Recently I managed to make a significant dent in my videogame backlog by finishing off Prey, so I thought I would get my opinion of it out before my frustration with the game gives me an aneurysm.
Published by Bethesda, Prey is a first-person sci-fi shooter that pits you against a range of horrible aliens on a spaceship with a bunch of weird and wonderful abilities and weapons. Not to be confused with the 2006 game Prey, a first-person sci-fi shooter that pits you against aliens on a spaceship with a bunch of weird weapons and abilities.
It’s confusing, isn’t it?
In the 2017 edition of Prey, you play the role of Morgan Yu a brilliant engineer and scientist that wakes up one morning in his comfy, quiet studio apartment in San Francisco where everything is calm and peaceful. Through a Groundhog Day style series of events, Morgan finds out that he’s actually aboard the research vessel Talos 1 and things have taken a turn for the worst. The ships infested with a race of shapeshifting psychic aliens called Typhon and Morgan must escape Talos 1, get his memory back and find out how everything went pear-shaped.
I really enjoyed the setting of Prey, it has some nice System Shock vibes to it as you explore the ship both inside and out, crafting resources from scrap you find lying around whilst approaching every situation in the game any way you like.
For example, if you’re presented with a locked door to a room you can try to hack it, crawl through a nearby maintenance vent or fling subtlety to the wind, smash a hole in the window, turn into a mug with your Typhon abilities and slide on inside.
The freedom you have over the environment is a nice change from normal first-person shooter games I’ve played where you must go a specific way or perform a set action to progress like breaching a room full of terrorists or performing a QTE to continue. Plus, it leads to a lot of fun moments where you find yourself going “Was I meant to do it that way?” as you mess around with Prey’s rather liberal physics engine.
It’s also got the most immersive ‘floating around in Zero-G’ mechanics I’ve ever seen. It genuinely feels like you’re weightless in suit as you gently bump off walls, zoom along corridors with a slight press of your thrusters letting physics take the wheel and it’s quite satisfying to watch nearby items in the environment ragdoll in low gravity after an explosion. Throw in the occasional deep breath from Morgan’s Oxygen Regulator as he floats along in his suit and the muffled sounds of weapon fire and it’s easy to lose yourself in the moment as you just bob along in space admiring the scenery.
The stories compelling, the alien powers you can use are interesting and combining them with your ordinary weapons can make you a force to be reckoned with onboard Talos 1 as you create all sorts of carnage.
However, as much as I enjoyed this game there are several issues I had with it and after taking some time to process it all after finishing the game I might as well line them all up now for further critique/mockery.
To start things off we have the difficulty curve at the beginning that ramps up to an insane degree after the first couple of hours. Unless you invest heavily in Typhon powers and weapon upgrades right out the gate you’re going to be pounded into the dirt by pretty much everything. Especially the cheap EMP spam projectiles from Technopaths that can knock out your electrical based weapons and your entire suit if you’re in Zero-G.
I get that in a videogame difficulty is supposed to progress gradually higher as the game goes along to mirror your own increasing skill and abilities, but Prey insists on just dumping high level enemies on you super early on that only serve to strip you of ammunition and healing items that you just spent so long trying to scrounge up for in the first place.
Another issue that, at the time of writing, was pretty bad was the almost vindictive enjoyment the game had in removing items, weapons and ammunition from my inventory through what’s now been colloquially coined by the community as ‘Door Demons’.
What do I mean by that?
Well, during my playthrough of Prey there were points in the game where I would go through a loading screen door, emerge on the other side and be surprised to find that the game at random decided that I didn’t need an item in my inventory. At first, I didn’t notice this rather aggravating bug until it decided to strip me of my most powerful weapon in the game. Of course, I thought that I must have accidently dropped it in the previous room during a fight and after scrounging the area for an hour I gave up, reloaded a previous save that was significantly further back went through the door and it happened again.
According to the Prey forums this bug is still prevalent and there seems to be no immediate fix coming, so for now anyone playing Prey just has to deal. It’s like someone walking up to you at random intervals in the game and punching you in the head, just chock it up to ‘Extra Difficulty Level’ I guess.
Couple that with the aggravatingly long load times between sections and you’ve got yourself a ringside seat to the next performance of ‘Controller Thrown Off A Wall In B-Flat’.
Now this last part is going to go straight into spoiler territory, so if you don’t want the ending of Prey ruined then turn away now, finish the game and then come back.
*************************** Spoilers Below **********************************
Now the biggest problem I had with Prey would be its endings, there’s three of them and only two have any impact on the story. Although most modern games tend to offer this, where Prey let me down was that the developers behind the game, Arkane Studios, said that there would be “tons of permutations” within the games endings. But, there’s only really two sub-endings within the two main ones.
To simplify things, I’ll explain what exactly happens upon finishing the game.
When you get to the final chapter you’re given the option to either escape the ship whilst detonating a device that neutralises the Typhon or just blowing the ship up completely.
Once you pick one of these options you’re given a short cutscene, end credit sequence and then suddenly the game screen lifts to reveal that surprise, surprise, it’s all been a simulation based on the real Morgan Yu’s memories aboard the Talos 1 incident. You are in fact not Morgan Yu since he apparently died offscreen a while ago, instead you’re a Typhon hybrid that his brother Alex has been experimenting on.
Now, as aggravatingly cliched and awful as that ending is, where it really pushed my buttons was that I was presented with an array of robots that were all voiced by NPC’s in the game that I interacted with. This makeshift robotic Jury then lists off your interactions with their digital avatar selves within the simulation, did you save or kill them in their side quest, did you run an errand for them, did you use too many Typhon augments or not kill enough aliens, that sort of thing.
It’s at this point that the ‘many permutations’ that the game developers boasted so much about falls out of the air dead. Because you can almost see the logic diagram that they wrote for this; ‘Did player do A? if yes play voice clip A, did they not do A? play voice clip B’, repeat ad nausea.
Once I saw this the entire threat of the games ‘your choices matter’ just completely collapsed because clearly my choices didn’t matter at all. It just parrots back the things that I did with no real consequence other than my character being killed as a ‘failed experiment’ if I was too much of a bad boy. But even then, I genuinely think I could have scraped by with much less of what the game deemed as positive actions on my playthrough.
Once the Jury finished their deliberation you’re then given the option to assist Alex or kill everyone in the room. Naturally I saved beforehand to see where each ending differed and was instantly let down to see that they didn’t. Instead of some unique dialogue or a cutscene showing the consequences of this apparently monumental decision, I was instead given a 10 second clip in each choice of either shaking Alex’s hand or ramming a tentacle through his heart before the screen cut to black.
When that happened oh boy the red mist descended, I was upset, I was angry, I was filled with a frustrated rage that I’ve not felt since the early days of Dark Souls.
I felt insulted by the game, it had had built up this fascinating and intricately woven spaceship story of tension and drama as I had to make all my decisions count and seriously think about all my actions and their potential consequences. But no, it was ‘all a dream’, your decisions didn’t matter and the main character is dead here’s your endings I guess, we’re off to focus on the sequel.
I really enjoyed Prey at the beginning, it has some legitimately good moments, the mechanics are fun and incredibly easy to get to grips with. The story is intriguing, but the way it just completely falls apart at the end is just terrible and it leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
I wanted to like Prey more than I did, I had so many great moments in it and I would still recommend picking it up when it’s cheap because the gameplay and setting is the best thing about it. Just, ignore the story and stick to messing around with psychic powers and the ability to turn into a mug instead.