Prey successfully melds science fiction and horror in a more contemporary and grounded setting that the original title from 2006. It therefore doesn’t feel at all related to its predecessor, posing question as to why it needed to use the name ‘Prey’. However, while its roots are muddy, the title that’s grown from them is wonderfully intense and intriguing, providing an experience that’s a bit familiar in places yet superbly polished.
The likeness to titles such as System Shock and Bioshock is hard to deny, with ‘mystery’ being its primary draw. You play as either a female of male Morgan Yu, waking up in your apartment and given the objective of heading to work. However, the reality of Yu’s situation is quickly challenged as something goes wrong behind the scenes, revealing Yu’s place of work to in fact be a space station in orbit around Earth, and Yu’s memory erased as an emergency protocol. Worse still, the station is infested by an alien organism known as Typhon, capable of shifting their appearance to look like everyday objects as well as sucking the life out of all living things. It’s a threat that must not be allowed to reach Earth, and despite your fractured memories, it’s up to you to figure out precisely what’s going on within the station and destroy the Typhon.
Your main objectives lead you through a well-paced and interesting story of discovery but the station is littered with side quests to further the lore. You’re free to switch between these objectives at will, with the space station open for you to explore, assuming you have the card keys, weapons and abilities to surpass the obstacles. It’s a metrovania style of free-roaming exploration that helps the environment feel more realistic and works to help satisfy your intrigue if the greater lore should grip you. Moreover, there are often multiple ways for you to conquer the obstacles in your way, whether that’s exploring and finding key cards to open otherwise locked doors, or using the neat collection of weapons to make a route – such as the Glu gun that creates clumps of solid matter to temporarily freeze enemies in place or create makeshift stairs to clamber on – or even using your abilities to hack and repair security nodes. It’s wonderfully open.
However, as much as exploration is encouraged by objectives, and required to progress, there’s an terrifically eerie personality to the station that does a tremendous job of putting you off. It’s a rare occasion of an environment looking lived in and mostly brightly lit, but the powerful sense of loneliness and the threat the Typhoon poses makes entering every room intense and frightening.
The spider-like Typhon, Mimics, can shifting into everyday objectives, fooling you into a false sense of security where a room looks harmless when in fact you’re surrounded. As you approach objects that are in fact Mimics, they shift back to their alien form and spring towards you. It makes you paranoid and puts you on edge, and with some superb scripted events in the early stages of the game, you’re quickly introduced to just how devious this enemy can be.
However, Yu does have a few tricks up his/her sleeve. The experiments you were a part of have granted you abilities which can be upgraded and expanded on through a skill tree. Additionally, new technical skills, health and stamina stats, and multiple other upgrades can be purchased and augmented with collectables. Eventually you can become a force to be reckoned with, although the further you commit to certain abilities the more you threaten your own humanity as the story progresses. It’s an interesting exploration of consequences that makes your play through a little more personal.
The use of limited stamina and inventory space adds a pleasant slice of survival horror to proceedings, enhanced considerably by the fast shifting and attacking of the Typhon as well as the wonderful use of music to intensify encounters. Running out of stamina and being unable to deal damage to the alien menace while being attacked does tread a thin line between frustrating and enhancing the horror. Meanwhile, the humanoid Typhon and human enemies require different tactics to overcome. It results in a clever set of combat encounters that force you to use a variety of different weapons and strategies to deal with the differing types and differing numbers you encounter.
A crafting feature allows you to create ammo, health and other items from machines strewn around the station. These machines use scrap and items you find, breaks them down into compound parts which can then be used to create whatever you please, assuming you have the blueprints. It means ammo and health are scarce, and improvising is encouraged. Environmental hazards can be used in combat to help even the odds, switching to different weapons is often necessary, and food items can be picked up and consumed to regain a little health and stamina. Mostly, this encourages you to avoid combat and run, enhancing the horror aspect to good effect.
Indeed, Prey does a great job delivering a smart FPS, survival horror hybrid with an intriguing setting and story. There’s some unfortunate technical limitations that can lead to some occasional frame rate issues and some long loading times between areas, but the journey of discovery and combat against the Typhon aliens aboard the space station is a highly satisfying, intense and rewarding experience. It’s a reboot that strays considerable from the original vision but successfully builds something new from the ashes of the Prey IP.
Thanks to Xbox and Bethesda for supporting TiX