Does Bethesda’s Prey reboot deliver?
Bethesda taps Dishonored’s Arkane Studios to reboot the 2006 video game, Prey.
I quite liked the original Prey, developed by Human Head Studios and published by 2K. It was about a native American getting abducted by aliens. The protagonist could use his Cherokee heritage to spirit-walk, or something, in order to escape the alien spaceship. A sequel was planned, but never materialised.
You can forget all about the previous paragraph, as the 2017 Prey shares only a name with the original game.
Its origins are a bit of a weird one. Following the transfer of the potential franchise in 2011, from the original owner, 3D Realms, to Bethesda, Arkane, fresh from their success with Dishonored started to look at the aborted Prey 2, distilling the original game to someone being hunted by aliens. Rather than continue the series, they just started again.
In this reimagined Prey, you are Dr. Morgan Yu, and are either male or female, depending on your choice. After a huge reveal that makes your life not quite what you thought, you find yourself stranded on a space station, called Talos I, infested by alien creatures known as the Typhon.
The game didn’t warm to me immediately. It holds its cards to it chest waiting for you understand how to play it before opening itself up to you. If you go in, as I initially did, believing that you are on some sort of linear quest with obvious routes, you are going to struggle.
It’s only once to realise that the station is full of secret passages and hidden rooms that you start to forge your own story, improvising and discovering the tools that you need to survive. I spend a good few hours dying time-after-time trying to take on foes with just a wrench. I was about to give up, declaring the game to be rubbish, when I found an opening that granted me a shotgun. From that moment on I was closely examining every room and picking up everything that I could take.
Don’t make the mistake thinking that this is simply an action game. Your opponents, the Typhon, are tar- black, semi-shapeless beings that attack on sight. They come in a variety of types, starting with the small shape-shifting mimics and increasing in size, power and abilities as the game progresses. They are all formidable opponents and you need to be smart about how you handle them, else the game will become a frustrating experience.
The Prey sometimes conveys the same sort of fear that Creative Assembly used to such great effect in their Alien: Isolation game. The result is an action game that you play more like a stealth game, often sneaking past or avoiding the creatures rather than risk a one-sided confrontation.
In order to survive you are going to need all the help you can get. Unlike many games, that are happy to fill you inventory with useless crap that you will never need, you need to pick up everything you can in Prey. Some items, like medikits etc. have obvious uses, but all your junk and unwanted items can be recycled into useful base materials. Dotted around the station are recyclers and fabricators. Once you’ve broken down your junk you can use the material to craft useful items, providing you’ve discovered the fabrication plan.
I really can’t stress how important the above is for your enjoyment of the game.
The game uses neuromods, to boost your abilities, increasing your strength, heath etc. You find neuromods lying about or you can fabricate them. As the game progresses you can also harness the abilities of the Typhoon, allowing you to mimic inanimate object and unleash energy blasts, among others.
The Talos I space station looks pretty vast and empty at first glance, but it’s actually a genius piece of level design that slowly unlocks itself as you progress through the game. You find yourself revisiting areas a lot, but through different route, each time unlocking a new area via using a keycode, a keycard or hacking locks. You even have access to the exterior of the station to gain access to blocked area via a zero-G spacewalk a la Dead Space 3.
There’s no doubt that Arkane have put a lot of effort into Prey, it’s also clear on where they got their inspiration. As good as the game is, it is very derivative. One of the reasons I enjoyed it some much, once it got going, was that it took many of the bits from my favourite games, like Bioshock, Dead Space, Alien: Isolation and even Arkane’s own Dishonored, and rolled them all into one.
Graphically it is stunning. The art style is similar, but crisper than Dishonored. Arkane hasn’t strayed far from their comfort zone, a fact made especially obvious by Dishonored 2’s release only weeks ago.
Prey is a polished and clever game, but certainly requires a bit of patience- at least at the beginning. The level design is superb and the recycling/fabrication system works well. It does, however, borrow heavily from other titles, a bit too much sometimes. But it is a great game as long as you stick with it.