I had a tough time getting through Prey, Arkane Studios’ sci-fi thriller. There were moments where I thought the action and creative world pulled together in interesting ways. Then there were times where it fell apart. By the end of the credits, I felt unmoved by most of my experience with Prey. Outside of its wonderful presentation and environmental storytelling, Prey didn’t resonate with me as much as I had hoped.
Developer: Arkane Studios
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
MonsterVine was supplied with PlayStation 4 code for review.
First off, Prey by Arkane Studios is not a sequel to Prey by Human Head Studios. In fact it’s not a reboot or a spiritual successor. These two games just share the same name since Bethesda bought the rights in 2008. With that elephant in the room addressed, let’s talk about 2017’s Prey.
Prey’s story twists and turns from the start and never lets up until the end. Throughout her trek across the Talos-1 space station, Morgan Yu (you can play a male version too), the main character, is stricken with amnesia. She’s tasked with piecing together her identity and investigating how her past decisions have helped breed the disaster in the game.
Identity plays a big role in Prey. You’ll come across several choices on whether to save someone or let them die. It’s actually quite disappointing that a game with so much choice in its gameplay (more on that in a bit) boils down every big plot development with an A or B choice system. It’s nothing new, but if I’m to define Morgan as a character, it’s difficult to buy into the idea that there are no nuances in having a choice. What’s more frustrating is that the post credits scene cops out on some of its larger themes. Whatever sense of identity I created in Prey immediately felt nullified by Arkane’s blatant attempt at setting up a sequel.
Where players will have plenty of choice, however, is in its gameplay. This is an Arkane Studios game, and with that comes expectations of a flexible game world. Prey delivers on those expectations fairly well. While I spent a lot of time putting points in a skill tree to mold my own play style, I never felt locked into those decisions. That’s because even if I put a ton of points into hacking my way through a console to open a door, chances are I could find a hidden entrance that will get me where I wanted to go. The more I observed the layout of the environment the more options opened up to me.
Observation is also quite useful in combat. I spent a lot of my time anticipating and learning the patterns of the “Typhon,” Prey’s amorphous alien enemy. The game encourages you to learn from observing its enemies in order to succeed. Approaching combat in Prey is best done slow and methodical, but again, I never felt locked into any certain style of play.
I appreciate the level of flexibility in Prey’s gameplay but I didn’t have as much fun with it as I thought. It’s not bad by any means, but it feels like revisiting a design that I’ve seen enough of. If you played Dishonored, Arkane Studios’ other emergent gameplay focused series, than you’ll find Prey to be all too familiar. I want to see either an evolution of this style of game or something altogether different from Arkane. Prey’s reliance on familiarity ultimately hinders its own potential.
Where Prey doesn’t lack, however, is in its presentation. Talos-1 is crafted with a 1960’s deco style that gives the game a distinct look. And each room is different enough from the rest of the station which made exploration rewarding. The biggest highlight for me was how the station felt more like a work place then a play area for the game. It gave Talos-1 character, and made the fights feel cramped which heightened the tension.
The user interface is slick and menus are easy to navigate. I understand those are boring point to makes, but I found myself digging into the menus a lot to either organize my inventory or upgrade one of Morgan’s many skills.
While I didn’t care much about its story, Prey’s environmental storytelling was enough to keep me interested in its world. You’ll come across emails between employees complaining about typical workplace issues. Audio logs left by victims and survivors range from humorous, dramatic and sometimes heart breaking. The voice acting in said audio logs are serviceable at conveying the range of emotions in Prey. I dig the cameo by Walton Goggins “(The Shield)” but I wish there was more of him. There are several books and articles to flesh out the creation of Talos-1 and the world events leading up to the game’s story. The station is filled with rooms that tell the story of how its doomed population worked and lived. I even found character sheets for a fantasy tabletop game played by some of the employees at Talos-1. Prey’s presentation and environmental story gave the game life in ways the rest of the game couldn’t.
The Final Word
Prey is not a bad game, but it’s familiar to other games in its ilk and that didn’t sit well with me through my time with it. At some point an evolution of this style of emergent gameplay focused titles needs to come. I think Arkane is the studio that can do it, but they didn’t quite hit the mark with Prey.
– MonsterVine Review Score: 3.5 out of 5 – Fair