It is March 2032. The intercontinental space race of the past led to an eventual collaboration between The US and the Soviet Union, forging a bright future for space exploration thanks to John F Kennedy, who bolstered man’s desire to reach beyond the little blue speck we tread after a failed attempt on his life. This is the alternate reality that Morgan Yu is born into.
He starts his day like any other and goes through his routine, roaming around his apartment and getting ready for his helicopter ride to have tests done before embarking on a journey to the masterpiece of human endeavor, the Talos 1 space station. Or, so we are led to believe. After a little mishap during his test procedures, he ends up in a Groundhog Day type event. Only this time, things seem a little different. Morgan slowly discovers that he’s in the middle of a failed experiment which has affected his memory, setting you on a journey of self discovery and detective work to hopefully pull on the thread that stitches back the torn fabric of his mind.
Prey took a leaf from a few well-known books to lay a foundation paved with mechanics and elements from the likes of Bioshock, Dead Space and perhaps even a pinch of Dishonored.
This is not the Prey of old, nor does it have any direct links to the previous iterations with the same name. It seems the only thing it has in common with the decade old release, is that it’s a space survival horror. Prey took a leaf from a few well-known books to lay a foundation paved with mechanics and elements from the likes of Bioshock, Dead Space and perhaps even a pinch of Dishonored. Arkane Studios has developed a habitat where these elements coincide in adequate harmony, careful not to break solid game mechanics and layered with a complex story and various characters you’ll encounter throughout the game. The games’ end is dependent on the choices you make throughout your playthrough. Most individuals you come across will have a unique task, sending you in and around the well designed space station yielding some rewards to assist you on your quest. You don’t wake up with all the necessary abilities and tools to venture into the eerie halls of this behemoth though, and you’ll soon find out just how ill equipped you are during your first encounter with the 3rd kind.
Is that really Yu?
You start off with the choice of either male or female protagonist with the initials “M. Yu” embroided on your space suit and for quite some time, that’s about as much as you’re going to get. You learn that you’re the sibling of another Yu (Alex Yu) who turns out to be the head honcho running Talos 1. There are snippets of your past scattered across the space station which you will uncover in the form of conversing with crew members, audio logs, emails and videos locked on personal terminals. After your awakening, you have a trusty wrench and will have to forage for additional weapons to add to your arsenal. You can always fall back on some of the telepathic and psychic abilities when you run low on ammo, but you’ll require psi-hypo to summon them. These abilities are derived from researching the alien threat that has turned a interstellar utopia into a vacuum-sealed kill box, the Typhons.
This alien breed comes in various forms, the main being the mimics who are able to morph into various objects within the environment. This makes it hard to distinguish between normal every day objects you can use, like a coffee mug, and a violent echtoplasm spider laying in wait to feast on your being. This unique game enemy however, later gets overshadowed by it’s bulky lurching cousins, the Phantoms, who possess elemental abilities that require counter-effects to stop them in their tracks.
Other potential threats on your life come in the form of the Talos 1 defense mechanisms such as turrets and floating operator drones. These drones can be fabricated in dedicated stations to either help repair your suit, regenerate your health or top up your psi-hypo. The Typhon can corrupt the electronics and turn it against any humans roaming the space station. Levelling your hacking skill allows access to the turrets and drones after they have been corrupted to use as reinforcements when overwhelmed by the enemy. Luckily you won’t be stuck with a wrench forever. You have the choice of either snatching weapons such as a shotgun off of the corpses of your estranged colleagues and locked behind keypad locked doors, or uncover blueprints for weapons you’d then create with a space-age 3D printer using various resources.
Other weapons include a GLOO gun to stagger or slow enemies in rapidly hardening sticky foam, a pistol that annoys more than maims, and the Q-Beam which pelts your target with a beam of energy that builds up until they explode. To fabricate these weapons you’ll need resources that are few and far between, but you can collect various materials to deconstruct for much needed resources using static recycle stations on Talos 1. You’re also able to fabricate various useful items such as suit repair kits, EMP grenades and even psi-hypo injections to get your Typhon ability fix. All this amounts to a great deal of exploration which encourages you to venture into parts unknown of the space station in hopes of uncovering tools to battle the alien invasion.
