessed Prey’s opening several times by now and regardless of if you played the 2006 title of the same name and with a semi-similar setting, you’ll immediately notice that not everything is as it seems. Despite some of the similarities between both 2006 and 2017’s Prey iterations they are indeed two completely separate and intriguing games with intricate plots and fine-tuned combat mechanics. Prey (from here on out 2017) starts off slowly but gradually picks up speed and administers the steady drip drop of difficulty and balancing as you progress. In its infant stages the game is likely harder than it will ever seem due to a lack of available powerups (neuromods), so if you can make it through the first four hours or so then chances are you’ll enjoy the game.

Many of the initial revelations have been spoiled for most fans or enthusiasts I am sure however let it be known that there are at least two major revelations within Prey’s plot and I enjoyed both of them immensely. One comes only a few hours into the game and the other not until the very end of the experience. Although the ending could best be described as lukewarm at best regardless of the choices you’ve made- which, yes, are integral to the ending you receive in minuscule ways, it does do a good job of setting up the potential for a sequel assuming Bethesda signs off on that. Given the sales figures thus far however that may not be in the picture no matter how well-done Arkane has done of late with each title they’ve labored over.

Perhaps the most intriguing choice in design and gameplay is the ability to fully define who Morgan Yu (You, the player) is and just how that effectively ties into the plot as well. Throughout the game you not only determine Morgan’s gender and acquirable skills but also the moral code that he or she adheres to through choice and consequence, not through measly dialogue options or barebones plot development. This aspect of showing and not telling is ever-present throughout the game and I enjoyed the approach a lot more than inserting a bunch of useless and wasted dialogue into an otherwise perfectly ambiguous experience that is open in every sense of the word.

The set-up, if you don’t already know it, is quite straightforward from the onset: an alien lifeform known as Typhon has taken over the Talos-1 space station and you are its only hope. Whether or not you choose to destroy the Typhon, Talos-1, or even the few remaining humans on board is entirely up to you. I won’t ruin the numerous choices that you must make or abstain from making along the way but let it be known that for each and every action there is an opposite and not always expected reaction. In its opening moments Prey is less concerned with the eradication of the Typhon and more so with the survival of Morgan Yu and discovery of Talos-1 itself. Although it establishes itself as a survival horror shooter of sorts, these elements will largely fall by the wayside as Prey delves deeper into upgrades and it becomes less focused on survival and more on combat- albeit ammo and weapons still being quite scant.

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If you’ve played the PC version then you’ve undoubtedly grasped the scope and breadth of Talos-1 a little bit more than anyone else thanks to the handy function of ‘noclips’ commands. The space station seems and is rightfully represented as gigantic and titanic. Outside of cheating your way around borders and through walls the only way you can ever properly comprehend the scale of this open ended setting is by venturing outside the airlocks and floating through the cold vacuum of space in order to fast travel from certain points around the station. Talos-1 is both expansive and deep- it’s quite easy to become as invested in the architecture as it is in the characters you encounter along your journey. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the story is that it really feels like a human versus alien struggle.

Some of the horror aspects are also maintained by the enemies themselves with specific regard to their grotesque appearance and the nightmarish ability to undergo some sort of metamorphosis as well. Mimics will lead you to never trust a weapon or medical pack out in the open ever again for each time they leap out at your poor unsuspecting character, leading to a shout and a quick bash over the head with a wrench. The musical score itself will lead you into a frenzied sea of paranoid bashing of everyday objects as you hunt for that final remaining Mimic in the area so as to assuage the tension. More fearsome foes such as the Phantoms and horrendous Nightmares will easily soak up your bullets and spit them back out before devouring you.

Combat is where Prey both lives and dies by its sword so to speak. In the early moments of the game it is equally tense and devastating, yet due to the fact that stealth is oddly never quite flushed out you’re virtually forced into combat rather than trying to sneakily make your way across the station. There are certain benefits and drawbacks to the neuromod upgrades you receive over time however the absence of them until later on forces you to attempt to tackle the experience in a much more difficult and meaningful manner. As terrifying as enemies are perhaps even more scary is the ever-present health bar hovering over their heads that barely ticks down with each wasted bullet or wrench smack. Nightmares can especially soak up an extreme amount of damage from even the game’s strongest weapons and as such as foes to be avoided at all costs.

