To put it simply, Prey is a great game on the cusp of being a groundbreaking experience. But, too many small issues, both technical and design crop up to hamper the experience. It’s really a shame since it is so close to being amazing.
To get entirely reductive for a second, Prey is basically a marriage between BioShock and System Shock, but that’s not a bad thing. Prey keeps the relatively fast-paced shooting and movement of BioShock. However, it has much more of a Role-Playing Game bent like System Shock had. Including various side quests, skill upgrades, and experimentation.
Prey places you in control of Morgan Yu (either male or female, you pick at the start of the game.) A research volunteer aboard the Talos 1 station. Prey takes place in an alternate and futuristic history where John F. Kennedy didn’t get assassinated and both Russia and the United States of America space programs built a space station. Eventually, a corporation takes control of the space station and develops Neuromods, which are derived from Typhon aliens. Granting skills and experience. As Morgan, you are testing these Neuromods out when the Typhon escape, kill off most of the people on the station and start to take it over.
This is kind of the basic superficial storyline of Prey. Along the way, you’ll meet up with your brother Alex, who is a somewhat sinister figure. After, you meet January, a robot based on some of your earlier brain scans. These two are your big story-line quest givers, each directing you to either kill the aliens (Alex) or blow up the station (January). But, you’ll also run into about a dozen various people that are alive on the station and need your help to survive.
The actual approach to the gameplay of Prey is either taking an action or stealth route. Each kind of has their place, but neither feels “right”, which I’ll get into below. In the meantime, you can check out a stream from one of our staffers Stephanie Diaz
If you want to try for action, it usually involves using the shotgun or Q-Beam (laser weapon) to take down the various Typhon aliens you encounter. There are only a handful of weapons in the game. There’s the silenced pistol, the aforementioned shotgun and Q-Beam, a wrench, an electric stun pistol, and the GLOO gun. The GLOO gun is the most innovative, since it slows down and immobilizes enemies. So that you can either hit them with the wrench or shoot at them with another gun for increased damage. You can also use the GLOO gun to create jumping points around the environments to get to hard to reach places.
Some Gameplay Issues
The core problem with the action style is two-fold. Firstly, enemies jump around constantly. So, just trying to get your bearings on enemies, especially Mimics (small, spider-like aliens) can be a real hassle. Also, aiming feels sluggish with most weapons as well.
The second issue is that the arsenal you get never feels effective. There needed to be a basic assault rifle type of weapon. Not to mention, either a grenade launcher or sniper rifle equivalent, and there isn’t. As a result, the weapons you get always feel paltry, even after you fully upgrade them. So, you are usually at a disadvantage. Having a joke weapon of a Nerf Crossbow doesn’t help matters either.
If you want to go for stealth, that is an option, but it’s never a particularly useful one. You can get around a lot of the larger enemies by avoiding them, but that’s not particularly fun. Trying to stealth kill most enemies is a lost cause. Especially if you don’t spend your skill points in a particular way. Because the moment you attack, it is really game on, and it completely becomes an action game. You can do up to 250% damage if you are in stealth, but even this damage increase doesn’t one-shot the second tier enemies.
Neuromods are basically the skill points of the game and Plasmids from BioShock all rolled into one. Instead of giving you specific powers like the Plasmids did, the Neuromods are skill points you place to gain new abilities. At the start you have access to three classifications, scientist, engineer, and security. Most of the skills in these classifications are passive. For example, you can increase your ability to lift things, increase your inventory space, or even heal better. There’s only one active ability in the early game, “Combat Focus”, which slows down the world for a few seconds, letting you attack easier.
Later on, though, you gain access to Typhoon-based Neuromods, and these are where the special powers come into play. These fall under the classifications of energy, Morph, and Telepathy, and let you do things like turning into different objects, creating fire-based traps, or letting you turn an enemy into an ally for a short while.
The catch with the Typhon Neuromods is that you need to research specific aliens in order to actually unlock the ability to use them. To research them, you have to use a Psychoscope, which is basically the video camera from BioShock 2. While in stealth, scan an enemy and gain data on them.
Most enemies have between three and five data points on them, which unlock various skills. So, if you wanted to learn the “Mimic Matter” skill, you will need to scan a few Mimic enemies to learn it. Then, when you scan more of them later, you unlock more powerful versions of it. However, you can’t scan the same exact enemy over and over. So, make sure it is a different Mimic each time. Also, using the Psychoscope is kind of slow. At least you can shoot your weapons while using it. So, it keeps you from being totally defenseless.
Arguably the best thing about Prey is exploring the space station. There are about 10 different areas on Talos 1. From the main lobby to crew quarters, the power station, the cargo bay and so on. Each area may look fairly similar, but each is rather distinctive upon closer inspection. Every area in the game has a very “lived in” feel to it, which helps give it some real atmosphere.
