Horror has long been a genre that developers have tried to bring to the interactive expanses of the gaming world. It’s something movies have been doing for a long time, and grabbing the audience with jump scares for little over an hour is something that we’ve come to expect from the big screen.
Games are different though. Games are something we expect to be able to sink our teeth into for hours on end, naturally expecting an enduring experience that can bring fear throughout. This year has already seen some top horror titles arrive, with Resident Evil 7 and Outlast 2 ready to put the fear into you. Now it’s the turn of Prey, as Bethesda look to bring us a sci-fi horror to remember. But does Prey live up to all the pre-release hype?
Before we get started, it’s worth noting that Prey isn’t a sequel, it isn’t a prequel and it isn’t a reboot. In fact the words from Bethesda’s top dogs tell us that the latest space faring adventure is a reimagining. So that’s enough of a difference to put any past experiences with the 2006 entry way out of the reaches of comparison, and allows us to treat this entry as something fresh.
You are Morgan Yu. The male or female protagonist, depending on your pre-game choice, who wakes aboard the Talos I space station, a research ship in orbit around the moon. You are here as part of the TranStar research team, after being recruited by Morgan’s brother Alex to help in the research of Typhon, the alien menace that is being contained on board.
Upon waking to what seems like just another day, you come to realise things are not as they seem. Talos I is at risk, the Typhon have escaped, you are now one of very few survivors, and it’s up to you to stop the alien onslaught that has taken over the ship. That’s as much as I’m going to give you in relation to the game’s story though, as exploration and story progression play a big part of why you should be looking to jump into Bethesda’s latest title. Why, well because it’s an exceptional showing of sci-fi horror of course.
At first glance you could be forgiven for thinking Prey isn’t really a horror at all. There isn’t much in the way of blood and guts, and Talos I is possibly one of the most well-lit environments I’ve ever seen in a game from the genre. It doesn’t take long for things to change though, but unlike many other titles on the market, Prey isn’t what you would expect.
Prey isn’t an entirely linear experience. Talos I may not be another seemingly endless open-world such as those found in The Witcher series or indeed any of Bethsda’s hit RPG classics, but the environment of Talos I is free to explore as you wish. Of course, having nothing more than a space station to wander round might not sound like much, but the sheer size and detail of Talos I is something to awe at. From the start this is something you can traverse freely, albeit with some locked doors that will block your path until you find the right door card, but it’s pretty much a go where you want type experience.
Throughout the game there are choices to be made that have an influence on the story, and it’s essentially up to you to choose how you’re going to go about things. That doesn’t mean it’s an entirely open-world RPG type affair either (despite what the in-game menus may suggest). Instead you are set on a path to your overall objective via the guidance of a pre-programmed A.I named January – in place to help you should the situation you find yourself in arise. Which it has. January is the source of many of the main missions in the game and is one of the few characters you will find yourself in contact with whilst on the run from the Typhon.
Continuing with the story is something that isn’t particularly rushed in Prey either. This is due to the alien race – the Typhon – that are found throughout the station. Avoiding them is important. The most unnerving of these are Mimics – the most basic of enemy types. You see, they can take on the role of pretty much any object you can think of – a cup, a table, a bin, that Medkit you wanted, pretty much anything… which can lead to some tense times when walking past something and not paying full attention.
To ensure you aren’t given a heart attack every five seconds, there are a few ways to notice enemies. The first is the change in music which occurs when an enemy is in the room, while the second is to check for duplicated objects, such as two wet floor signs next to each other. You just know one of those signs is going to try and kill you.
Dealing with enemies is open to personal choice as your progress through the story. You could of course spray your enemies with bullets or hit them with melee weapons, or you could freeze them with the GLOO gun before utilising a mixture of everything in your arsenal. Dispatching them however is important as enemies can deal some serious damage and when you find yourself confronted by five or six mimics which have multiplied, you can quickly find yourself heading back to the last checkpoint before you know it.
In order to survive, you’ll be wanting to keep stocked up on vital components and making yourself as powerful as possible. This is done via the use of Neuromods – or keeping a high supply of shotgun shells for The Margrave if you’re one of those who received the beastly golden family heirloom as a pre-order bonus. Neuromods though are a vital part of TranStar’s research, and you can use these to gain abilities that will help you along the way, amending three sections to the skill tree – Scientist, Engineer, and Security – as you see fit. Those hoping to become unstoppable by maxing them all out however should be aware that Neuromods are extremely rare and so choices are best off being made on how you want to play the game.
Another important aspect to your Prey survival is in the inventory management. You can pick up anything on Talos I. Literally anything. But that doesn’t mean it’s all valuable. Of course, should you find yourself with a whole load of junk, then the recycling machines can change your junk into usable and helpful resources, and will quickly become your best friend. With weapons to prioritise and various ammo and health packs to keep hold of, space can quickly become valuable. The only issue you then face is how much junk you carry to get those precious resources… Oh the choices.
By this point you’ve probably figured Prey is a game you should be playing. The enemies are great, the story is without doubt a gripping experience, and the exploration opportunities aboard the gorgeous Talos I are wondrous. The freedom of choice is incredible in fact, but that doesn’t mean Prey isn’t without a few issues as well.
One thing that is slightly disappointing is the use of the music when fighting enemies. This is a real shame as the rest of the soundtrack is possibly some of the finest backing found in any horror title. The issue is that it often lasts a little longer than it probably ought too. Several times throughout my playthroughs I have found myself still searching rooms to look for enemies when there aren’t any to find… all because that damn music carries on for too long. This may not take much away from the game, but it would have been nice to hear it match the quality of the rest of the soundtrack.
The other issue I have had is in the facial designs of the many murdered victims you can find throughout the game. Finding victims is something you will find yourself doing quite a bit, especially if you are looking to track down all the missing folk for one of the sidequests, but with many of them having faces that look like they were moulded by Morph, it feels like Arkane Studios have slacked a little when compared to the visual quality of pretty much everything else in Prey. This isn’t something that really needs paying much attention to, but it is slightly disappointing.
That said the issues in Prey are minimal and when compared to the overall quality of the game, I’m only really nit-picking with these.
Prey is what you would expect to find should Bioshock and Dead Space cross paths. With a great story that is full of choice and multiple endings, a fantastic atmosphere and some of the most unique enemies seen in a horror game, this is one game that’s fully deserving of praise.