Without even realizing it, I somehow managed to clock up over 50 hours of gameplay on Prey. It was a great feeling playing through a sci-fi RPG that kept me hooked not because of the need to grind to a higher level, but purely because it simply had so much to offer. Prey has reassured me that there is still space for new developments in the RPG genre. The last time I felt this satisfied after having played a game of a similar nature was after having completed the very first Bioshock, and that was a very long time ago. Strangely, playing through Prey has made me want to go back to Bioshock and play through that again, even though the two are not related. Prey has rekindled my love for RPGs. We’ve had so many games based in space over the past few years, and Prey is by far one of the best.
Prey doesn’t wait to confuse you in the most creative ways possible. The very first cutscene alone introduces the game so perfectly, that you’ll feel compelled to jump right in and begin exploring the world that it’s depicted in. The characters in the game are also intriguing enough for you to want to watch every single cutscene rather than skipping through them – something that I often tend to do with other games.
The game is made up of a variety of short stories, although there is a central overarching in addition. The shorter plots however are what kept me more interested, as it allowed me to interact with more inhabitants of the Talos space station, even after it gets attacked. There is some excellent dialog between various characters as you progress through the campaign, and despite the world of Prey containing aliens and other deformed creatures, it still felt more real than a lot of RPGs that are depicted on Earth. A lot of this is simply down to the storytelling that Arkane has managed to get spot on.
What really impresses me is how almost every corner of the world can be interacted with. You can collect almost anything that you uncover, and convert useless junk into something useful if you collect enough. Even banana peels can be used to upgrade weapons. It sounds silly, but I’ve never been happier finding banana peels in another game before! I wanted to collect not because I felt the need to, but because I genuinely wanted to unlock new gear and weapons. I never felt that the game was forcing me into carrying out those tedious chores in order to progress – I was allowed to scavenge as little or as much as I desired.
Interestingly, a lot of objects in the world that look like collectibles, end up being disguised aliens who you end up having to face off with. This formula has often been used in old-school RPG games, but perhaps isn’t used as widely as it should. The world of Prey is dark and twisted, and knowing that anything could be disguised as an alien makes you always think twice about whether it’s worth trying to collect it. If anything, it keeps you on the edge of your seat for the duration of the gameplay. The developers clearly want you to feel paranoid about being in space, and with this interesting concept, they have achieved exactly that. It is particularly unforgiving when you are desperate to find a health pack and you think you have finally encountered one, only to find out that it’s actually an alien or a trap designed to prey (pardon the pun) on your needs. Some might argue that this sounds like it could get very frustrating. Sometimes, perhaps that may be true, however as long as you always have your guard up, you should be fine. The point of this system is to take advantage of gamers who become a little too comfortable with their surroundings!
Those who have played through the original Deus Ex will feel at home with regards to gameplay. There are skill trees and upgrade systems that aren’t anything different to what we have witnessed with other games. This is not necessarily a negative either, since there is nothing wrong with reusing what already works so well. Since there are so many options to decide how your character develops, it is up to the gamer to choose how his/her character develops. There are always trade-offs and sacrifices, but the upgrades you choose should naturally suit the type of player you are. I would add that the stealth mechanics in the game are not up to par, so it might be worth staying away from upgrading too many stealth abilities.
You don’t get access to the cool gear and upgrades early on. You have to play a lot of Prey before the juicy upgrades are available. Nonetheless, even spending 8 hours playing Prey with basic abilities was a huge amount of fun.
One of Prey’s selling points is how it provides an open world. Truth is that it’s not entirely open, but at least lets you choose your own paths. Although this might not really classify as a USP, since RPGs are often open world, it’s the fact that we have an open world in space that makes Prey such a delight to play. The abilities that you have unlocked will give you different options to get to the same objective. If you’re strong on tech, you can hack your way through doors, but someone with a lot of strength can bash doors down. It made playing through Prey quite a strategic experience, since a specific path that might seem obvious, might be the wrong one if your abilities are not up to scratch. I always found myself thinking about what powers and mods I have access to, and how I could best utilize those.
Those who want to rush through Prey can probably finish it in 20 hours. That’s a huge amount of game time. That duration can easily be doubled if you end up doing side quests and revisiting old zones. As you build your abilities up, you’ll find that there are hidden compartments in the old zones that can be accessed with your new abilities. If you’re a completionist, Prey will give you a serious amount of game time.
Prey also requires you to make a lot of moral choices. Often you are put in positions where you need to make tough decisions. Saving someone or letting them die for personal benefit, seeking revenge on behalf of someone else, kill humans who are being telepathically controlled or find ways to save them – these are the types of questions that you will need to face and act upon. Your choices define how your game ends to some extent, so you can effectively play a whole game taking the moral high ground, and then replay it as a complete #*!*. If you’re expecting a fantastic ending, then you might be disappointed. The journey is by far more enjoyable and rewarding than the destination.
Graphically, Prey isn’t quite up to par with some of the other RPG games on current generation consoles. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s a bad looking game either. I often felt that some of the textures could have been better detailed, especially when it came to close ups of humans and aliens. There also isn’t enough variety between the ways the enemies look. The robots look very similar, and the aliens too. I would have liked a wider range of enemies to fight against, or at least be given the impression that I’m fighting a different type of enemy just purely based on the way they look.
From a combat perspective, Prey is a very spongey game. Enemies take a huge amount of bullet damage, and you need to pump a lot of ammo to drop them. You have plenty of weapons and abilities to help achieve that, but the issue is that they often sponge so much, that you quickly run out of ammo. I ended up spending a lot of time using the melee option to try and knock the aliens out. I’m not sure if this was intentionally designed, but I felt that Prey needed to increase the bullet damage or lessen the amount of bullets enemies sponge. Eventually you do unlock new powers to help you telepathically defeat enemies too, but that takes a while to get hold of.
There are stealth mechanics too, and sometimes they work. In these instances, you can creep past enemies and not even engage in fights with them. You can use distractions by throwing objects in the opposite direction. Prey however is not designed to be a stealth game, and there just aren’t enough mechanics to help you get past enemies. You’ll spend most of your time just shooting and melee’ing your way through to the next stage.
The enemy AI isn’t the best either. They often seemed quite stupid actually. I’d often mess around with them with my powers and for some reason, the others who were unaffected didn’t care. You can have a lot of fun messing around with them, but that’s only because you’re taking advantage of a weaker AI. It does make for some great video footage to share on YouTube however!
I haven’t had the opportunity to enjoy Prey on the PC, however it plays perfectly fine on PS4. I did need to turn up my sensitivity as the default was too slow and probably more relevant for someone using a keyboard and mouse. Using a normal console, the game is quite smooth at a consistent 30fps, although unfortunately there are no major benefits to be had on the PS4 Pro. You will also sometimes have to face long load times, which in today’s era, is unacceptable.
Despite some of the downsides of Prey, the game still offered a level of sophistication and creativity that I haven’t witnessed since the original Bioshock. It’s packed full of rich content to justify the price tag of a full retail game, and the added paranoia that is constantly lingering due to the unknown is what the developers primarily wanted to achieve, and have done so successfully. Prey is not the strongest when it comes to enemy AI or combat, however for a game of this type, it succeeds where it absolutely needs to. It provides a level of immersion without which, it wouldn’t even deserve a second look. I’d certainly recommend Prey to any RPG fans who loved what the original Bioshock and Deus Ex had to offer.