Prey review – Mimicking the greats

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Arkane draws from the timeless fascinations of the immersive sim to create Prey; an impressive piece of interactive entertainment that’s nevertheless a little rough around the edges.

Developer: Arkane Studios

Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

Platform: PlayStation 4 (version reviewed), Xbox One, PC

Release Date: May 5th, 2017

It was only announced last year, but it’s already become a cliche to describe Arkane Studio’s Prey as some sort of sci-fi reincarnation of Bioshock, and Bethesda certainly seems more than happy to market the game on such comparisons. While Prey does boast easily identifiable elements drawn from 2K Games’ seminal masterpiece (one of the first weapons players will come across is a wrench, which is nothing short of a direct homage to Bioshock’s iconic spanner), the game also owes itself to a wealth of many other historic titles, from Deus Ex and Dishonored to System Shock and Half-Life.

It even opens in almost exactly the same way as Fallout 4, with a character selection screen framed in the context of protagonist Morgan Yu checking himself out in the mirror. What follows, then, plays out like a tribute to the greatest hits of the immersive sim genre. That sounds like a bad thing, but Arkane’s talent for smart game design (something which Dishonored fans will be more than familiar with) shines throughout Prey’s twenty-hour campaign, ensuring that its imitative tendencies still translate into rewarding forms of gameplay.

Morgan Yu is a man with a lot of questions. After waking up in his apartment and preparing to travel into space, he quickly discovers that his reality is merely a Truman Show style simulation, and he is in fact already aboard the TranStar space station, which – unluckily for him – has succumbed to a fatal alien outbreak. Finding answers to the many questions which Prey’s fantastic opening set up was what kept me hooked throughout the campaign, even when I was forced to backtrack or got overwhelmed by all the burgeoning objectives on my to-do list (the story overstays its welcome by a good couple of hours).

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Prey forces both Yu and the player to constantly double-take their perception of reality, as the story continually trickles a steady stream of character revelations or plot twists that add yet another layer of intrigue and mystery to the narrative. Arkane is not afraid to play about with notions of paranoia and the limits of human perspective to keep you on your toes, and the solid writing across all mediums of communication – be it intercom messages, text-based exposition or visual cues – sustains the impact of the drama when it needs to hit.

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Prey’s setting, for the most part, is great too. Again, it’s not like we haven’t had abandoned, alien-infested space stations before, but Arkane has dressed the TranStar up in some really fancy clothes. Acting as a window into an alternative history, where the space race became more of a cosmic collaboration between America and Russia, this staggering vessel of human ingenuity has been conjured up with care.

The ship was built over a period of years between 1953 and 2020, and Arkane has carefully reflected this important detail by drawing environmental contrasts between the retro interior furnishings and the more contemporary-looking renovations installed on top of them – such as the amazing looking glass device. It’s not the greatest *looking* game to have ever graced the small screen (the opening view of San Francisco doesn’t make a great first impression) but Prey wins you over as another example of Arkane’s exceptional knack for world-building.

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Unfortunately, the immense scale of TranStar arrives with a caveat. The ship is so large and labyrinthian in nature that navigating its many decks and hallways quickly becomes overwhelming, and dampens the pacing of the story. This problem might have been alleviated if Prey’s objective tracking and mapping system were sound tools for exploration, but neither are immediately helpful for getting you to where you want to go, and can even send you wandering in the wrong direction. Exploration brings its own rewards, but Prey can often make you feel as though you’re wasting your time, running around in circles to complete objectives that don’t always justify the investment put into them.

The real draw of Prey isn’t that the environments simply look good, however. They feel good too. Almost everything aboard the TranStar can be touched, tinkered with, weaponized, destroyed, recycled, hacked, or merely enjoyed as a form of light reading – but every form of interaction serves a purpose (except, maybe, flushing the onboard toilets). Prey is an immersive sim which never forgets the meaning behind both of those words and, as a result, the game successfully embeds a tangible sense of tactility within the many layers of its gameplay.

That design philosophy also sets the groundwork for Prey’s distinguishing feature as an experience which thrives on freedom of opportunity and ingenuity. Any encountered problem – be it a stalking enemy or a locked door – can be tackled with a creative solution, and Arkane is more than happy to let players experiment with the many resources at hand.

Bethesda /

Fire crossbow bolts at an inaccessible terminal to read someone’s email and discover their office access code, use the unwieldy Gloo Gun to scale vertical structures, drop that apple you’ve been saving in your inventory to transform into it and navigate a tight squeeze; the limits of the game’s parameters are as wide as your ability to think outside the box. As Morgan continues to upgrade his abilities and craft new gadgets, the scope for experimentation only begins to open up even further, making Prey an experience that overall (if inconsistently) improves over time.

Arkane’s tacit pivot towards survival horror leads to complications of unfair advantage.

It is with combat where Prey slips up on its winning streak. The first-person shooting – as least on console – feels clunky, clumsy and unfair in its imprecise nature at times, exacerbated by the inability to appear down your iron sights with any of the weapons. Considering how fast and aggressive the Typhon can be in their attacks, zipping all over the place before you can even say “Good morning Morgan”, having to take them on with gunplay mechanics that feel comparatively elephantine leads to aggravating complications and unwarranted fail states.

Take the much-spotlighted mimics: their ability to transform into any nearby item is a cool trick that leads to smart jump scares, but their small size and jumpy nature also makes it frustrating to kill them – even when trying to give them a simple whack with the trusty spanner – negating their scare factor significantly. I wanted to feel both intimidated and predatory whenever I spied a hidden mimic during the game. Instead, I would sigh as I got ready for another clumsy Benny Hill dance of whack-a-mole.

Bethesda /

It gets worse with the tougher enemies, however, as Arkane’s tacit pivot towards survival horror leads to complications of unfair advantage. While the evolutionary diversity of the Typhon is admirable, some – such as the poltergeist – can kill Morgan without warning, and the scarcity of Neuromods (the game’s currency for levelling up) means that players are often left ill-equipped for dealing with oncoming threats, especially given how quickly Prey is willing to put you up against almost boss-like enemies.

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It’s hard to talk about everything in Prey because there really is a whole lot to it. I haven’t even discussed the astronautical gameplay, weapon crafting, side-quests or the choice-driven aspects of the story, but that very fact should give you an idea of how ambitious the game can be, even if many of its separate parts aren’t exactly original.

8. Taken together, Prey is a brilliant but flawed descent into a world of science gone wrong, driven by a well told, cerebrally satisfying story which makes up for the mechanical inconsistencies of the experience. Comparing Prey to Bioshock only reveals the relative cracks which explains why the former doesn’t quite live up to the expectations set by the latter, so it’s instead best to enjoy Prey as its own thing, forgiving its flaws to marvel at the results of Arkane’s intelligent approach to game design.. Arkane Studios. . Prey

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.