Arkane’s sci-fi reboot is very capable of shitting its player up, mainly because of its unsettling acoustics.
A second preview of Prey confirmed a lot of my takeaways from my initial encounter with Arkane's space-station-set reboot of 2006's well-received first-person shooter.
From the art-deco aesthetics of the Talos-1 station to the constant picking up of anything and rummaging through bins, to your first weapon being a wrench and its "Neuromods" standing in for Plasmids, it's as close to a new BioShock game as you're likely to get anytime soon, right down to the crunch effect when consuming foodstuffs. (There's a lot more to be said along those parallel lines, but I'll save it for a future podcast.) And its stylish title sequence remains positively ice-cold of coolness, an early morning helicopter ride you won't forget—which is ironic as it turns out, because [redacted for spoilers].
Much about it feels like a past-gen game, albeit in more of a comforting, familiar sense than a negative one—and you wonder, despite the official line being "none", how much of what would have been Prey 2 has carried over to this production. I just can't shake how old it is, despite the generous modern-gen polish. Again, that's not a bad thing—in my two sessions to date, I've enjoyed this new Prey plenty.
What I was also struck by, back then, was the 2035-set game's capacity for jump scares. In its opening 90 minutes, I must have significantly shifted, swiftly, in my seat a good two or three times—and there were others in the preview session that shrieked loudly enough for me to hear it over my headphones. Then, the discomfort came more from the game's mistily black alien aggressors, which are able to take the form of just about anything as a means of camouflage, pouncing on me.
Playing beyond its introductory sections, though, and pressing towards Talos-1's "Guts"—learning some sweet alien skills along the way, as protagonist Morgan Yu can use a special scanner to unlock Neuromod enhancements of a very extra-terrestrial nature (yes, this is how you turn into a mug)—what had my skin prickling more than anything on screen was everything off it. I never appreciated just how good this game's sound design is, before now.
The scraping of metal on metal, of a station creaking in its orbit; of rustling pages, awaiting-command computer terminals and strange, so very foreign screeches. Sparks of electricity and splinters of glass, the kindly but creepy welcoming of a science drone or two; and then the rush of something maybe moving behind you. To the side of you, above you, and—too late. It's a wonderfully unsettling mix, and it's so persistent, forever crackling in your headphones—even when you're mostly sure you're safe from harm, Prey is doing its utmost to shit you up, aurally. And succeeding.
Publishers Bethesda are calling Prey a "sci-fi thriller", and it's unfortunately already been slotted into the as-good-as-meaningless "action-adventure" at several online outlets. It's a safe-enough description, I suppose—there is definitely action here, encounters with the stronger alien varieties never less than panicked, and adventure in the sense of pushing into an unknown that you (rightly) anticipate to be very deadly indeed.
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But to me, now that I've had about three hours with it, this is a horror game, just as much as Resident Evil 7 was. The jump scares are one thing, and there's storyline stuff in here that qualifies as Fucking Horrific on basic moral grounds—but it's the oppressive atmosphere of Talos-1, menacingly aided and abetted by sound that's expressly designed to manifest player unease, that really chills the blood. So many things go bump in the endless night of space that it's never clear what's here to clutter up a room, to pick up and shove into your inventory, and what's about to leap at your face and do its damnedest to crawl into your mouth.
Years ago, the release of a new Alien-series movie would have carried with it a multi-platform video game tie-in (like Alien 3, for example). Alien: Covenant has no interactive partner beyond a VR "experience", but with original Alien vibes rippling through it like sludgy blood through ice cream—the less you see, the more on edge you are— Prey represents a fine complement to Ridley Scott's forthcoming flick. Both are out in May—maybe pick up some back-up pants before then.
Prey is released for Windows, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 on May 5th.