By Alexander O. Cuaycong
and Anthony L. Cuaycong
IN 2006, Human Head Studios released Prey, a run-and-gun shooter, for the PC and XBox 360. Similar in form to titles like Doom and Quake, Prey was praised for its outstanding gameplay and its beautiful graphics, portraying a dirty, mysterious and dangerous ship populated by thousands and thousands of aliens who would like nothing more than to grind your bones to dust. Amid the positive reception, it garnered and spawned a cult following, with fans eagerly awaiting the next release.
Fast forward 11 years later, and gamers get their wish. The rights to Prey have been passed off to Arkane Studios, and the development team responsible for the Dishonored series does not disappoint. The franchise is in good hands, with the latest iteration for the PC, PlayStation 4, and XBox One clearly a marked improvement. To be sure, the Prey of 2017 isn’t a true sequel to its 2006 namesake. As marketed, it’s a reimagining of its roots; it has very little to do with the original in either gameplay or plot. All the same, there can be no denying its inherent value. It may be confusing, even frustrating, at times, but it’s nonetheless a romp worth going through.
In Prey, you play as either a male or female Morgan Yu, starting the game by exploring your apartment. You go through books, listen to audio logs, and suit up for your first day of work, only to realize that something dreadfully wrong is happening. Your interviewer is killed, and after getting knocked out, you see yourself back in your apartment again. Things have changed. You’re trapped in your apartment unable to get out, and after discovering the desiccated corpse of a mechanic outside your door, your only way out is through the window of your flat. You smash it, and then find out that your life is a lie. You’re in a simulation run by scientists observing you – but why, and for what? Something happened in this place, and with no memories, no notion of what’s happening in the world around you, and no clear goal in sight, it’s up to you to piece together what exactly happened, and why.
This, arguably, is when Prey is at its best. As you wander and try to make sense of your situation, you cannot help but be overcome by a sense of wonderment and awe at the game’s gorgeous visuals. Each of the many levels has its own style and aesthetic, varying greatly from place to place – from the cold, metallic feel of Psychotronics to the warm, inviting colors of the Crew Quarters. It helps create a distinct feel to each location, segmenting each part of the map into places that are not just fun to explore but also easy to remember.
Couple that with the mystery that surrounds your character, and your exploration becomes utterly compelling. The answers to “What is this place?” “Who are these people?” and “What am I doing here?” are all found in the environment, by way of voice recordings or e-mail in computers you run across. And when you’re not exploring the many corridors and hallways Prey has to offer, you get to fight off aliens called the Typhon, who pose a great threat not only to you, but to the entire human race. The Typhon vary in size and in behavior, and each type requires a specific strategy to beat, by using either guns or their own powers against them.
That said, the combat does feel a bit barebones. The weapons in the game don’t pack a lot of oomph, and some enemy types feel like downright bullet sponges at times, taking upwards of 10 to 15 pistol shots before being neutralized. The same holds true for the Typhon powers, which, while enjoyable, can be absolutely broken at times compared to conventional weaponry.
It’s around this point near the end that Prey starts to fall apart. The game is truly at its best when you take your time, making sure to explore each room, running through places unknown, wondering what dangers await you next. Precisely because it’s open-ended, however, it can suffer greatly from back-tracking and tedium. A lot of the wonder that the game produces goes straight out the window when you are forced to explore the same area twice, maybe even three times, in one playthrough. And that’s saying nothing about the ending of the story, which feel more like sequel bait than anything else.
Make no mistake, though. In spite of its obvious flaws, Prey is a wellspring of enjoyment. It is a fantastically fun title, and is best taken slowly and enjoyed to its fullest. Players who rush ahead with no strategy and expect to brute-force their way through the game will miss most of what it has to offer. Meanwhile, those willing to take their time, consider each of its plentiful areas separately, and explore its every nook and cranny will find themselves at the edge of their seats more often than not.
• Heavily atmospheric, with beautiful level designs accentuated by good voice acting and nice sound design.
• Exploration and player choice is heavily rewarded.
• Typhon powers are fun to use.
• Mimics are best due to their special ability.
• Combat can feel frustrating until mastered.
• Running back and forth between areas can feel tedious.
• Audio tends to fade in and out abruptly.
• The ending is an acquired taste.