Banana Peels, Nasty Aliens, and Brain Hacking in 'Prey'
Arkane's upcoming immersive sim is heir apparent to BioShock and Dishonored.
Editor's note: there are some very light spoilers for the first hour of Prey in the following.
Last week, Senior Editor Mike Diver and I got to try our hands at Prey, Arkane's upcoming immersive sim set in a freaky wtf-is-actually-happening sci-fi world, complete with "neuromods," space-warping creatures, and massive levels full of optional paths through. The demo we played gave us about an hour of Prey action.
So, now that we've both had a little session with Prey, I guess right up front is as good a place as any to say: I'm quietly impressed. I know a few people in the British games media who've been predicting big things for this reboot—made as it is by Arkane, of course—but it's really been no more than the smallest distraction for me, on the periphery of my radar.
But now, I do want to play more. Not in the sense that I'm about to put everything else down for it, but it's surprised me enough that I'm very interested in seeing where Morgan Yu goes, from where I left her on the (very pretty indeed) Talos 1 space station.
Her, because when given the choice to play as a dude or a girl, I tend to go for the latter. Why that is, I don't know. But it's cool to see—and I think what's also cool, unlike some other games, is that the experience isn't any different. Morgan as a dude is no stronger than Morgan as a woman, so far as I can tell.
(Shout out for the "Must be for you" gag, when there's a call for Yu, too. Gotta appreciate a pun.)
My biggest first-impression take away, though - beside the glee that can be had chucking stuff about for no reason in Yu's apartment - is just how much like BioShock the game feels. I know we've had a lot of proverbial pretenders to that, ahem, throne, or whatever. But Prey really does play like 2K's game in a lot of respects, albeit respectfully, without wholly ripping features from it left, right and centre. You know what I mean? In the movement, the weapons, the floaty yet fairly frantic combat, the way the apples crunch when you restore the smallest sliver of your health.
I'm totally OK with this. I don't think it's a problem for games to quite unashamedly lift from predecessors. Sometimes the best new ideas are but small shifts in approaches from what we've played before.
Like the title sequence! The title sequence. The title sequence is awesome. I really enjoyed that. It was not on a level with that descent to Rapture, but still a very striking and place-setting/world-building exercise. I loved it. Were you feeling that deja vu to the experience? If so, in a positive sense? (And did you play as lady or dude Yu?)
Oh god, yes, this game feels like BioShock—but, like you said, in a good way. And I think it's very deliberately evoking that: the first weapon you pick up is a massive wrench. The art style leans towards Deco. And the omni-present recordings are there!
More than anything, what BioShocked me the most (ha!) was the need to go seek out a special recording in a big, gilded office. That sort of very deliberate story scripting harkens right back to the 2007 classic.
But I appreciated the ways it seems to be taking inspiration from Arkane's own Dishonored games, which draw their own DNA more from the Thief series than System Shock's lineage. The environments are much more open and clearly designed for multiple playstyles. In our demo, we could make the choice to upgrade builds towards a scientist, engineer, or... something else, but it was immediately apparent that the environment supported all of the above.
Engineers can repair machines to get further in the game or turn machinery against enemies. Scientists can... science their way through, with more creative solutions and upgrades. And the other path, which I really want to call "soldier," was more focussed on combat buffs.
I went engineer, though I can see myself playing through again as a scientist. There's a lot to play with there, and I do love a good toolset and corresponding big, dangerous playground to get busy with.
I'm curious, Mike, which path did you go with? And do you think those bigger, more open environments will make for a less linear overall experience than what BioShock actually offered?
And, of course, I played as lady Morgan. I always pick women characters, myself, and appreciate when the option exists!
I think I went with engineer—by the time of the first power-up, the first Neuromod, I'd already seen some sort of machine that required fixing, but the button to do that was blocked out. I mean, Yu is that way minded, the way it's set up—more a thinker, a tinkerer, than a fighter. Which might go some way to explaining why the swinging of the wrench never felt quite right. I can't decide if that's a good or a bad thing—like, the panicked, breathless swipes are what I'd do, but in games we're used to those blows landing with meaning.
And yes, the world building through audio logs. I wonder when games will get over that. Here, I'm not so bothered, as it all seems consistent; whereas I've played other games of this year where such collectibles have felt sort of out of sync with the game world they're spread around (say no more, embargo scenes). The environment does its own storytelling, too - all of the names on the offices, the speculating as to their roles here on the station.
The various wings, and the emails, oh the emails. I'm into nosing through people's emails. I liked how rifling through (probably dead) people's stuff turned up rewards—I didn't get to the area in question, but one email opened a new side-quest for me. The marker was always there on the HUD, but the route remained a mystery for the time we had with the game.
One weird collectible, for a while, was all the banana peels! I was like, why on earth is this game giving me this stuff, this junk. Used cigars, too. But then you reach Morgan's office and the recycling machine, which spits out materials you can then shape into something useful, and I thought that was pretty rad. There's something very satisfying IRL, seeing old shit renewed, and having that in a game is cool. Although, with all of the scrap I had, the only thing I could make was... another wrench! Couldn't even double-wield, pfft.
Forget about slipping up on fruit skin for a second, though—jumps, Danielle, specifically jump scares. It's got some, which I wasn't expecting. Me, I'm practically a husk of a human, so I just stir a bit—but a few others in the same session properly yelped a few times. How'd you fare? Do you feel this Prey is going to dive into horror territories? I never played the original Prey—did that have horror overtones?
I also found that recycling aspect very satisfying—its a sort of cure-all to "crafting fatigue" where I need to collect 7 specific doodads to make the one cool thing I actually need. Plus, it works thematically—on an amazing, high-tech space station, of course they'd recycle their junk.
And, I, too, love those little storytelling details, the emails, the clutter, and yes, the audio logs. Audio logs do get a lot of crap, but they make so much sense, design-wise, if you can fit them neatly into a game's narrative. It's easy to add audio without holding a player up, etc.
As for horror elements, I think they will be there, but like another game that I'm seeing some clear inspiration from, SOMA, it will be a bit more existential, a bit less body-horror. Creative Director Raphael Colantonio did a quick interview at my press demo the other day, and someone asked that very question. To paraphrase, he noted that there were certainly inspirations from the genre, but that it's not meant to be a purely scary game, the way something like Alien: Isolation is.
I mean, Isolation scared the crap out of me, but SOMA's story digs a bit deeper, I think, because of its themes. I'm hoping Prey does the same.
I'm so interested in this world and what will happen in it. I've been playing a few other games lately, but I find myself continually itching for more Prey. I think that's a good sign.