Review

Prey Review | High Preys

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Prey is a somewhat intensive reimagining of a discontinued series that began with a single instalment back in the noughties. Although a promising sequel was announced in 2007, involving an abducted human working as a bounty hunter on an alien planet, the current iteration of the cancelled franchise bears no resemblance to previous planned instalments beyond the name. While die-hard fans of the original and the proposed sequel may pine for what might have been, Prey is, by no means, a let-down.

Prey is The Thing (1982) in space. Morgan Yu, the protagonist (who can be either male or female), very much holds the weight of the world on their shoulders. The game features a plethora of hard decisions on an almost-Telltale scale, with Yu tasked with deciding who can be trusted and ultimately who should live or die. As the protagonist suffers from amnesia for part of the game, Yu will often make these decisions with inadequate evidence, sometimes leading to choices he or she would regret. The game has a plethora of hard decisions on an almost Telltale scale. Whichever secondary characters players choose to save, kill, or abandon will have an impact on how NPCs treat the player and how the game’s ending unfolds.

The script was co-written by newcomer Richard Bare and veteran video game writer Chris Avellone, who is best known for critically acclaimed games Fallout: New Vegas and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II. As such, the main story is strong for a genre game. Players should expect plenty of twists and remember that nobody, friend or foe, is what they appear.

In many open-world games, side missions serve as a light-hearted distraction from the theme-heavy main objectives, often involving humorous side characters and silly quests. With Prey, the side missions are not a distraction, but tendrils of the main plot, featuring survivors going through the same experience as Yu. The survivors’ stories, told through emails, voice recordings, and dropped notes, are every bit as dynamic as the main mission. A noteworthy example is the Danielle Sho mission, which may well stand-out as one of the best side quests ever written, with a twist that will shake players to the core. The time-sensitive side missions also stand out as the restrictions increase tension and make the quests feel of equal or greater importance than the main storyline. Players are given anywhere from six minutes to an hour and a half to complete a mission and failure often results in a loss of NPC life. The stakes are high for almost every moment of Prey, so players can enjoy messing around with the side missions and still feel engaged in the main story while doing so.

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Arkane Studios made the  choice to involve many prominent film and television actors in the cast, including Benedict Wong as Alex Yu, Mae Whitman as Danielle Sho, and Walton Goggins as Aaron Ingram. Recent years have shown how ill-suited Hollywood actors can be for video games. Peter Dinklage’s famously flat performance in Destiny stands out for all the wrong reasons as do Michael Biehn’s performances in Aliens: Colonial Marines and Far Cry: Blood Dragon. The casting in Prey is impeccable, however, having picked some of the finest and most underused character actors in Hollywood. Benedict Wong (somewhat misused in Doctor Strange) brings to life the enigmatic and subtle Alex Yu, TranStar CEO and brother to Morgan Yu, with a dynamic performance that consistently leaves players guessing if he is an ally to be trusted or villain to overcome. Keen-eared listeners might also be able to pick out prolific voice actors Eliza Schneider, Sumalee Montano, and Tom Kenny, which pleasantly reminds players that veteran voice actors are still the backbone of video games.

Nor are the varied cultural backgrounds of these actors ignored, with a welcome amount of racial and sexual diversity on display among the game’s characters. As readers will well know, video games tend to focus on white, brunette, male protagonists of the unshaven variety, so Arkane Studios has made a deliberate choice to have an Asian main character. Depending on their choice of gender, the character might have had a LGBTIQ+ relationship in their past. Nonetheless, Yu is  far from the only crew member of the Talos I to have done so.

