Space. In space no-one can hear you scream…unlike my bedroom, where my constant twitching and muttering of expletives tends to have a negative impact on my wife’s ability to sleep soundly. If you were to sum up my initial few hours with Prey in a very short statement it would be something like: imagine Dead Space meets Bioshock on board Red Dwarf with enemies as unpredictable as a hormonal teenager and less ammunition than you would find in a British Chess club. Allow me to digress.
Straight off this is a game that draws you in from the moment it begins: solid, shiny visuals and well-realized interactive environments set the tone for a seemingly run-of-the-mill tutorial, but you get the sense of the game’s depth just from looking beyond the given instructions. Your apartment features notes, books, a computer and an array of objects for you to collect or throw with gay abandon. A nifty audio-visual communication system is built into your HUD and the voice acting gets a thumbs up for being believable and engaging. Having initially chosen your gender, your role as Morgan Yu begins with you suiting up in preparation for your first day on a new job (hardly the most original sci-fi opener you’ve ever heard, but bear with me). Cue the usual assortment of simple objectives to get you started before you set off to meet your brother via a wonderfully inventive helicopter ride which doubles as the opening credits (very, very cool, Bethesda). From here it begins to get a little bit weird before the proverbial excrement hits the rapidly rotating implement and you…well, let’s just say that it gets a bit déjà vu.
Fast forward a short while and the game begins to deliver on what you may expect from having seen the trailers (or my handy video which you can click on should you feel the need to). The majority of the action takes place against the backdrop of a humongous corporate space station called Talos I, which has experienced some rather troubling interactions with a strange alien lifeform. Your task is to figure out exactly what is going on by exploring, detecting and generally poking your nose into other people’s business via their private emails, lockers and mutilated corpses. It’s hugely involving to simply take in the scenery, thanks in no small part to the brilliantly realized locations, but there is an immense amount of depth to the setting once you start to understand how it all fits together. Rooms interlink via locked doors, maintenance shafts, airlocks, gravity lifts and a massive tunnel system which allows you to move between areas without too much interference from the pesky critters who try to disembowel you at every opportunity. Once you have the necessary equipment to hand you can even leave the station’s interior and fly around in outer space (although this is very disorientating when you first try to get to grips with your lack of gravitational centre). All-in-all it’s an experience which works fantastically well and helps the player to feel like they are part of a living, breathing world as opposed to a series of identikit corridors.
While many games of this type task you with blasting seven shades of florescent blood out of an endless stream of enemies, Prey starts you off with a wrench and an enemy who moves faster than you can effectively swing. Attacks are linked to stamina meaning that you have to pick your moments to strike to ensure that you aren’t left trying to catch your breath whilst getting swarmed from all sides (which will happen a lot). The basic enemies, known as Mimics, are essentially four-legged spiders that can stretch their appendages to strike you and can also turn into almost any inanimate object they come across. This means that they will appear out of nowhere, attack and then run off before turning into something else and starting all over again. To put this in context, on the harder difficulties (which have a heavily reduced HUD) you will become wary of every last item you see in the world from screwed-up scraps of paper to coffee cups and from microscopes to ammo boxes. Literally anything can be a hidden threat. Suffice to say that this leads to plenty of jump scares and accidental discharges of precious ammunition, especially when you come to realize that the only way to survive is to collect scrap at every opportunity…meaning you need to risk picking up all the trash and spare parts of machines/computers in the hope that you can get to a recycler and turn it into crafting materials before you get turned into pulp yourself. Mimics attack in groups pretty frequently but can be slowed down easily with the Gloo-Gun before being smashed with a wrench (save your bullets for some of the other guys), it doesn’t take long for the ante to be upped significantly (seriously, not long at all) and you realize that the odds are very much stacked against you. There is often a sense that you need to run instead of fighting when you first come across some of your opponents and it’s not until you gain access to a scanner that you can start to think tactically about how to despatch your innumerate foes. Remember: there are always options other than going toe-to-toe and you should always check your ammo levels before running into a confrontation head-on.
