A game’s first impressions are made early in the piece. Getting some hands-on time can make a huge difference, but then again so can history.
Prey 2017 has had a long and interesting development. While it shares the title and themes of both Prey and its cancelled sequel, Arkane’s effort is a different beast entirely.
Different kinds of beasts seems to be one of the core tenets of Prey; both Alien and Human. What separates humanity from the Aliens? Are we really any better than the Typhon we’ve been experimenting on?
Even with a limited hands-on time with, these ideas are at the forefront of Prey. Although the comparisons to Irrational Games’ classics System Shock and BioShock titles are wearing thin, they’re hugely appropriate.
Prey — like the Shock titles — asks players to think as well as act. Are we simply expected to accept our world as it is, or should we question everything? Turns out, questioning everything is definitely on the agenda.
In the first hours of the game, I found myself on space station Talos 1. This space labyrinth is infested with alien Shadow Spiders that can both mimic any item around them and kill you without much effort.
Knowing that anything and everything could be more than it seems ratchets up the suspense from the get-go. Caution is advised whilst looking for clues to your current situation, since just about any cup or rubbish bin could turn into a spidery nether beast that wants you dead.
There’s a deliberate nature to the pacing due to this enforced cautiousness. The atmosphere of suspense and curiosity that is key to a game like Prey is thus superbly well maintained.
Being the fan of sci-fi that I am, I was always going to be interested in what Prey was offering. A huge world in a sci-fi setting, filled with suspense and horror topped off with light RPG mechanics.
That’s Prey in a nutshell, but it’s also so much more.
It’s an incredibly compelling experience. And that’s getting to scratch the surface of what’s on offer. Within the hour of hands-on time I had I was introduced to an involved character skill system and a crafting system. Both seem overwhelmingly deep at first and with limited hands-on time it’s hard to get a real feel for them. But, both represent a chance to make Prey your own.
The same goes for the special abilities (Neuromods) and gadgets you can use. Neuromods can grant you super strength, stealth, advanced hacking abilities and the like. I was told that later in the game you’ll even be able to make use of the alien’s mimic ability.
Strength, speed and stealth are all incredibly useful skills when trapped on a space station infested with murderous aliens, but weapons are what you’ll need to survive.
Innovative in their design, Prey’s weapons have a variety of functions. My favourite was the GLOO Cannon. Use it on an enemy and they’ll be subdued long enough to smack them around the head, or escape. It can be used to build ladders or stairs too, to help reach those tricky hidden areas.
The level design takes its cues from the Metroid school of design. There are plenty of hidden and inaccessible areas that seem just out of reach and remain that way until you’ve managed to acquire the right skill or gadget. There’s a sort of ‘call and response’ to the level design. Talos 1 begs to be explored but doing so is harrowing, yet not frustrating. Oftentimes when level design stops you in your tracks it’s an annoyance.
Not so with Prey. Every nook and cranny begs to be explored, even though death awaits around every corner. Prey is more horror than sci-fi at times and I found myself hoping that Arkane could make a game based on Event Horizon.
With an incredibly dense atmosphere, superb level design and a compelling setting Prey has it all. I found though that thebiggest contributor to Prey’s success in drawing me in is the fantastic music and sound production.
The score a highlight. Sound design will make or break the tone of most productions, but it’s doubly important in horror. Prey’s is top-notch.
Arkane’s take on the Prey franchise is shaping up to be an incredibly interesting experience. After only an hour hands-on time, this preview demonstrated an unrivaled potential. I’m hoping it can live up to my expectations and deliver on its promise of an expansive story, deep lore, satisfying combat and mystifying puzzles.
Prey will be available for PC, PS4 and Xbox One from May 5, 2017.
PowerUp! attended a preview event for Prey in Sydney, Australia as a guest of Bethesda. Travel expenses were covered by the publisher.