Reviewed on PS4, copy supplied by publisher.
From the get go I want to make it very clear that my experience with Prey has been a very, very mixed bag. There are aspects of it that I adored, and other aspects that were mind numbingly terrible. Sci-fi horror is something that is very much up my alley, with the real measuring stick being story. Something which Prey delivers, but the way it goes about delivering it can be rough.
The opening hour or so of Prey is some of the finest pacing and story telling I’ve experienced, from the creative opening where credits take the form of billboards around the city, I was drawn in. An early twist compels you to discover more about the space station Talos I and the Typhon aliens that have overrun it. Almost a direct blend of Alien Isolation, System Shock and Bioshock, the atmosphere is rich, building on the foundations of the previously mentioned games. Interestingly the connection between Prey‘s namesake is apparently absent, and a new name entirely should have been applied, but we won’t dwell on that.
The alluring 60s design of the station, atmospheric soundtrack and creepy alien enemy may captivate at first, but once you get a feel for the station and the story progresses into the final act, things become a little tedious. Mimics are the bread and butter enemy type, and at the beginning they are formidable, changing shape and providing all the jump scares in the world. The little bastards scuttle off and transform into nearby objects, turning your exploration into a terrifying game of prop hunt.
However, when other enemy types start making appearances, things become less scary and more frustrating, Phantoms, Technopaths and Weavers act as bullet sponges, with the more common Phantoms having insane movement speed, which when paired with their ability to basically one hit you, a bad time is imminent. This would be fine if the game had decent stockpiles of weaponry and ammo. Taking down enemies can bleed you dry, leaving you with a lot of grinding to do to craft more resources.
Fortunately the crafting system in Prey is pretty fun, with giant recyclers turning anything you find into base blocks and a fabricators turning those blocks into items. It’s like the Replicators in Star Trek, and it feels great to use, initially anyway. Later in game when you need to start pumping out mass amounts of ammo or health to keep up with the higher enemy numbers, the slow process of individually crafting items takes its toll.
The weapons at your disposal require a solid amount of upgrading to become useful. Without the pre-order bonus shotgun, I would have struggled desperately in the beginning. I did however enjoy the GLOO Cannon a lot. The weapon freeze enemies in places, but also acts as a level traversing tool, letting you reach high up places and discover ways to bypass locked off areas. But that being all well and good, the truth remains that you do still need to grind your way to becoming an efficient fighter in Prey.
Combining the grindy necessity of combat with rapid transition between areas, both inside and outside of the station, made me want to stop playing the game more than once. Although, admittedly, traveling around the exterior in zero-g is brilliant.
Towards the end you’ll be inundated with side quests and stages of the main story. Whilst the storytelling and general feel of the main/supplementary story remains stellar, the need to move around a lot becomes a real drag. On console the load times are excruciating, taking well over a minute to load up, so when you need to transition between two or three areas in quick succession, it really takes you out of the game (insert usual joke about LoadScreen complaining about load screens).
Another area that hinders the storytelling is the “play it your way” vibe. There’s a balance between playing it your way, and being unable to function as a character in late game because you invested your skill points poorly. The skill tree in Prey is extensive, and Neuromods, which act as your upgrades, are rare to find. You can find a fabricator plan to build your own, but the number of resources that requires is a tall order. By the end I found I’d invested most of my points in skills that helped me stay alive, such as health and movement speed, leaving me struggling to progress to objectives because I had forsaken repair and hacking. Combining this with my already high frustration at the load times and overkill of objective markers, I would have given up if it weren’t for that damn fine story.
Exploration and lore in Prey are the real driving factors for me, and despite the bumpy areas I’ve mentioned, for the most part they make it worth while. Combat improves significantly once you’ve upgraded weapons and add some Typhon abilities into your repertoire, but I still would struggle to call the fighting component great, it’s run of the mill for this sort of game, and fans of Dishonored will see Arkane Studios’ fingerprints all over it.
The pay off at the end still made Prey stand out as a memorable game for me despite my love/hate relationship with it. I’d strongly recommend it to sci-fi fans, but just be aware that frustration lies within.