Game review: Prey – sci-fi shooter misfires with thin narrative
Game kicks off with promise in a ruined space station setting, but its unique alien enemy and impressive arsenal of weaponry fail to offset the constant distraction of plot detours and rough punishment for breaking the rules
Nearly everything good about Prey is pulled from a game released during the past decade. Well, four other games to be exact. As Morgan Yu, your first action will be to pick up a wrench and start clobbering things, just like Jack in BioShock.
The desolate, ruined space station setting brings back memories of Dead Space , and the experimental gameplay takes cues from Dishonored . Then there’s the fact that it reimagines the original Prey, a well-received sci-fi shooter from 2006, which mixed extraterrestrial and Native American themes to imaginative effect.
The new Prey takes the highlights of said games, but merely allows them to coexist in a single habitat, never doing anything new with the foundational building blocks it has borrowed. The game takes place in the year 2032, in an alternate reality where President John F. Kennedy was never assassinated, and actually worked with the Soviet Union to launch the Talos 1 space station.
Waking up as either the male or female version of Morgan Yu on the aforementioned space station, the player embarks on a journey to rediscover the past of Morgan, a protagonist we are at first given no information on. This is a decidedly mundane storyline, in what should have been a race against time to stop the alien threat aboard Talos 1 from making its way back to Earth.
Instead of a full-throttle gauntlet against the Typhon aliens, Prey instead sidetracks the player at every turn, derailing the brilliant opening segment with a slow, drawn-out middle act involving fetch quests back and forth across Talos 1.
But while the main story of Prey drags, the characters Morgan can meet in the side missions are an underutilised bunch. These tasks have you taking out a serial killer, avenging the dead lover of another character, and rapidly scouring Talos 1 for medical items before time runs out for an injured character. This is where Prey shines, giving the player an exciting, varied group of tasks that allows Morgan to meet a host of interesting characters.
Talos 1 itself is a behemoth of a space station, and while it’s easy to get lost within its multitude of corridors and foyers, these side characters help pump life into the thin atmosphere of the narrative.
The actual Typhon aliens themselves make for an interesting enemy, punctuating an atmosphere of fear into Talos 1. The most interesting are the Mimics, which can transform into any object in the environment. It’s a fascinating design concept, often rendering Morgan Yu a paranoid mess, as he frantically attempts to recall whether that mug had been there on the desk just a second ago, or whether it’s about to turn into a killer alien.
Although the Mimics are unique as video game enemies, they are largely sacrificed later in the game for the Phantoms, hulking masses of strange, dark material, and other less engaging monstrosities. While different varieties of Phantom can shoot bolts of energy, fire, or duplicate themselves entirely, all Phantoms can teleport with great speed, and this combined with their generous health pool and the scarcity of ammunition for the player, often makes combat more frustrating than tense.
But the player has a variety of ways to fight back, utilising an impressive arsenal of weapons to keep the Typhon threat at bay. Every weapon Morgan comes across, from the shotgun or the pistol, to the Q-beam or the gloo cannon, all feel decidedly different to wield, bringing a nice mix to the combat of Prey.
Despite an exciting arsenal of weaponry and abilities, and an attention-grabbing enemy in the Mimics, nothing ever becomes awe-inspiring or genuinely memorable in Prey’s borrowed offerings. What could have been a breakneck race around Talos 1 is hampered by constant plot detours, and an overly harsh kickback for investing in the best abilities in the game.
The Arkane studios have an interesting approach to player empowerment: Dishonored provided an array of violent powers, but then asked us not to use them, while Prey dares the player to break the rules, but then punishes them for doing so.
In the latter game, as enjoyable as it is, this counter-intuitive approach has proved less successful.
Bethesda; PC/ PlayStation 4 (version tested)/Xbox One, Pegi rating: 18+