It was an incredibly strange feeling to get my hands on Prey for the first time. In some ways, it felt like experiencing a moment that I wasn’t sure would ever come. 2006’s Prey is infamous as the game that was originally conceived in 1995 and finally released over 10 years later. The final product was filled with the kind of rough edges that a game typically acquires when it takes over a decade to develop and gets passed between multiple hands. Still, it was an intriguing entrant into the first-person shooter genre that showcased some ideas worth exploring again.
There were rumblings of Prey 2‘s existence following the first game’s launch, but many fans weren’t holding their breath for its imminent arrival.
Yet, this Prey doesn’t feel burdened by the weight of expectations. Developed by Arkane Studios – the team behind Dishonored – 2017’s Prey has, based on the previews released thus far, not exhibited many similarities with the 2006 game of the same name. As such, I didn’t exactly feel like I was about to play a highly-anticipated sequel as I prepared to dive into the title.
According to Prey‘s creative director Raphael Colantonio, that’s exactly how Arkane Studios wants it.
“There’s absolutely no relation other than the premise,” said Colantonio when asked how Prey was connected to the 2006 game. “It’s about escaping a place that’s full of aliens. That’s about the only link between the versions.”
While I only got to experience the first hour or so of the game, Colantonio’s words rang true during Prey’s prologue. There are very few overt similarities between 2006’s Prey and 2017’s. In fact, the biggest similarity between the two is the feeling of hopelessness their opening moments inspire. While the original Prey instilled a sense of impending dread in players by having aliens abduct them from a rural bar, this Prey begins with a seemingly normal day in the life of protagonist Morgan Yu which turns extraordinary when a simple scientific test turns into a living nightmare.
The opening 20 minutes of Prey lend the game a distinct sci-fi horror atmosphere thanks to the haunting nature of the narrative’s initial events. Yet, that’s still not necessarily what Arkane Studios is shooting for with their take on the Prey name.
“It (the opening) could be misleading into making you think ‘this is going to be a survival horror game,’” said Colantonio. “It’s not. The set-up is this way and there’s a lot of mystery as you wonder where you are…but then, we take the suspense of wondering who you are and we you are and sustain that as you play the game.”
So if these are things that Prey is not, what are the qualities which define it?
The best way to picture what Prey hast to offer is to imagine a Deus Ex game by way of Dishonored. Just as in Deus Ex, Prey allows you to construct your character as you please using neural implants found throughout the game’s world. If you want to be able to hack into any computer system, there’s a skill for that. If you enjoy lifting coffee tables above your head as easily as you lift a coffee mug, there’s a path for that too.
Where Prey separates itself, though, is how these choices are organically implemented into the gameplay. Anyone familiar with the Dishonored series will be the first to tell you that Arkane Studios excels at offering players truly unique ways to complete pre-defined objectives. The same is true here. Opting to specialize in combat, for instance, doesn’t mean that Prey becomes a first person shooter. It means that you start to see obstacles and resources from a combat-first perspective. Choosing a hacking and repair skill set – such as the one I opted for– means that you gain easier access to new mechanics like a repairable recycling machine that can convert trash into useful spare parts.
Yes, nearly everything you pick up in Prey has theoretical value. It’s a hoarder’s dream.
Then you have items like the Goo Gun which are designed as a multipurpose tool for all potential paths. The Goo Gun is a weapon that shoots a hardening foam at your desired target. Initially, it’s used to freeze your enemies in place so that you can easily attack them. However, the gun can also be used to close open pipes, block turrets, or even build new paths to otherwise unreachable levels. Because of the limited amount of ammo you have for the gun, your primary usage of it tends to depend on your preferred play style.
While there are a few moments early in the game where it feels like you are stuck adhering to a certain completion method due to the initial lack of ammunition and the need to encounter certain environmentally-triggered plot points, it’s clear that Arkane is trying to craft an experience that treats choices in gameplay as more than a matter of “Option A” or “Option B.” Thankfully, according to Colantonio, this means boss fights will not be shoehorned into the experience as they were in later Deus Ex games. While there may be certain enemies that require a unique approach, you’ll never be forced to suddenly pull out the big guns and expend all your ammo just to take down some hulking creature.
Speaking of enemies, Colantonio says that one of the design team’s primary objectives with Prey was to avoid relying on one of the few existing archetypes of alien creatures that exist in sci-fi. The foes in Prey fall somewhere between alien and supernatural. Prey‘s basic minions operate on more of a monster closet system as they have the ability to appear out of thin air like wisps of malicious smoke. Other, more imposing, creations patrol certain areas and require a little more strategy to navigate around. The one thing that the game’s initial areas make abundantly clear, though, is that no encounter can be taken lightly. Even basic enemies can overwhelm you if you don’t play to your strengths.
While Prey’s gameplay exhibits an exceptional, if sometimes familiar, pedigree early on, the quality of its arching narrative did not shine as brightly during my brief time with the game. Beyond the “What is going on here?” opening, Prey begins to lean on certain tropes like amnesia, suspicious vocal guides, and evil corporations. A last-minute revelation that ended the demo suggested there may be something far more intriguing going on in this world than you are initially led to believe, but thus far, the overall strength of the story wasn’t made abundantly clear during the short preview.
Thankfully, Colantonio promises that the organic choices of Prey’s gameplay will extend to the overall narrative as players will experience slightly altered stories – as well as multiple endings – based on their chosen method of play.
While the game’s grand story is a bit of a question mark early on, certain elements of the plot do shine brightly through trace aspects of the environment. Prey’s set-up is based, in part, on the premise that John F. Kennedy never died and the world became more obsessed with the space race. As such, its take on the year 2032 feels both traditionally futuristic and exceedingly rough. Colantonio cited Terry Gilliam as one of the team’s primary design influences, and the world of Prey certainly does share some similarities with Gilliam’s Brazil. Both feel as if they were crafted by civilizations that advanced too fast technologically and eventually came to favor function over form.
That’s not to say there aren’t moments of beauty here and there, though. Prey looks fantastic from a purely visual standpoint and there are plenty of little design flourishes – such as the way you organically browse computers without entering a separate menu – which show Arkane’s ability to be visually creative without ruining the “ugliness” of the game’s world. The music, meanwhile, is a wonderful tribute to the soundtracks of Drive, Hotline Miami, and John Carpenter’s synth melodies which never fails to set the mood.
Yes, there’s very little about this Prey which reminds me of the original title, but as I learned to embrace the game’s offerings, I began to feel like that a fresh start really was the best way to go. While I miss playing a Native American space warrior who could bounce between zero gravity environments while shooting a spirit bow, 2017’s Prey feels like a more cohesive overall experience in terms of presentation and gameplay. Besides, as the Deus Ex series prepares to enter a hiatus, now is the perfect time for a first-person RPG that offers a sci-fi world worth exploring then lets you decide how you wish to explore it.
Matthew Byrd is a staff writer.