The Fun of Becoming Prey, Again

When I reviewed the original 2006 version of Prey, I found it to be a very enjoyable shooter experience spiced up with some unusual (for the time) portal based mechanics and the unique “spirit walk” feature. However, when all was said and done, I was disappointed with one huge factor, you couldn’t die in the game. You were just sent to a spirit world where you had to shoot spirit eagles to get your meters back up and return to the real world. The game even ended with a sequel bait ending that just said “Prey will continue…”

Well, we thought it would continue. Human Head’s version of Prey 2 was stuck in development hell leading up to its cancellation in 2014. I was able to watch a video of the canceled Prey 2 and after seeing what I did, I will admit I wish I would have been able to play what could have been a fun open world, bounty hunting style adventure, though it makes me wonder; What really happened to Tommy from the first game?

Sad to say we, will never know. Development went to Arkane Studios of Dishonored fame (or infamy, if you know my experience with Dishonored 2.) Prey 2017 became a reboot of the franchise, designed more as a “spiritual successor” to the System Shock franchise. With a System Shock reboot already in the works by Night Dive Studios, would Prey be enough to hold us over until then?

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For the most part, yes it does. Prey starts off simple enough. You wake up in your apartment in the year 2032, about to head to your first day on the job at Transtar Corporation. Your brother, Alex, has secured you a job in the “family business” and you are subjected to what appears to be basic human resource questions, until one of the scientists is attacked, you are gassed, and then wake up in the same room as if the day never happened.

You, as Morgan, realize that the entire day was a façade and find out you are not on Earth, but rather on the Transtar-owned Talos I space station. The setting is also based in an alternative history, in which President Kennedy survived his assassination attempt, lived over 100 years and helped to catalyze the space race, leading up to the founding of Transtar and the construction of Talos I.

Morgan finds out that he had a message recorded to himself, talking about how these aliens, the Typhon, have spiraled out of control and how your brother is trying to stop you from dealing with it. However, not everything is what it seems, as you can tell when you break free from your apartment cell.

From there the game follows the traditional System Shock formula, though it feels more like System Shock 2. I found it pretty funny that the key code to get to your office was 0451, which was also the first code you encounter in System Shock. Basically, it’s go to new areas, download the map, acquire new weapons and Neuromods (upgrade credits,) read emails, download maps, and find out what exactly is going on.

System Shock 2’s psychic abilities are in Prey, though they take the form of Typhon abilities. A scope is used to analyze Typhon species and with three categories: telepathy, morph, and energy, near abilities are unlocked. Some of which can be surprisingly useful, such as the Mimic ability which transforms you into any object you come across. I used it many times to morph into a coffee cup so I can easily fit into small spaces.

Accessing hidden, small or hard to reach locations can be done that way, or with another weapon I came across: the GLOO cannon, a multipurpose weapon that shoots out non-lethal foam that can slow down various Typhon such as Mimics and Phantoms, or can even be used to reach higher than normal locations, similar to Shadow Complex. Arkane continues their tradition of allowing multiple routes to reach an objective, though thankfully you are not forced to very strict stealth to avoid a high chaos rating as I suffered with Dishonored 2.

Combat, however, can be a bit clunky, especially when using the wrench. Using a similar stamina system to that of Dying Light, melee attacks can quickly drain your stamina, and even with trying to slow down Mimics with a GLOO burst, good luck getting an accurate hit on them. I also had issues with targeting with psychic attacks, and even with my pistol. Thankfully the shotgun does have a large damage radius, and turned into my go-to weapon during my 25-hour campaign.

Hacking is back, after my disappointment with Bioshock Infinite. This time it plays more like a game of Irritating Stick, where you have to lead your cursor to a target node avoiding walls and shock panels. The number of nodes hit depends on the security level, but thankfully I didn’t have much trouble with it.

In addition, items can now be broken down into material level, allowing construction of additional items with a fabricator, provided that the item’s fabrication plan is found. It really helped out a lot when I needed a bit more ammunition, though finding more minerals and synthetics started to become harder as the game progressed.

That difficulty didn’t help with some of the spikes that the game throws along the way. One of the most frustrating early on were broken power junctions which spit out electricity and can only be resolved by using a GLOO shot to temporarily seal the junction and repairing it in time. Two jolts usually resulted in death.

Then there is the backtracking, and dear Lord there is way too much backtracking in this game. You will end up going through several areas many times to get all the items you need to complete the game. I wouldn’t complain about it as much if it weren’t for the load times, some of which can take upwards of one minute to open the next area.

The visuals also take a slight hit, as there are issues with long texture pop in, and at times the frame rate takes a serious hit, especially during a key moment in the station’s reactor. Sound also has issues with some questionable voice acting. For some reason when I hear Alex Yu speak, I keep thinking back to Mega Man 8 where Dr. Light talks about “finding Doctah Wahwee.” Thankfully, the original score done by Mick Gordon is very atmospheric and fits the mood well. To go from hard EDM and choirs from DOOM 2016 to this just shows how talented he is as a composer.

Lastly, though trying not to give anything away, but the endings (yes, there are multiple endings) can be considered a bit of a letdown…at least at first. I’d say watch the whole thing to see what really happens to make sense. I can promise they are not the terrible sequel bait like we got with something like Call of Duty Ghosts.

So, does Prey live up to its previous version? No, because they are two completely different games. But does it live up to games like System Shock 2? Definitely. Yes, there are a lot of issues in the game, and I heard about some serious problems the PC version suffers from, though I will admit the game locked up on me just once on the Xbox One version, but it is a worthy 20-25-hour experience for those who enjoy a good exploration title. And for me, Arkane redeems themselves for the anger I felt after Dishonored 2.

Pros: A more than decent spiritual successor to System Shock 2. Hacking mini-games that were missing in Bioshock Infinite make a return. Fabrication system adds item variety. Amazing Mick Gordon musical score.

Cons: Backtracking overkill, combined with long load times. Some bad voice acting. Somewhat clunky combat. Those darn broken junctions! Questionable ending quality. After seeing footage of Prey 2, I really wish it wasn’t canceled.

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