Prey: Moon­crash: Ex­pan­sion or not, this Is one of 2018’s Best and most unique games

Live, die, re­peat.

PCWorld (USA) - - Reviews Pdf Complete Office Edition 4.2 - BY HAY­DEN DINGMAN

Prey ( go.pc­world.com/17pr) is one of 2017’s most un­der­rated games, and as an ex­pan­sion that makes Moon­crash an even more niche prospect, a game that will be played by a small sub­set of a small sub­set. Which is a shame, be­cause strip away its “ex­pan­sion” sta­tus and Moon­crash is one of the best, most in­no­va­tive games of 2018. It’s Arkane’s mas­ter­piece, a true tes­ta­ment to what a tal­ented team can do with sys­tems-first de­sign. Ev­ery Prey fan should play it. And those who haven’t yet be­come Prey fans? You should be.

DEUS EX MACHINA

Here’s the con­ceit: It’s Prey as a rogue­like. You play as a KASMA Corp. tech­ni­cian, float­ing in or­bit around the moon. Down on the lu­nar sur­face there’s been a dis­as­ter. The Pyth­eas Moon­base has gone dark, all oc­cu­pants

pre­sumed dead.

Through some mag­i­cal black box tech called the Datavault, though, you can take over five sur­vivors and play out their last mo­ments in a sim­u­la­tion. Pretty huge sus­pen­sion of dis­be­lief, I know, al­beit less if you fin­ished Prey proper. (Did I men­tion? You should.)

Any­way, Moon­crash starts small. You’re given con­trol of a sin­gle sur­vivor, The Vol­un­teer, or An­drius Alekna, an ex­per­i­ment test sub­ject with an affin­ity for the Typhon aliens and their psy­chic pow­ers. This first run is also lim­ited to a small sub­sec­tion of the Pyth­eas Moon­base, and a fairly lin­ear one at that.

And it plays like Prey. Ev­ery­thing that made Prey a great Sys­tem Shock throw­back—mul­ti­ple so­lu­tions to ev­ery prob­lem, en­cour­ag­ing cre­ativ­ity on the player’s part, and the op­pres­sive at­mos­phere of a space sta­tion in dis­tress—that’s all here again. Ex­plor­ing Pyth­eas is a de­light, the fa­mil­iar mix of art deco and in­dus­trial de­signs that made the main game’s Ta­los I space sta­tion so fas­ci­nat­ing.

You’re di­rected to try and find one of the re­main­ing es­cape pods. Along the way you’ll col­lect fa­mil­iar weapons (pis­tol, shot­gun), read scat­tered notes de­tail­ing the base’s fi­nal days, and come un­der at­tack by Mim­ics pre­tend­ing to be rocks and other de­bris.

The chal­lenge ramps up slightly as you go, and there’s a good chance you won’t sur­vive this first run. The big­gest hur­dle? Not blow­ing your­self up, prob­a­bly. Care­ful—those red bar­rels have a longer range than you think some­times.

Die, and the sim­u­la­tion “re­sets.” Here’s where Moon­crash re­ally starts to get in­ter­est­ing, as you carry over any skills you un­locked last time, and also have ac­cess to any Fab­ri­ca­tion Plans you gathered. Killing en­e­mies or achiev­ing ob­jec­tives earns you Sim Points, and these can be spent be­tween runs. A shot­gun, for in­stance, costs 750 points.

So you head back into the sim­u­la­tion with a shot­gun. Now it’s much more likely you’ll make it to the end in­tact. Do so, trig­ger the

es­cape pod, and you’ll un­lock the sec­ond sur­vivor: The En­gi­neer.

And I know I al­ready said this once, but now Moon­crash gets even more in­ter­est­ing. At this point, the sim­u­la­tion re­sets only when both char­ac­ters ei­ther es­cape or die. Also, a whole new sec­tion of Pyth­eas un­locks, in­clud­ing the Crew Quar­ters and a labyrinthine min­ing area.

Oh, and the longer you stay in the sim­u­la­tion, the more dan­ger­ous it gets. It’s called Cor­rup­tion. For ev­ery 20 min­utes or so you ex­plore, the en­e­mies go up one level in power. Stay too long, and the sim­u­la­tion “crashes” and re­sets again.

In Prey proper, as with any sys­tems-heavy game of this kind, there’s a ten­dency to find a pat­tern and ex­ploit it. For me, it was the wrench for Mim­ics, the si­lenced pis­tol for Phan­toms, the shot­gun for any­thing larger, and the EMP Charge for ro­bots. I also in­vested heav­ily in any stealth-cen­tric skills, and barely touched Typhon pow­ers.

