In 2006 Human Head Games invaded living rooms and abducted gamers in their first person shooter release, Prey. Native American Tommy, his girl Jen and grandfather Enisi were abducted by an alien ship known as The Sphere, which was a living organism in itself and needed to harvest lifeforms to produce the energy required to sustain itself. Prey used portals and variable gravity to make it feel unique and has a special place in many gamers hearts. Prey 2 was long ago announced, with a trailer pushing the game in an entirely different direction. However, after a lengthy time in development it was sadly canned, leaving the series looking like a solo ip. In an interesting move, Bethesda picked up the rights and passed it on to Arkane Studios of Dishonored fame, and announced a reboot. The Wolfenstein reboot under Bethesda’s wing was stunning, but could they back up that success with Prey?
You take control of Morgan Yu, a research scientist on space station Talos 1. Orbiting the moon, Talos 1 is run by Transtar, a scientific company who is overlooking military research that combines alien DNA with humans, in the hopes of evolving mankind into something new. All hell breaks loose as the alien’s escape, and thus begins your quest for survival.
Played in first person, you quickly realise that Prey is not your run of the norm shooter. The first weapon you come across is a wrench, which is fitting as it resembles the type of gameplay you are about to endure. The wrench can be used as a solid melee weapon but quite quickly you learn that it can be put to use in repairing some of the items within Talos 1. This game is not about gun toting, it is about thinking your way through the environment and using this environment to your advantage.
The research undertaken at Talis 1 on the alien life forms, known as the Typhon, is used as a way to progress your character through his or her skill tree. Skill points are attained by finding Neuromods, with two skill trees to progress through. One is human abilities, which can be used to improve stealth, health, repairing, hacking and a host of general run of the mill rpg branches. The second tree is more fascinating, the alien side which grants Morgan abilities such as shape shifting and telekinesis powers. Unfortunately, the alien tree is unlocked once you locate an object called the Psychoscope quite a few hours into the game.
As I said the environments have a bigger say in your success than the weapons, there is a reasonable range available though and all are handy. The Glue Gun is by far the handiest, it is acquired very early in the game but it does take some time to realise the full potential of the weapon. At first you think it is great for simply holding enemies in a place and rendering them of the opportunity to attack. However, after some exploration you begin to realise that the large balls of glue that instantly harden make the game open up. You can use it to create paths otherwise unattainable. Stick balls of glue to a wall and create a staircase to move to a high position, or block a leaking, flaming gas pipe or electrical danger to move past safely. You can even make a path clear for an enemy, then shoot out the glue with another weapon, creating an instant trap. Its use is limited only by your thought.
This is handy information, Prey makes a point of rewarding the gamer for thinking outside the box. Exploration is a must, and successfully doing so rewards the player with valuable resources and also information that develops the story. The story is delivered in two ways, one via radio correspondence from a character named January (similar to the way Atlas was used in Bioshock). The other is via exploring Talos 1, through emails, books and charts scattered throughout the space station. This creates a want to find everything within the game, the story is excellent but if you rush through there will be massive gaps left behind.
The Typhon, the alien threat in the game is well designed. Overall there are eight types, each with their own unique abilities. The most memorable are the ones that instil fear into the gamer and have them second guessing where the threat lies. Mimics can change shape into any object in the environment, and Poltergeists have the ability turn invisible and manipulate the objects around them. I found myself on edge in each new area of Talos 1, even at times taking no chances and smashing mugs, books and chairs with my wrench, only to have aliens appear and scare the hell out of me from another position. The feeling of constant threat build the tension extremely well.
Talos 1 itself is quite a triumph, with a brilliant design. Each area feels varied and various paths can be taken to move about. A locked door does not mean there is no way into an area, as I said earlier think outside the box. After getting my head around the glue gun, and also adding neuromods to leverage (making me able to lift large objects), I found myself looking for the most bizarre paths possible. This made the game feel unpredictable and also added challenge and replay ability.
The hardest thing to grasp in Prey was the difficulty. In the beginning, I found myself dying often. Armed with a wrench and being accustomed to shooters I felt it unfair. When the penny finally dropped and I learnt to look for other path ways, use the environment and also patience with stealth, the game became easier. I do feel however, the first hour or two may turn some gamers away, especially those unwilling to make adjustment.
Talos 1 is a marvellous place, both in its level design and its visual flair. A space station in the year 2036, it is a technological masterpiece yet the furniture looks more akin to the 1960’s and 70’s. It has a feel very similar to The Rapture from Bioshock, the reasoning is explained in the games story but the end result is visually brilliant.
The environments are well crafted, the characters have a similar look to what we saw in Dishonored and its sequel. In areas that let you see the outside, the vastness of space and the moon, it is all very stunning. The highlight however is the Typhon, visually they are simply shaped black shadows but when coupled with the excellent animation in the way they move and interact it’s incredible.
Prey has a brilliant soundtrack; the sound production overall is fantastic. As usual with triple A releases the voice acting is top notch. Everything coupled together creates a feast for the senses.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my time spent on Talos 1. I am always excited to see a developer challenge gamers in a way that feels new and fresh and in many ways Prey does that. As a fan of the original though, I feel confused. This could quite easily have been a new ip and I would not have had even the slightest memory of the original game. The delivery of the story could be a little boring and underwhelming to gamers who are now used to having everything thrust down their throats. Prey could also alienate those thinking that this is the new action packed first person shooter. In places it is, but if you are planning on going through the game like Rambo on steroids you’re missing the point.