These days, games like Prey seem few and far between. There’s not one specific, unique mechanic promoted nor is there a grand overarching narrative that promises to tie you up for a trilogy. Instead, it’s a simple run through an empty space station where you spend a majority of your time sneaking around and forcing your character to be hunkered over as you look for numerous keycards and audio logs. It’s a game that loves to tell you to play your own way, with those options varying from using your upgraded abilities (hacking, strength, etc.) to looking around the environment for hidden pathways. The part where Prey really starts to struggle is in its pursuit to make all of those avenues entertaining. That struggle is only doubled when you add in the lackluster combat and comically long load times.
One of the few things Prey has in common with the Prey released in 2006 is its impressive beginning. You’re pushed into a situation familiar to anyone that’s seen the 2016 E3 trailer. But the repetition presented in this debut is quickly flipped upon its head. As time pushes forward, you’re introduced to the Talos 1 colony and encouraged to venture about and learn more about this space sanctuary. You quickly learn your character, Morgan Yu, has more of a history with your surroundings than expected. This launches you into the main crux of the story, which centers on reading a lot of deceased members of Talos 1’s emails, and going through whatever other files you can find on their terminal. Traditional cutscenes are thrown almost wholly by the wayside in favor of a slower, drip of knowledge presented through alternate means.
The story tidbits found around the station are pretty enjoyable, with different side-stories being fostered that shine light on an excellent group of secondary characters.There’s also a unique alternate history built out through text logs, one that has President John F. Kennedy never being assassinated, and instead of a combative space race, the USSR and USA worked together to further knowledge of the unknown above. The side stories happening on the colony are fun to read about and explore, but the lack of a compelling main arc can be a huge bummer.
As you’re wandering around Talos 1, you will consistently run into a wide selection of enemies. You dispose of these with the weapons given to you, or the skills you acquire from neuromods. While a lot of the skill tree is dedicated to the hacking and strength mentioned before, some branches allow you to take on the powers of the alien race roaming around the ship. These powers can help you roam around stealthily or unleash explosive attacks using your Psi Powers, the term coined to manage how much alien power you can use. This is easily the most entertaining way to go about your face-offs with enemies, as both the gunplay and melee combat are wonky, frustrating, and inconsistent.
Your main weapon is a handy wrench. This wrench proves to be one of the most important aspects of your fight as it’s powerful and never breaks. The real issue arises when you have to use other weapons; there’s a certain air of inconsistency with every gunshot that removes all tension from the battles and leaves you frustrated. Even if everything goes well and you extinguish your enemies, you never feel rewarded after the fight, only lucky. That being said, the GLOO cannon is one of the more enjoyable pieces of technology found. It allows you to shoot out glue blobs that can freeze your enemy, stop dangerous fire, or craft your own platforms to leap up and get to a new area. While most interactions with Prey’s weapons are disheartening, the GLOO cannon provides a bit of solace in a mess of swinging around and hoping to succeed.
Another huge frustration comes as you transfer from different sections of Talos 1, as you hit load times that can last up to 1-2 minutes. Prey literally loads from one screen into a brand new load screen, before asking the player to press the action button to continue. The biggest issue with this is it kills the greatest thing about Prey, the wonderment. Prey is at its best when you’re flipping your mind off and just soaring through the elegantly designed ship and immersing yourself in the world. These load times take you out of that, and they largely discourage any type of experimentation.
That being said, the load times are considerably smaller on the PC version of Prey. Another issue that only arises on consoles, particularly the PS4 version, is inconsistent tracking of your movement. There are times when your character’s view goes a bit sporadic, no matter what you’re doing to control it. This sporadic movement can range from a simple lag to a full jerk to the side when you’re not expecting it. This only makes the tiring combat more dreadful. In talking to someone playing the Xbox One version of Prey, he reported no real issue of this, so it seems exclusive to the PS4.
While the tension is occasionally broken through overlong load times or disappointing mechanics, the sound design is consistently successful in cultivating a tense, uncomfortable atmosphere. From the start of Prey, you’re presented with that fits perfectly. The electronic, occasionally violent production builds around whatever is happening on screen, and is consistently the best part about Prey. The soundtrack is crafted by Mick Gordon, and seems to have a lot of influence from the 80’s, similarly to the recent horror film It Follows. While a lot of Prey can have its ups and downs, the music within is a source of constant horror.
There’s a lot to like about Prey, and there’s no doubt those positives will connect with a lot of people that pick the game up. The sense of wonder is present, and exploring the space station is a very attractive offer. Unfortunately, the load times and other mechanical mishaps keep the game from really kicking into high gear, and down right kill some of the excitement to partake in the exploration. If you’re able to look past these issues, Prey’s creative GLOO gun, varied skill tree, and near perfect soundtrack are more than enough to make it a worthwhile excursion.
Prey's sound design and soundtrack are some of the best to come from a game this year. Unfortunately, a lot of the aspects surrounding that hamper the potential set up from the game's impressive opening hour. The combat is a source of frustration, and the load times neuter exploration. But if you're able to look past that, Prey can provide some thrills.