As you trek through the station you’ll meet survivors who know you and reveal details of the person you used to be. It ranges from complex relationships that never worked out, a fractured connection with those closest to you, and individuals who have either loved or loathed you from afar. All these characters present the opportunity to derail you from the main objective to a large extent where you could get caught up doing a series of side missions back-to-back. This isn’t a hindrance in any way. It allows you to uncover more than just the outer space horror spectacular, giving you insight into relationships established by various individuals forming a complicated network of connections removed from your little reality.
These mimics are crafty, but I can be crafty-er
As mentioned, your success or failure hangs on whether you have enough resources to build your arsenal and educated choices on what defenses to use when faced with particular enemies. You don’t always have to go toe-to-toe with the Typhon. You can sneak past, under, over and around many situations via ducts and maintenance hatches. If you upgrade your abilities correctly, you can get the Typhon and robots to fight each other while you sit snug on a counter or desk morphed into an ashtray.
Your abilities are all thanks to Neuromod implants which enables the user to do a direct download of both human skills and traits, as well as alien abilities straight to memory, with the downside of large chucks of memory loss if reset and being detected as an alien life form by turrets and operators. You have a vast skill tree to master and craft to your style of play. The mods can’t be undone, so you’ll have to tailor your character based on the path you wish to walk and stick with it. A good mix of human and alien mods is the order of the day, accompanied by upgraded weaponry. Using the Psychoscope, which you can’t obtain early enough, you can help identify the strengths and weaknesses of each foe making it easier for you to choose your attack wisely in a layered combat system.
Some instances might see you stuck in a section where you’re surrounded by high walls with all the doors locked and most things are too heavy to move. This is where the GLOO gun has a unique secondary function of makeshift bridge or ladder. Stacking blobs of GLOO can see you scaling walls and putting out electrical surges and fires in order to pass unscathed. The morph ability also allows access to nooks and crannies when you transform to something small enough to get through a tight spot. Comes in handy when you’re not brave enough to take on some of the monstrosities lurking about.
Are Yu good or are Yu bad?
As you meet, greet and kill enemies, humans and robots, your faithful Operator by the name of January constantly analyses your every action. There are moments where the operator distinctly questions whether Morgan is cognoscente of her/his varied choices in random situations. Some cases sees January giving you the option to either save an individual or group of survivors as opposed to the main objective, but never in a way that makes one seem the more morally correct choice. Prey does tend to give you the chance to be the hero who risked life and limb to save a dying survivor, or to take the short left and claim that it’s all for the greater good. Perhaps it helps that your memory is shot and the only compass you can rely on is gathered info on a great many people.
Consequences come with every action which in turn tilts the experience of the game to either a more challenging game, to an accumulation of good deeds leading to greater rewards. Save the life of an engineer and you could end up with a new item, let them die and you’re checking every cupboard for a couple of buckshot. Either way you’ll get to where you need to eventually with a slightly different outcome.
I got Yu babe
(OK, that’s the last cheesy header for this review). Prey came in under the radar with Arkane Studios introducing a new game plan, taking a title name from a game published a decade ago and repackaging it with a foundation of mechanics lent from some of the top sci-fi horror survival games to date. Sure, the game has many technical flaws such as corrupted save games, objects falling through the floor, framerate drops that could cause seizures, mediocre character animations and a story line swaying between complete convolution and sci-fi fiction magnificence. These niggling things don’t dampen the intense gameplay and visceral experience though, set in a world of future science, intrigue and shrouded in mystery. A formula with this much potential and so many elements to it that hits the right nostalgic notes, I sincerely hope that we get to witness the launch of Talos II in the near future.