There’s nothing quite like the fear and paranoia that Prey induces the moment you step into a room of the vast Talos I station. The tension I felt while playing Prey was palpable, thanks in no small part to the edge-of-your-seat atmosphere the game builds. Through the combination of a haunting score, brilliant level design and stellar voice-work, Prey hooks you in and keeps you riveted for the duration of the game. The design of the mimics is frankly spectacular, and while alien enemies in games have largely been overdone, Prey goes out of its way to make the Typhon a formidable and unique force.
Entering any room carries with it the risk of being surprised by a mimic in disguise, or worse, a terribly powerful phantom. A simple coffee mug can turn out to be a violent mimic, and you won’t know until its tendrils are heading right for your face. It’s this fear that dogged me throughout my play through, and I spent an embarrassing amount of time smashing nearly everything in sight, only for the mimic to turn up on the other side of the room and surprise me all the same. Trust me, you’ll never look at a coffee mug the same way again.
What surprised me most about the game was the genuine level of challenge that Prey presents. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m a video game veteran, I have a pretty broad range of experience gaming, and even still, Prey’s difficulty shocked me. Going in expecting to breeze through levels in the quickest and easiest way possible is a shortcut to ruining your experience of the game, and it’s a mistake that I made in the opening levels. Prey instills within you a familiar sense of comfort in its initial presentation, and in a lot of ways, evokes memories of fellow Arkane title, Dishonored. But the moment you step foot aboard the Talos I, everything changes. I feel in some ways, this is done on purpose, to lure players in and pull the rug out from under their feet. Make no mistakes, Prey is a difficult game, and even playing on easy, I had a rough time of it. That’s not to say the challenge isn’t welcome. There’s something immensely satisfying about finally defeating an overly powerful phantom, or sneaking past without the Typhon noticing.
It was this feeling of elation that kept me absolutely riveted to my seat for my entire play through. If I had one criticism, it’s that perhaps the game’s enemies are overpowered to begin with, as the opening chapters were some of the hardest I contended with. Lacking your eventual Typhon abilities and running out of ammunition quickly against powerful enemies was a recipe for disaster, and one I was seldom able to avoid. Having said this, Prey does present a non-linear largely open world for you to explore, and allows you to complete levels in any fashion you wish. Often, a lack of abilities would limit your options, however, as many alternate routes required powers yet to be unlocked to access. Focusing on leverage and hacking abilities from the beginning will allow you to explore a lot more of the Talos I, and opens up a range of options for completing missions. While the open world setting of Prey contains a variety things to do and rooms to explore, the vastness of it often felt overwhelming, particularly as the mission design has players constantly looping back and applying new abilities to past scenarios and spaces. The completionist in me would often get frustrated when new and enticing rooms had to be left and explored at a later time because of a lack of abilities, or the direction of the mission.
Prey contains a variety of side missions, many of which include tracking down the errant staff of the Talos I, recovering items from across the space station, and defeating a variety of enemies. Each mission is rewarding on its own, allowing players to explore the many hidden depths of the Talos I that are only touched on or explored briefly in the main mission of the game. These missions will have you scouring the Talos I for hours, bringing much needed depth to the game. Those worried about the length of the game will be glad to have their fears assuaged. Prey is bursting with content, and the Talos I contains a vast, immensely rewarding world. The game is also peppered with a variety of missions that require you to journey into orbit around the Talos I, recovering various data and allowing you ease of access to spaces you’ve already discovered. Flying out into zero gravity to pickpocket the body of one of your former colleagues is a surprisingly satisfying experience, although the handling of the flight mechanics can be slightly frustrating.
One thing that really marks out Prey from its competitors is the uniqueness of the story, and the brilliant questions that it asks. From its opening moments, Prey confronts you with deep questions about philosophy and reality. From the world shattering opening chapter to the eventual acquisition of Morgan Yu’s Typhon abilities, Prey continually questions the notion of consciousness, reality and what it is to be human. The ability of a game to truly make the player question their own reality is a mark of greatness in my eyes, and Prey pulls it off with style, making for a brilliantly mind-bending game. It would have been easy to write Prey off as another third-person sci-fi shooter, but it pushes the envelope so much further, creating a truly brilliant, and often surprising story. The journey of Morgan Yu is fraught with quandaries, and it’s up to the player to make the choices that will shape how they play the game.
Prey’s best moments are underscored by its phenomenal soundtrack, bringing with it everything from awe to unadulterated fear. It’s easy to be overcome by a sense of wonder as you journey through the Talos I, particularly as you gaze out across the stars. Often, these moments of wonder are soon accompanied by a string of expletives as you forget where you are, and are immediately jumped by a mimic or a phantom. Each moment is scored beautifully, and really gives Prey a unique soundscape that separates it from its peers. It’s part of what makes Prey so memorable, and leaves you craving the inevitable sequel. Despite some trepidation over the reboot, Arkane’s blockbuster marks itself out as wholly unique and a worthy successor to the Prey name.
Score: 9.5 out of 10
Highlights: Mind-bending story, brilliant score, great character and design work
Lowlights: Steep learning curve; high difficulty
Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: Out Now
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC
Reviewed on Playstation 4 Pro.