In Moon­crash, you don’t have those lux­u­ries. It’s a game of im­pro­vi­sa­tion. Be­cause the sim­u­la­tion re­sets only when all your char­ac­ters are fin­ished, you’ll come to doors that can only be hacked open, and only one char­ac­ter is good at hack­ing. You’ll find ma­chines that need re­pair­ing, and only one char­ac­ter is good with re­pairs.

These el­e­ments are per­sis­tent across a set of runs, so if you use the hack­ing char­ac­ter first and come back to that room later, the door will open. If not, it won’t. And it ap­plies to all the items too. If you strip a corpse clean with your first char­ac­ter, those items are still gone when you come back with the next.

It turns the en­tire Pyth­eas Moon­base into a chess game, ex­cept you’re play­ing chess

against your­self. “Okay, I’ll leave these shot­gun shells here be­cause I don’t even have a shot­gun in The Vol­un­teer’s load­out, but The En­gi­neer can use them later.” “I’ve al­ready got two health packs, I guess I can leave this one for later.” “Hm…do I re­ally need this pis­tol ammo?”

Over and over, and the fun is in re­al­iz­ing that yes, you did in­deed need that pis­tol ammo. These games are prone to let­ting play­ers fall back on fa­mil­iar pat­terns. Moon­crash breaks that cy­cle be­cause you’re al­ways short on re­sources—on ammo, on health packs, on ar­mor, or even just on time it­self.

That last bit is the part that’s been hard­est to ad­just to, as some­one who strip-mined ev­ery room in Prey proper. The Cor­rup­tion me­ter sits in the top-right cor­ner, al­ways creep­ing up­ward. Do you re­ally want to spend time ex­plor­ing the crew quar­ters, in hopes of net­ting bet­ter gear? Or do you bee­line for the ob­jec­tive and plan to swing back later?

Moon­crash even lets the player gov­ern time it­self, to an ex­tent. Killing off the most pow­er­ful en­e­mies nets you an item that low­ers the Cor­rup­tion level tem­po­rar­ily, forc­ing an­other risk/ re­ward anal­y­sis—can I spare the shot­gun shells now if it means fac­ing eas­ier en­e­mies later?

It’s all about dis­cov­er­ing the most ef­fi­cient way to achieve your goals with the tools avail­able. That is, in the­ory, what Prey as a whole is about—but you al­ways have a sur­plus of tools, and so the con­straints aren’t nearly as ob­vi­ous. Moon­crash is a tour de force be­cause ev­ery de­ci­sion is a hard de­ci­sion. There’s a con­stant give-and-take, and even the lowli­est item left for a fu­ture run could end up mak­ing the dif­fer­ence be­tween es­cape and fail­ure.

And it just gets more com­pli­cated the

longer you play. Two sur­vivors be­comes three, and then four, and fi­nally five. Try­ing to man­age five sep­a­rate suc­cess­ful runs through Pyth­eas, leav­ing enough items so even the eas­i­est of them all can end hap­pily? It takes a lot of plan­ning, and a lot of re­straint.

BOT­TOM LINE

I liked Prey a lot—enough so that it made it onto our Best of 2017 list. It’s an ex­cel­lent homage to Sys­tem Shock.

But I love Moon­crash, and I’ve never played any­thing like it. It feels fa­mil­iar, has the same skills and weapons and so on as Prey, but is an al­most in­fin­itely re­playable puz­zle. The player never gets to feel com­fort­able, there’s no “hand of the cre­ator” at work the way there so of­ten is in games of this style. You can’t rely on find­ing the item you need at just the right mo­ment, and even if you do—well, there’s a good chance you al­ready took it the last time you came through.

It’s fan­tas­tic, and so won­der­fully unique. In­die de­vel­op­ers have done rogue­like to death, but it’s rare to see the same ideas crop up in big­ger­bud­get games—and even rarer to see them paired with a story-driven ex­pe­ri­ence. Moon­crash only works be­cause Prey is al­ready so geared to­ward im­pro­vi­sa­tion, to­ward giv­ing the player a hun­dred op­tions to open a sim­ple door.

You should play Prey, sure—but you should def­i­nitely play Moon­crash. To call this an ex­pan­sion is sell­ing it short.

Ex­per­i­ment test sub­ject An­drius Alekna has psy­chic po­ten­tial but a frail body.

The longer you stay in a sim­u­la­tion, the more dan­ger­ous it gets be­cause your en­e­mies gain more power.

You play a KASMA Corp. tech­ni­cian with a mis­sion to com­plete.

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