Beyond your standard weaponry you have the option to upgrade yourself using Nanomods (which you inject into your ocular cavity) that change your abilities in a number of ways. This can be anything from increased intelligence and hacking skills to the ability to lift heavier objects, run faster or be increasingly sneaky. After a few of the main missions you also gain the ability to unlock Nanomods which are based on alien DNA. These can be anything from psychic energy blasts to the ability to teleport or morph into an inanimate object to avoid detection. Whilst they make for some fantastically creative moments, you have to consider what impact these may have on your humanity in the long-run. You may have to deal with consequences of your choices later, so choose wisely.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of the game (so far) is the little details that make it so believable. These take many forms, but a great example came when I needed to access a room and couldn’t find the relevant key card or access code. After revisiting the area a couple of times, I accessed a remote terminal and read through some emails, only to learn that a maintenance droid made a cleaning run through the area and entered the room on an hourly basis. If I followed the droid into the room I could complete my objective and move on…so I waited…and waited. Now, most games have an accelerated time scale where minutes are reduced to seconds and the 24 hour cycle passes relatively quickly but it quickly became apparent as I monitored the clock in the corner of the computer monitor that time was passing accurately. After waiting for about 15 minutes with the impression that the robot would come at half past the hour, I was disappointed that it never appeared. Reluctantly, I set back off around the rest of the ship in the hope that I would find my way back there at the right moment to complete my personal mission. Having to watch the clock while you survive certainly adds a sense of realism which is not always replicated in other titles.
Impressively, this sense of engagement and involvement doesn’t end there. Throughout the environment are countless opportunities to exploit the world around you along with different ways that you can utilize your set of weapons and tools to overcome obstacles. A prime example came from my first few hours of play and the experience changed the way that I began to traverse the inner workings of Talos I. After a few close calls my health was low and I had very little ammo, I knew that my office had a recycler and a fabricator which would allow me to rejuvenate my health and replenish my expunged resources. I had to despatch a few Mimics along the way with my trusty wrench, but as I rounded a corner I was confronted with a Phantom (much larger, meaner and not really too fussed about a wrench to the face). Unsurprisingly, I decided to creep away and reconsider my options. Whilst hiding behind a desk and nervously peering over a small shelf, I realized that there were actually two phantoms on the prowl. Great. After much gentle creeping and the occasional sprint for cover I managed to get to a vantage point on an upper level, on the opposite side of the lobby to my hallowed office haven. Sadly, this floor also contained a large volume of enemies intent on dismembering me and I found myself essentially back at square one, albeit in a slightly higher location. But then I had an epiphany.
Hanging across the top of the room was a lighting rig which ran almost the whole length of it. From my position, it was clear that the rig was just too far for me to reach by jumping so I devised a cunning plan. One of your main weapons is the Gloo Gun, a device which shoots a rapidly hardening liquid in giant blobs and can be used to slow down your opponents, and the blobs it creates remain in place until destroyed through the application of force (great for blocking up doors if you are being pursued). Moreover, the blobs can be climbed onto or over to save time if they are in your way, and it is this aspect which caused the lightbulb to spark into illumination. Taking careful aim at the handrail around the edge of the balcony, I created a small series of steps for me to climb onto. Tentatively scaling these rocky bubbles, I turned towards the light rig from my newly-reached height and leapt into the unknown. I landed with ease and ran towards my office. At the other end I found the gap to be even larger but I built a small bridge and steps and repeated the process. After that, the only issue I faced was the window to my office…no stress when Mr. Wrench is close at hand!
I’ve tried to avoid spoilers where possible as this is a game you really need to get your teeth into to fully appreciate. The subtle nuances and use of sound are completely immersive, the enemies are intelligent and genuinely cause you difficulties when you find yourself in a tight spot and the game is built with such passion and conviction that it is likely to go down as a classic of design for years to come. Prey is tough, smart and brutal in equal measure and is well worthy of your time.