While diversity in video games should be encouraged, Prey might be the wrong game for such representations. TranStar Industries is no USS Enterprise. Throughout the story, the socially-diverse organization performs ethically-dubious tests on political prisoners, sells its product to the rich, and ruthlessly manipulates its staff. More to the point, the game’s main enemies, the Typhon, are foreign aliens that consume regular folk and reproduce in great numbers, unable and unwilling to communicate or compromise. Moreover, the player’s job is to prevent them from contaminating Earth. As Feminist Frequency noted, Arkane Studios’s games have become notably more inclusive over the years. In Dishonored 2, women took a stand against patriarchy rather than being passive victims of oppression and occupied more powerful positions than in the first game. While having a diverse cast performing  morally-questionable acts does reflect human history, the story’s message can, without much imagination, be seen to support nationalist ideals of isolationism, ineptitude of non-conservatives, wall-building, and the expulsion of foreigners.

While the game is confused with its message of social conflict, the actual combat in Prey is far more straightforward and enjoyable. With multifarious weapons available, ammunition maintaining a good level of scarcity, and enemies becoming progressively more difficult to kill, combat never loses the challenge of the first few hours. With each successive mission, a new enemy type appears, and a new strategy is required to overcome them. A wide variety of Typhon, robot, and human enemies must be fought throughout the game, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Taking inspiration from The Witcher III, a catalogue of enemies is built up as players scan them, revealing background information on each enemy and listing their immunities and vulnerabilities . Therefore, a variety of psychic powers, grenades, projectile weapons, and hacking abilities are needed to overcome the various adversaries. Even with multiple weapon and skill upgrades, players will find themselves hesitating before engaging enemies and needing to sit back and strategise up to the last level.

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The various environments are easy to both explore and get lost in, especially as players gain new abilities while playing the main quest. For instance, early parts of the game often present doors that only a fourth-level hacking upgrade can unlock, or some cargo that requires third-level leverage to get past. While players might think that searching through areas encountered during the earlier levels might offer a reprieve from harsher battles, Prey has another thing coming. New enemies appear in locations that previously held only low-level Mimics, making the combat just as challenging when players try to escape from tougher moments. Unlike in many other games, where-high level enemies appear because of non-diegetic gameplay tropes, Prey incorporates the mutations very much within the story. The Typhon are spreading throughout Talos I and the contamination progressively worsens as the player becomes preoccupied with side-quests and collectables. Prey provides genuine motivation to solve the issue without messing about, ensuring gameplay remains interesting and never seems to drag.

Another clever aspect to the game is that while enemies continue to spawn, recyclable items do not. As these items are used to make valuable items such as ammunition, health items, and weapon upgrades, running out is a significant problem. In the final  stages of the game, when every location has been thoroughly looted, players may find themselves conscious of the lack of consumable items at their disposal. Once again, they must adapt their strategy to fit their circumstance.

The main plot does not give players a heads-up before whole levels become massively altered and, sometimes, inaccessible. While annoying for players who want to save side missions to complete later, this aspect does emphasise how real Prey feels. The threat of the whole space station falling apart around Yu is palpable. The conventions of video gameplay, giving players a warning when the game is about to end, are thrown aside for a more surprising and engrossing storytelling experience. If players want to finish a side mission, they must do said mission right away or they lose the opportunity.

The game has just been released, so many of the initial gameplay glitches and bugs still need to be patched. While none of the problems match the scale of Mass Effect: Andromeda’s facial animation issues, Prey is far from flawless at this stage. The power station, in particular, has some severe lagging issues, perhaps due to the sheer scale of the level compared to other environments. While this is discomforting, many players might find a strong feeling of nostalgia for similar problems with the power station levels of the first Half-Life. Nonetheless, the lagging issue will likely be solved within the next couple of months with updates and patches. Ironically, not looking down solves most of the problems until then.

From OnlySP’s first impressions of the demo, Prey stood out as, perhaps, one of the best games of the year. Though the title does contain glitches that should not be expected after release and the progressive values of the narrative may unintentionally complicate the message the game espouses, Prey stands up to scrutiny. The stellar aspects of the game outweigh the negatives by a large margin. Fantastic writing, intelligent casting, comfortably difficult combat, and several bits of innovative game development make Prey thoroughly enjoyable and, undoubtedly, one of the better games that 2017 has produced thus far.

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