DEVELOPER Arkane Studios / PUBLISHER Bethesda / WEBSITE https://prey.bethesda.net
There can be no question now, Arkane Studios aspires to be a modern-day Looking Glass. Where Dishonored was Arkane’s reimagining of Thief, Prey is the studio’s reinterpretation of the almighty System Shock. It’s a sci-fi horror RPG with open-ended level design, deep emergent systems and a fearsome alien menace. Like System Shock, it’s intimidating and, at times, unforgiving, but learning to master its complex and dangerous environment is really satisfying.
Forget the 2006 shooter of the same name; aside from featuring aliens, Arkane’s Prey has nothing to do with it. Instead, Prey is set aboard the space station Talos 1, which orbits the moon in the year 2032. Built by the TranStar corporation, Talos 1 is the centre for TranStar’s advanced and quasi-legal scientific research. You play Morgan Yu, a scientist aboard the station who awakes to find it overrun by a strange and hostile alien species known as the Typhon, and you’re given a simple task. To save Earth, you must destroy the station, along with everyone and everything inside it.
As with Dishonored, the star of Prey is Arkane’s majestic environment design. Talos 1 is a beautiful fusion of futuristic technology and art deco architecture, a place where gleaming scientific laboratories sit alongside wood-panelled offices and lavish living quarters. Visually, it resembles a blend of Dishonored and BioShock, where glittering opulence and colourful caricature meet with dark and grisly horror.
While Prey may look like a merging of these games, though, it’s structurally much closer to the complex and open level layouts of System Shock. In fact, it goes even further. The station is structured as one giant level, and although different areas are separated by loading screens, you’re given a remarkable amount of freedom to explore. Some star locations include Psychotropics, where the core of the station’s research is performed; the mind-bending G.U.T.S, a gigantic Zero-G tunnel used for cargo storage; and the sprawling Life Support deck, which houses many crucial station systems, including a massive nuclear reactor. You can even explore outside the station in its entirety, using your spacesuit’s propulsion system to move through its superstructure, exploring damaged areas that have been sealed off from the vacuum.
During your travels, you’ll encounter many locked rooms and blocked passages, but they aren’t placed to funnel you along a specific path.
Rather, the developers want you to figure out how to get inside for yourself. That’s the greatest joy of Prey; learning and discovering how to overcome the many obstacles in your path.
A locked room could be overcome by seeking out a keycard or door code, hacking the door’s terminal or simply smashing the window with your wrench.
Alternatively, you could adapt some of Prey’s more innovative mechanics to create your own solution. For
example, you could use your GLOO cannon (imagine weaponised expand-o-foam) to construct a stairway up to a gantry or maintenance shaft, and drop into the room from there.
Prey lets you discover the station for yourself, but wherever you go in Talos 1, you must contend with the Typhon. These black, semi-fluid aliens come in various forms. Mimics are perhaps the most interesting enemy; spider-esque creatures that can disguise themselves as any object in the game word, leading to some spooky hide-andseek encounters as you attempt to figure out which of the three chairs in a room will try to eat your face. Phantoms, meanwhile, are humanoid in form, but can teleport around a room and attack using various elemental effects.
Fighting the Typhon isn’t as fun as battling guards in Dishonored though. Prey’s combat is fast-paced, chaotic and fiercely challenging, putting you in a much weaker starting position than Arkane’s previous games. Morgan isn’t a natural fighter, and attacking more powerful enemies head-on will lead to a speedy demise. To gain the upper hand, you must disable your enemies first, perhaps using the GLOO cannon to hold them in place, or removing their psychic abilities with a Nullwave Transmitter grenade.
Later in the game, you can use the Typhon’s powers against them, mimicking objects to slip past them unnoticed, or using devastating powers such as Psychoshock or Electrostatic Burst to damage and disable them simultaneously.
Be warned though; unlocking new alien powers will turn the station’s security systems against you, and attract the attention of the most powerful Typhon of all. The Nightmare appears randomly throughout the station, and can kill you in a single blow. For the most part, you have to evade this towering monstrosity, although you’ll gain an immense sense of achievement if you can overcome it.
Combat isn’t Prey’s strongest asset, but fortunately, it isn’t the game’s sole focus. There’s plenty to keep you occupied, such as investigating side-quests and tracking down missing personnel before guiding them to safety. Even the crafting system is beautifully designed. It’s a twostage process that involves recycling game-world junk into material cubes, and then using those cubes to craft items at a fabrication station.
It’s a slick and highly physical system – the recyclers are particularly satisfying, hulking machines that transfer your items through an energy beam and shower out the cubes from a funnel at the other end. Through this system, its devious Mimics and various other mechanics, Prey does a superb job of using in-game objects for more than decoration.
That said, there are some issues. While the difficult combat is a core part of the game, a few enemies are simply frustrating to fight. There are several floating enemies in the game, such as Telepaths and Weavers, both of which have an annoying tendency to fly off beyond your reach if you disable their powers.
The very worst enemies, however, are the cystoids – balls of radioactive pus that track your position and detonate when they become near you. They tend to attack in clusters, often sneaking up behind you while you’re fighting something else. Frankly, the game would be better without them.
Meanwhile, Prey’s story is an interesting tale about memory loss, identity and deciding what kind of person you want to be. It’s a subtle and cerebral fiction, with no clear heroes or villains (aside from the Typhon), and some genuinely thought-provoking ethical quandaries. However, the game’s open-ended nature means the story comes at you from odd angles, and can feel unevenly distributed. Characters are also kept at arm’s length, which means you don’t really get to know them, so some decisions don’t have the emotional impact they perhaps should.
Ultimately, Prey is a colder and more calculating game than Dishonored. It doesn’t possess the same ebullience of character, and asks considerably more of the player to enjoy it. That said, it’s also more ambitious in scope and ultimately more rewarding. Talos 1 may not yield its secrets easily, but those secrets are undoubtedly worth pursuing. Mastering this imposing sci-fi space game is an experience that will stay with you for years to come.