Arkane Studios has crafted a terrifying sci-fi FPS that keeps you on the edge of your couch to the last moment. It stands up against the classic titles that influenced its design.
What can you really trust? From its opening act, Prey fills players with uncertainty, in the dark about the chaos that surrounds you and facing powerful enemies for survival. Arkane has crafted a compelling mystery. The eerie environments and sci-fi enemies build an uneasy atmosphere, but it is well balanced with a sense of accomplishment when you overcome challenges and an immersive story. This balance is maintained throughout, and as your skill level increases so do the challenges, leaving you constantly feeling under prepared. It is compounded with the mystery surrounding this disaster, the story slowly unfolding but never really providing any solid answers. Which of the voices in your head do you trust when you can’t even trust the furniture?
Prey takes place on Talos 1, a space station where the TranStar Corporation has been experimenting with a human enhancement technology called Neuromods. Talos 1 is a bastion of science in an alternative version of history where, among other changes, humans have made first contact. At first, everything seems perfectly normal, you’re getting ready for your new job, the game’s intro sequence is a pleasant helicopter ride, you get to test out the gameplay basics of picking objects up and leaping over small walls, and a coffee cup kills a man…wait, what? Yup, now it’s clear you are about to have a very bad day as everything quickly descends into death and questions. The Typhons, shapeshifting aliens, have broken containment and are wreaking havoc on the station.
There is a well-developed world on this devastated space station and Arkane masterfully leaves a trail of breadcrumbs to unravel the world they have built. Much of the game’s story is hidden with emails, notes, and Transcribes spread throughout the station. The detailed environments speak volumes to the events that have occurred as well. Talos 1 was once full of life, people who had issues with their bosses, regular game nights, even a smuggling ring. You can build personas of the missing and dead crewmen and life aboard. Some messages are more relevant to your predicament than others but they all build you investment as you can relate to and even empathize with as their final hours are revealed to you.
It is clear that the troubles of Talos 1 began long before this outbreak but the questions haunt you and make you doubt many of your decisions. Instead of clicking through notes I found myself seeking out their emails and Transcribes to try and piece together what the hell was going on. It is all composed so brilliantly that I was proposing theories on where it was all going right up until the end.
Playing as Morgan Yu, you must fight your way through the space station to uncover the mystery of the Talos 1. As you are guided through the station’s many threats the story is filled in through old emails, recordings, and NPCs giving you instructions over your comms. Arkane Studios’s influences for the game design are clear. Talos may be in space but it conveys the same tragic beauty and opulence of Bioshock’s Rapture. The Neuromods are also reminiscent of the 2K Games franchise but Arkane develops them in a skill tree that is their own. The are other familiarities like open credits presented on rails and Morgan’s wrench being an essential tool and weapon that give Prey a classic feel.
You can also see the influence of Arkane’s previous games as well in the character design, art style, and degree of player choice. There are multiple ways to install Neuromods that change the way you play and Arkane will let you explore and solve challenges in a variety of ways. Despite the amount of power Arkane gives to players, the game is presented precisely. The threats grow as your skills do, so even when you unlock the best abilities you still feel nervous about confrontation. The music maintains a tense atmosphere while the ever-present danger of the Typhons keeps you on edge. A shooter hasn’t made me this excited and nervous since F.E.A.R. It feels terrifying but drives you on.
As a sci-fi FPS, Prey has plenty of gadgets, and of course guns, but resources on Talos are scarce—as if they weren’t expecting an alien outbreak or something. You will spend a lot of time collecting trash to toss into the Recycler for precious resources to forge supplies. It is not a survival horror game, but you may feel like it is sometimes as you try to conserve your resources in this tense atmosphere.
Maintaining your list of weapons and abilities does get a little unwieldy. You can have three items and one power at a button’s press, but the rest are accessed through the quick menu. The quick menu quickly becomes a spiral of icons; it is “quick” but a little overwhelming. Luckily Prey is forgiving, effectively pausing the game while you search for the right grenade. Once you have built an arsenal and have assessed your enemies, combat moves quickly.
The Typhons are fast and even the small ones can take a big chunk off of your health bar. This makes finding creative approaches to enemies important and—more importantly—fun. Recycle your enemies, create new pathways, raise the dead, or just roll around as a mug. There are a lot of great options for conquering the obstacles on this deathtrap of a space station. Guns blazing is always the best solution, as even similar creatures require very different approaches. Study your enemies to unlock new abilities and learn their weaknesses.
Your GLOO gun or Null-wave grenades are great at taking back control, but the AI is aggressive and adapts. I swear I saw one retreat and hide behind a crate, forcing me to get close to finish him off. So far I have found speed to be the key to my success, not giving them time to react, but there is more than one way to play. Talos 1 inspires a little creativity and tools (and the handy quicksave function) give you freedom to try new things and find new ways of solving your Typhon problems.
Prey accommodates different play styles as well; with six skill trees to explore, you can mix and match your abilities. There are three human skill trees: Science, Engineer, and Security, and three Typhon skill trees: Energy, Morph, and Telepathy. You can focus on stealth, your weapon skills, or even mastering alien abilities. If you are really feeling confident you don’t have to take any new abilities, although I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to pretend to be a turret. There are a lot of choices and I expect to replay the game just to try some of the abilities I didn’t focus on.
You can explore and return to any part of Talos 1 at any point and problems can be addressed in a variety of ways. The only frustration I found was the time it took to transition between areas. There is a lot going on in Talos, but the loading screens drive me insane, especially when objectives ask you to travel to multiple zones on board. If a game like Horizon Zero Dawn doesn’t need loading times, I have a hard time understanding why Prey does—or maybe I am just a bit spoiled.
Performance & Graphics
Arkane has a very distinctive art style. The environments are stunning and tragic at the same time. Morgan is discovering this once-vibrant station after its devastation: rooms torn apart, malfunctioning lighting, the remains of other occupants frozen in their death throes. The character design shies away from the overly realistic renderings you might find in titles such as Battlefield in favor of a unique art style. Even if the visuals are not hyper-realistic, the world still feels more real than many other games. It is the small details that do it, like the flicker in your flashlight or scuffs on the floor or the natural way much of the correspondence is written.
With the exception of the long load times, the game plays beautifully. There have been reports of errors for PC gamers, and I must admit I experienced a few bugs myself, including a crash and having to reload a save because the controls turned on me. I had no issues for the vast majority of the game.
The audio in Prey sets the atmosphere perfectly. The cords are irregular and tense, leaving you feeling constantly uncomfortable. The game’s enemies are deceptive, fast, and evasive. As the Typhons move about in your peripheries, the music and effects reduce you to creeping through the environment, skeptical of every inanimate object. Unlike many games where the music typically forewarns of danger, the eerie soundtrack keeps you perpetually on edge, even when there is nothing to fear, and the telltale signs of mimics often give little time to react. Other Typhons can be identified before they spot you, but the amped-up irregular and piercing sounds coupled with their speed and power can make combat frantic.
Prey is an outstanding example both as a sci-fi thriller and an FPS. Talos 1 tells its own story as players explore and immerse you. The gameplay flows and is challenging, the atmosphere keeps you on the edge of your couch, and the story is enthralling. Arkane manages to keep you invested despite the overwhelming levels of “hell no” they generate and they keep you guessing throughout. Ultimately, Prey is thrilling—even if it is unnerving and, more importantly, a lot of fun.
Prey is available for PC, PS4, and Xbox One.
This article first appeared on DVSGaming.org