“It’s not so much the end, as it is the journey that got you there.” This is a quote that I have seen and heard numerous times. Unfortunately, I don’t remember where nor can I find who first said it, thanks to the many, many manipulations created from it online. But, this is also how I would best describe my time with Prey. The main story didn’t stand out too much, but it did take a few twists and turns that maintained my attention throughout. You play as Morgan Yu aboard the research space station Talos 1. An alien species, the Typhon, breaks containment causing Morgan to fight for his life in an attempt to escape. For those who had the chance to play to opening demo, many of the narrative foundation has been placed, giving the player a good idea of what to expect. When it comes down to it though, it’s the people who created the experience. Something the demo won’t be able to provide.
Talos 1 is a fully realized and, until recently, highly active space station. To me, this is where the game truly shined. Every member of the space station is a real person. They all have names, personalities, and even their own rooms. You learn of love, their projects, and even jealousy at times towards one another through the use of Transcribes. Essentially, tape recorders found strewn about. Its through many of these interactions that you are given your objectives. I’ve had to search the station for proof of a smuggling ring, searched through a pile of eels in the name of alcohol, and even solved a treasure hunt from the crew who enjoyed the casual table top game. But, most importantly, you can learn enough about someone, that you even start to care a little bit for them, if at least, only marginally. And that can be a unique feeling when lined up against other titles who don’t give these secondary characters a personality or really a reason as to why they are there.
The gameplay can be energetic and exciting, but it took some time to get to this point. Mimics, a basic enemy, are fast and have the ability to transform into anything that is relatively similar in size to itself. Never have I found a basic computer desk terrifying until one of these jumped out at me, previously assuming the appearance of a coffee cup. This created tension in the first few hours of the game, but eventually lost that same excitement once it happened a few too many times. Apart from the mimics, Talos 1 did not carry a very diverse amount of enemies. Many of the larger heavy hitters were only seen rarely. In contrast, many of the halls would usually have a phantom or two walking along. Phantoms are human-like entities that patrol along until disturbed. I personally found the etheric phantom to be the worst of the variants. Not only was it unbelievably quick, it had the ability to split into lesser powerful clones of itself making bad situations much worse.
Off the bat, Alex can be a heavy and slow moving character. It took me a few hours to really get use to his movement speed. Fortunately, I think they used this to force the player to rely on the GLOO gun. Something that I consider to be comparable to Half-Life 2’s grav gun. A simple design, yet extremely complex and powerful enough to both help and do real damage when needed. By damage, I mean freezing enemies in place and then using a wrench or security weapon to destroy them. Many of the weapons are highly creative and well thought out. Basic security weapons such as the shotgun and pistol are present. Even a taser-type weapon becomes available later on. Eventually, a laser based weapon, the Q-beam becomes available, but the real standout is the Recycler Grenade. Using a black hole to trap enemies, it then sucks them in and literally explodes them into recyclable materials. These recyclable materials can then be used in the fabricator. For those who don’t use the grenade, a recycler machine is also present. By throwing in unwanted junk, or even an excess of materials, everything gets broken down into a variety of molecular options. You can then use the materials to create everything from weapons to ammo and eventually more complex items such as neuromods and mission sensitive items.
Speaking of neuromods, these are your primary source of points to invest in player growth. All of the human skill trees are available to the player from the beginning. Options such as lifting extremely heavy objects to weapon modifications and suit upgrades are present here. The other half of your skill tree, Typhon skills, did not become readily available to me until around roughly 8 to ten hours of gameplay. You can learn skills ranging from the mimic ability to transform into items, mind control, or even temporary shields from incoming attacks. The caveat is that you must complete research on the multitude of enemies before you can unlock the Typhon trees. A simple scan similar to the camera mechanic in the Bioshock series. One of Arkanes biggest selling points is that you can play and build your character however you please. However I found myself tucked into the corner of self preservation for the first half of my journey. My usits upgrades were a must as I always found a way to become overburdened, as well as upgrade the potency of the medkits laying around the space station. It wasn’t until later in which I felt comfortable enough to invest in Typhon abilities, although many of the automated defense systems became hostile towards Alex once they detected the imbalanced of Typhon DNA in his system.
Overall though, Prey delivers on what it set out to accomplish. The station can become dull on the inside, although it’s bright and vibrant as you fly around the outside of its protective walls. The enemies present a challenge to keep Alex on his heels at all times while maintaining a constant eye on his current supplies, the community of survivors have been shown an impressive amount of detail and passion. Arkane played it safe creating a game that I would consider highly similar to past titles such as Bioshock, but I think it worked in their favor. They took a strong foundation and found a way to grow a beautiful world from it.