Only when the game balances a little more in your favor does combat become both meaningful and enjoyable in earnest. After the opening few hours and after acquiring a few mods or upgrades you can feel more at ease in openly wandering the halls of Talos-1 and engaging larger foes than Mimics in close quarters. Using mods to unlock Typhon-related powers is perhaps the most enjoyable Dishonored-like aspect of the game however it also carries an unexpected narrative risk as well. If you spend too much time unlocking these intuitive and useful powers then the automated turrets which once distinguished you from foes will fail to support you and eventually open fire on your Typhon-imbued DNA as well. Of course by that point you’re more than likely unstoppable as is.

Prey is every bit the sandbox experience that it has been marketed as and you’re free to choose how your character develops and progresses just as much as you are to choose how you play through the game as a whole. Using these alien powers such as transmutation of your physical form and telekinesis (now a staple in any game its seems) is both empowering and entertaining. I’d be lying if I said combat wasn’t saved by the abilities you’re able to spend your mods on and would otherwise bog the game down way too much with its repetitive nature instead.

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Prey offers an abundance of detail and choice and I am very appreciative of that despite the fact that it sometimes falls flat and the narrative dips into uncertain waters. The experience can take you anywhere from fifteen to thirty hours dependent largely upon how invested you choose to get in the missions and side missions, as well as whether or not you search out the available mods and upgrades along the way or backtrack through previously explored sections as you gain new methods of traversal and unlock new paths. The narrative itself was intriguing to me and couldn’t be ruined by the heavyhanded ending despite leaving me a little disappointed in the final moments of the game.

The majority of the kinks that initially needed to be worked out have been patched however there are still some baseline issues to be found with the game such as design choices made along the way that we’ll just have to live with. Enemies have been and will continue to be incredible bullet sponges and only grow easier to combat once you’re virtually overpowered and unencumbered by the shackles of survival horror tropes. For all of its tense moments- zero gravity sequences and every encounter with a Mimic, there will also be hiccups such as AI reaction and patrolling and the ability to literally walk around a corner and confuse the Nightmare that has been stalking you to the point where you can take potshots at it and disappear again to avoid its rage.

The highlight of the combat experience is ironically the two most useful gadgets outside of combat- the Gloo Gun and crossbow. Whoever came up with the near-troll of an idea to have what is essentially a nerf bolt shooting crossbow in the game deserves a medal because it is just loud enough to alert enemies and knock objects off of counters and just stealthy enough to be used in a variety of ways. As for the Gloo Gun, you’ve undoubtedly seen footage of people using it to hold larger enemies down or traverse to previously unreachable paths and areas as well. All I can say is use your ammo sparingly- especially in terms of the Gloo Gun and powerful shotgun. The silenced pistol isn’t too shabby for needing a quick weapon with an abundance of ammo, albeit not packing much of a punch.

Prey isn’t without its own series of flaws at times and yet for the most part it is a thoroughly enjoyable and unique experience. One can only hope that we get to experience more of its lore and setting in the future as well as a continuation of the choice driven narrative that was mostly well played. I’m happy that Arkane continues to be one of Bethesda’s brightest studios and has encountered success with two phenomenal Dishonored titles as well as the newly released Prey’s brand of science fiction.

Concept: Stopping an alien infestation from reaching Earth is nothing new and yet Prey offers such an interesting twist on the cliche that it can’t help but be enjoyed.

Graphics: The art style mimics something of Arkane’s previous works but the architecture of Talos-1 is varied and intriguing as are the enemy models and designs. The few humans that do appear all look mostly similar however.

Sound: Both the musical score and voice work are incredibly detailed and well-done. The soundtrack perfectly captures every scare and situation and the voice work is handily delivered throughout the experience when needed.

Playability: Although it can be complicated to grasp at times the game only proceeds to open up as the space station itself opens to you and you gradually progress deeper and deeper into the experience.

Entertainment: It’s at its finest in terms of horror in the opening hours however it is still immense fun when exploring later on and combating the vicious Typhon in close proximity with an array of intriguing powers and an arsenal of diverse weaponry.

Replay Value: Moderately High.

Overall Score: 8.0

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