This element actually works against the player (intentionally) because you know something really bad went down on the station. Causing a sense of dread as you explore this nearly abandoned place. You can also explore the outer part of the station, in a zero-G environment, which lets you get around the station a bit quicker, via a few airlocks.
While exploring the station is rewarding, one of the biggest issues Prey is long load times. Getting between one section or another requires a loading screen, which can last around a minute to a minute and a half. I actually used a timer to figure this out.
This severely impacts the flow of the game and makes it an incredible pain to get around certain areas of Talos 1. One of the side quests you get involves finding four map pieces, and then investigating those map pieces in different areas of the station. I eventually gave up, because getting around the long loads was utterly aggravating.
Resource Management and Gear
Although you’ll find weapons and ammo in areas, it isn’t overflowing with ammo and health items either. Instead, it is more fun and productive to craft your own supplies at various fabrication stations in Talos 1.
You can create everything useful in the game. Whether it be ammo or weapons, medkits, anti-radiation medicine, suit (armor) repair packs, even weapon upgrade kits or the Neuromods themselves. Creating things can also give you a leg up on the Typhon you meet. However, much like with crafting in any other game, you need to find the actual fabrication plans (recipes) first. So, don’t expect to be able to create Q-Beam ammo or Neuromods off the bat.
There’s also another catch as well. In order to fabricate things, you need the basic resources to actually build them. These are organic, synthetic, mineral or even “exotic” resources. While you find raw elements occasionally on the station, it is more effective to just recycle the trash you pick up, via a Recycle station, which gives you basic elements back in return.
It’s honestly a very clever system. At the start, you feel incredibly weak. But the more you play, and the more resources and plans you accrue, the more confident you can be in accomplishing the challenges you’ll experience.
In the course playing, I probably saw about 15 or 20 side quests. These came from either various people on the station or interacting with the computers or notes. A lot of these quests involve you fixing parts of the station. While others may involve fetch quests retrieving items for people. It’s mostly boilerplate stuff, but you do get a sense of accomplishment when something is finally completed. A lot of the side quests are multi-part affairs, so doing them can take a while. But there is usually a good reward once completed.
When I say “bugs”, I’m not talking about the bugs from Starship Troopers, else this game would be an automatic Game of the Year contender. I’m talking about progress-stopping or game-ending bugs that really prevent this game from being a top-echelon title.
Frankly, I ran into at least three bugs requiring me to restart the game completely. One involved my inventory glitching out, so the cursor was gone. The game then started to really chug for some reason. Another involved me picking up an audio log and it getting “stuck,” so it would just repeat the same two lines of dialog over and over. While another bug locked the game up completely when I was running to a door between sections.
Even aside from these issues though, I ran into problems with quest progression, hostile NPC’s, etc. Very late in the game, once a big turning point happens, a huge Typhon alien emerges from the sky. It completed a main-storyline quest I was on, but also rang me up as having failed a quest I had completed earlier, then immediately after, rang up again saying I completed said quest.
There was a character in the Power Plant who is a slightly more important NPC, and she has multiple side quests for you to accomplish. For me, she showed up as hostile. She didn’t actively attack me, but whenever I aimed my gun at her general direction, it would turn red to show she was an enemy, when she really wasn’t. I was able to complete some of her side quests, but it was bugged on me actually meeting her, so it never showed I actually talked to her.
This actually impacted my game ending to a degree, and I’ll talk a bit about it. At the end, you are given a tally for how humane you are in the game. Like if you are helpful to people or not. So, during the ending, it basically said: “You let this character die.” My response was “No, the game glitched out, showing I never met her, when in fact I did.”
Even aside from my own personal issues, I’ve seen many reports showing similar things. Another person couldn’t finish the main quest line because it wanted him to pick up a key quest item, despite him already having it in his inventory. These are issues that don’t completely ruin Prey, but they definitely put a hamper on the game for sure.
- Great interaction with your powers, with some creative uses for them
- Talos 1 feels lived-in and has a ton of personal detail as you explore it
- The Recycle/Fabrication mechanic is a good incentive to collect things
- Game breaking issues and progress breaking bugs can crop up to seriously mess with the game
- Long load times between sections on the space station
- Basic gunplay doesn’t feel satisfying and seems sluggish with the weapons you have
Overall Score: 7.0 out of 10. Prey is so close to being an amazing game. But, the technical issues and some design choices really bring it down. It’s a shame since the atmosphere of Prey is some of the best I’ve seen in a game. Getting around the station is a tense, but rewarding experience. If the technical issues weren’t there, this game would easily be a standout GOTY contender. However, the problems do exist. Although my recommendation is still positive, know going in, parts of the game may likely break for you as well.