Recently, I finished the main storyline of Arkane Studios’ Prey. The accomplishment did not bring with it the sort of happiness and fulfillment I usually experience when finishing a game. I didn’t enjoy my time with Prey. I saw the beauty in it and the difficulty of it, but always found myself at a distance from it.
A sci-fi/horror-based first-person experience, the game finds the player taking on the role of a scientist, Morgan Yu, aboard a space station, Talos I, where things have gone horribly awry. One of the main challenges in the game—and where the player gets a great deal of agency—is that Morgan can’t remember any of his/her (the player gets to choose) time aboard the station. The reasons for that have to do with brain implants and evil aliens.
Over the course of Prey, the player gets to choose new implants for Morgan to install. Morgan does this because the game requires it knowing that their removal will cause mental difficulties and despite being generally aware that these Neuromods are, potentially, a bad idea. It is possible to get through the game without mods, but not easily. In fact, Prey is all about making the best of a bad situation.
There are multiple possible endings to the main story, a plethora of side missions, and regularly options about how to proceed through an area. And, with the number of aliens around, scarcity of weapons/ammo, and no area actually ever being clear (the player has to go through the same sections of the station over and over and aliens do reappear), a number of tense moments.
The effort that went into the title is apparent and admirable, however, rather than providing depth to the game, rather than making the player feel engaged, all the choices one is allowed feel rather empty. It ought to provide depth as there are multiple solutions to many of the tasks and the promise is always there—every time the player hits any new area of Talos, the sense that this one will be better comes with it—but it routinely leads to disappointment. The aliens are varied, but not varied enough. The weapon types available aren’t all that numerous, the mechanics of the game never feel like they change that much, and there are a number of bugs. At one point this reviewer saved his game with an alien in an adjacent room only to load it up later and have the alien be half in the room with me, and half in the adjacent room. In a game where health and ammo are at a premium, this wasn’t great.
Beyond that, at some point the regular plot reversals about who has done what to whom on the station get old. Morgan’s exploration of his/her history alongside his/her sibling, Alex, isn’t silly, it’s boring. The backtracking through the station over and over again is boring. The side missions become monotonous. Prey becomes a slog.
Some of this is the fault of the map the game provides. While there are several different types of objectives (main, side, and finding missing crew) that are given different markers, determining how to actually get anywhere is confusing and difficult. The game isn’t necessarily wrong with the directions the map gives as much as it doesn’t always seem to choose the easiest/straightest of routes. Or, at minimum, it sends one past difficult areas or to multiple load screens (and loads are slow) when fewer are required. Even within a single room it can be hard to figure out where, exactly, the game wants the player to go.
All of this leads to a game that just isn’t fun to play. It is a sci-fi horror title that isn’t terribly scary and the RPG elements and upgrades do make the game more playable but never feel intriguing. It is certainly a long game (if one explores the side missions) and there is an in-depth story/history one can learn, but this reviewer never felt terribly engaged by it.
Prey is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood, Language, Use of Alcohol, Violence. This game can also be found on: Xbox One and Windows PC.