I never get tired of creepy space stations. You mix the already terrifying prospect of being in what is the deadliest environment for humans, along with some alien, mutant or cyborg hijinks thrown in, and you've got a recipe for success in my book. For fans of sci-fi horror, Prey from Arkane Studios is an excellent example of the genre.
However, the game isn't without fault, and if you're not drawn in by its foreboding atmosphere, Prey may miss the mark.
Prey review: Setting the stage
Prey centers on an outbreak of a mysterious alien force known as the Typhon in the year 2035. In this future, Kennedy never died, the Cold War never grew to the proportions it did in our universe and eventually, the United States and the Soviets became allies in the space race instead of opponents, leading to much higher-tech space flight much sooner than we experienced.
The flourishing space programs of humanity attracted the Typhon from somewhere in the reaches of space, and they began attacking installations and spacecraft in orbit around the Earth. Eventually, the Soviets and U.S. defeat the Typhon, and they build the space station Kletka to hold the threat.
Eventually, the Soviet Union collapses, and after an incident aboard the Kletka, the U.S. abandons the station. Fast forward to 2035 and the TranStar Corporation has bought Kletka, modernized it and renamed it Talos I. You take the role of a TranStar employee, Morgan Yu, and the Typhon have broken containment.
Prey review: Remote storytelling
Prey explains its backstory in an organic way. You find plenty of little clues in books, audio logs and even paintings around Talos I that help fill you in on how different this universe is from our own. However, the plot throughout the game, while certainly engaging, falls prey to the same issues that affected the BioShock series.
While most of the Talos I's crew is dead or have been commandeered by the Typhon, there are still survivors. Unfortunately, like BioShock, instead of getting to spend time with these characters in person, you're mostly relegated to communicating with them remotely. Even the ones you're able to rescue from Typhon control only fall unconscious.
The biggest mistake the writers made with Prey's story is to try and present an ethical dilemma of whether it's more important to stop the Typhon outbreak, or to help the TranStar, some of who brought this situation on themselves. Without getting a chance to interact with the surviving humans in a meaningful way though, a lot of the tension in the game feels artificial.
However, the mystery of the Typhon and Talos I make up for a lot of the lack of interpersonal drama. The Typhon are completely alien, and humanity opponents even the most basic ability to communicate with them. In a way, this makes the Typhon almost pitiable because there's no way for them to know what they're doing is "wrong," but humanity knows that they're keeping the Typhon locked away and harming them for personal gain.
Prey review: The monolithic Talos I
Where Prey excels is in making you feel isolated and vulnerable. For the first half of the game, combat with the Typhon is always a frightening proposition. They outnumber you, they're stronger than you and they are utterly inscrutable.
Adding to the foreboding atmosphere is Talos I itself. The station is a massive city in space, and the mixture of rich wood paneling in the main sections and the exposed pipes and wires of maintenance shafts and mechanical areas, contrast each other in a powerful way.
Prey's use of lighting is incredible as well. Few games make entering the darkness as frightening a proposition as Prey does, and with your only portable light source being a rechargeable flashlight with an obnoxiously short battery life, you'll often find yourself feeling helpless as you're trying to hurry through a powered-down section of the station before you're trapped in the dark.
I would have liked to have seen more action outside of the station. You do have the ability to exit Talos I and fly around its exterior, but aside from a few points of interest and the ability to quickly travel to other parts of the station from the exterior, the spacewalk portions of the game are underutilized.
Prey review: Setting your own pace can hurt pacing
You'll spend the entirety of Prey combating or sneaking around the Typhon. However, much like Arkane Studios' Dishonored series, movement and combat can have a stilted feel. Prey isn't a twitch shooter, and it shouldn't be. Your character doesn't have a military background, and part of the nuance of the game's atmosphere is an overwhelming feeling that you can't win one-on-one with the Typhon.
However, in the latter half of the title, a lot of the good things about Prey start to deteriorate. If you don't go crazy with your ammunition and items, by the time you're in the second half, you'll find yourself with such an arsenal of weapons and powers that only the largest Typhon will present a challenge to you anymore. This kills off a lot of the spooky vibe that makes the game work.
The open world starts to become sort of an issue as well. After a certain point, you'll be able to access much of Talos I in any order you wish. Arkane might have done better to keep the progression more linear because unless you visit the station in a certain order, you're going to find yourself backtracking a lot.
Shortcuts can be opened to make returning to previous sections of the station a bit easier, but it's frustrating to go to part A of the station to get a keycard for part B where you'll get a keycard for a location back in part A, and so on. Additionally, the game is always reminding you how serious the Typhon containment breach is, and how you need to resolve the situation quickly, but the open-world approach has a very "at your leisure" feel.
Prey review: A new franchise from an old one
System Shock and BioShock are two great games, and Prey takes from them in droves. That's good in that it gives Prey a firm lineage and contributes to a lot of the game's vibe and mechanics. However, it sometimes feels like Arkane was too afraid to walk their own path with it.
If you're a fan of the original Prey, don't count on that to ensure you'll like this reboot of the franchise. This title has nothing to do with the original game except for sharing its name. However, if you forget the name for a minute, this is the first entry in what is hopefully a multi-title new franchise, and it met expectations even if it was a bit shaky in some areas.
More Prey news, updates, tips and tricks
For more on Prey, check out the rest of what Mic has to offer. Here's a guide to find all the safe locations and keycodes, and here's one showing where to find the pre-order bonus. Here how long it takes to beat Prey, and some of the secrets you can find in the demo. Finally, here’s our guide hub where you can find all our Prey content.