One of the first things you should know about Prey is that it’s really tough. If you’re anything like me, you may find yourself stuck in an area called the Trauma Center, dying over and over again because all you have is a wrench and you have no idea how to get past that dumbarse flaming phantom so eventually you just decide to run away like the coward you are.
Prey, released yesterday for PS4, Xbox One and PC, is the newest game from Arkane Austin, the studio behind Dishonored. (Last year’s sequel, Dishonored 2, was actually the baby of Arkane Austin’s sister studio in France, Arkane Lyon.) Although the game is called Prey, it is absolutely nothing like the 2006 shooter of the same name. (One might suspect that it only has this name because Bethesda unwisely purchased the “Prey” IP in 2009 and didn’t want that to be a wasted investment.) This Prey is a sci-fi immersive simulator, a la Deus Ex or System Shock. It’s also creepy, darkly funny, and from the three hours I’ve played so far, very good.
The star of Prey is Morgan Yu, a quiet scientist dealing with memory loss and some sort of mysterious mental trauma. After a nasty encounter with an alien creature called a Mimic, Morgan finds herself stuck on a giant space station called Talos I, which is where most of Prey takes place. For reasons that I haven’t quite discovered, Talos I is full of corpses, quarantined bodies and weird psychological experiments. It’s also infested by a swarm of aliens who want to rip Morgan’s head off. As she explores, she’s guided by a helpful, disembodied, Atlas-esque voice named January who I really hope doesn’t turn out to be the main bad guy.
The rhythm of the game, which I settled into fairly quickly, involves exploring, poking around at objects (so many objects), reading other people’s emails, and trying to figure out how to get past each encounter. During the aforementioned Trauma Center section, for example, I realised that the room was full of exploding canisters that I could set off and then throw at menacing phantoms. Then I realised that I couldn’t kill the flaming one, so I just booked it. (I’ll come back and get him later when I have more equipment.)
The view from Morgan Yu’s apartment is pretty sick.
There’s a looming sense of dread in Prey, and that isn’t just because Morgan Yu can’t remember anything, her brother appears to be a sketchball, and she spends most of her spare time evading corpses. It’s also because she starts off the game without much equipment. Health-restoring medkits are limited, as are the rest of Morgan’s resources, and at least for the first few hours I played, I’ve had to fight all of my battles with nothing but a wrench and a special gun that freezes enemies. (Kirk tells me you get a special shotgun if you pre-ordered, which I did, but fuck that.)
That’s what makes it so tough. The most common enemy I’ve found so far is the mimic, a three-legged pile of black goop that can take the form of an inanimate object. These mimics are all over Talos I, popping out constantly every time you round a corner or explore a new room, and they’re a real pain to fight. As you try to smack them around with your wrench, they will scurry behind walls and under tables, which is both satisfying and exasperating. I imagine that as I experiment with more weapons and environmental obstacles — like the turrets that are scattered throughout the space station — I’ll find cool ways to take out these enemies, which I’m looking forward to trying.
What I like most about Prey so far is the vibe. It feels creepy but not too scary; mysterious but not annoying about it. It has plenty of System Shock, some BioShock, and a whole lot of Dishonored. There’s a good plot twist right at the beginning, and I’m stoked to unravel more of Morgan’s story and figure out just what the hell happened on this space station. And I’m definitely not at all embarrassed that I had to run away from that phantom.