Despite Flaws, Prey Is a Sinister Combination of All the Right Influences
On board the Talos I space station, things start off cheery enough with protagonist (male or female) Morgan Yu waking up on a lovely day in a flash apartment. You can’t shrug off the sinister tone lying beneath though. Sure enough, it doesn’t take long for things to turn sour. From Bioshock, Dishonored, Deus Ex, even Mirror’s Edge, Prey’s DNA is a combination of some of the best bits from its peers, built into its own distinct sci-fi fantasy, and that’s just from the opening hour. To say that Prey is like Bioshock in space would be disrespectful to Arkane’s work, but it wouldn’t be a bad way to describe it to a questioning friend – it’s just a shame that Prey doesn’t execute all of its influences quite right.
Bioshock was clearly a huge influence in the way the story is told, with most of the narrative being fed to you over voice communications, for better or for worse. Moreover, the dynamic of the combat is identical in the sense that you soften up your enemies first with, in Prey’s case, the GLOO gun (sticking them in place), before finishing them off with the wrench; it’s a system that’s not as simple to use as Bioshock’s RB/LB prompt to switch between power and weapon. Whilst you can map weapons to your d-pad, pressing triangle on PS4 often switches back to a weapon that you haven’t actually used in a while and don’t intend to use. There’s no clear way of getting a certain weapon to be your secondary one when you press triangle, making it frustrating when you switch to the Easter egg foam dart gun (that does zero damage) in the heat of battle.
To make matters worse, shooting enemies simply isn’t any fun. On normal difficulty, whether it’s an issue of the AI moving around too fast or the hit detection of the weapons too sloppy, trying to actually shoot the enemies is a massive pain in the ass, in no small part due to the fact that one hit from them takes off nearly all of your health. Medikits are scarce, and there’s no way to block their attacks. There’s nothing wrong with a challenge, but I didn’t expect Dark Souls. Don’t be surprised if you have to turn the difficulty down to easy against some of the tougher enemies to even stand a chance (and that’s with all the collectibles and neuromods obtained).
Combat also isn’t helped by the soundtrack, which can be very hit and miss. The music itself – akin to the energetic, loud, upbeat techno-synth sounds of Deus Ex and even in some cases Mirror’s Edge – is phenomenal in isolation, perhaps one of the best soundtracks I have heard. But, in practice it’s technically a bit of a nightmare. The same energetic track kicks in regardless of whether you’re fighting a tough, high-level enemy or a generic, low-level one. Worst of all, it doesn’t even stop after you’ve killed the last enemy, perhaps leading you to believe that there are more lurking around. When it does stop, it does so so abruptly and suddenly without even a fade that you wonder what’s going on. In a game like Bioshock, the developers let the atmosphere and the subtle sound effects accompany the combat rather than cutting in grand anthems of war. Hopefully this is nothing that can’t be fixed prior to Prey launching on May 5th, but for a game with a fairly high production value, it’s a bit of a mess.
Don’t get me wrong: Prey has many redeeming factors and, ultimately, the fact that I want to keep playing beyond the opening hour is a good sign, but it could be doing a lot more. When the developers have designed a world so unique and interesting, it’s a shame that the lore couldn’t be presented in a more stylish way. Most of the UI, heavily inspired by Dishonored, feels clean and modern – especially when opening emails, using the fabricator, and recycling your useless materials. But, picking up collectibles, no matter how interesting the short stories within them might be, isn’t particularly engaging when they are presented as white text on a black background with no audio. I want to really become engrossed in this world and its lore, but it’s difficult when the books and notes you can read look as interesting as my old math textbook.
However, the rest of the visuals are easily the standout segment in this game. Taking a lot of inspiration from Dishonored 2 (Arkane’s last effort), the environments are colorful and pleasing on the eye, and the character models are almost identical with their exaggerated facial features. It’s nice though to get a Mirror’s Edge vibe from the visuals as well; on more than one occasion, the clear, primary colors will stand out and keep things interesting. There’s a moment just before the creative opening credits where Morgan walks out onto a rooftop toward a helicopter where the visuals, combined with the soundtrack at that point, gave me a glimpse of how fun it could have been to get a proper sequel for Faith.
Alas, equally impressive about the environment is how dynamic it is. What might seem like a basic four-walled room can be smashed into something bigger as long as it’s made of glass and you know how to pull the right trigger. It almost brings back memories of Dishonored 2’s clockwork mansion, though not nearly as complex.
It may seem like I’ve been complaining about this game a lot, but the fact is that I like it. The story, from what we’ve seen during the opening hour, is interesting and unique. I’m looking forward to seeing where it takes Morgan and the rest of his crew.
Prey is ultimately a game that, despite its many flaws, is doing enough that’s new and interesting to keep me engaged. It’s also supposed to be a fairly lengthy single-player campaign, which, if the rest of it lives up to the opening hour, will be good value for money. It’s a game with irritating audio glitches and a frustrating combat system but, ultimately, it looks like a game that fans of single-player FPSs can look forward to, dependent on their ability to put those complaints aside. Prey’s influences are clear. Fingers crossed Arkane have been able to iron out the kinks and that Prey will be able to leave a legacy of its own.