Video Game Review: Prey (PC Version)

By strych9 (CAUTION: SPOILERS AHEAD)

Overview: Prey is a first person shooter game set on the Talos I space station orbiting Earth’s Moon in the year 2032. The game takes place in an alternate timeline where John Kennedy survived assassination and greatly accelerated the US space program later in his presidency. Players take the role of Morgan Yu, awaking on the station to discover they have no memory and something sinister is going on.

The Game: This is a single player game that blends elements of a number of older games such as Bioshock and Doom quite nicely but with a significant emphasis on stealth. Like many games of this type the initial playable parts of the game are designed to familiarize you with controls.

As such you’ll have to be put through some “testing” that really doesn’t mean anything but teaches you movement controls, the basics of how to hide behind objects and how to interact with objects in the game. Of course, as the testing is nearing completion everything goes sideways and the real action begins.

The enemy in Prey vary but are all some version of an alien race known as the Typhon. This race can control the minds of humans and “corrupt” machinery to the same effect. Their appearance, abilities and the overall ambiance of the space station make this game pretty darn creepy.

Some Typhon, such as the Poltergiest also have psychokinetic abilities that can move you as well as other objects. While it is explained to the player by an NPC (your brother actually) that these creatures are not “evil” they certainly come across that way and ultimately they will attack and kill you on sight so their reasoning for doing so is immaterial.

The first enemy players encounter, known as a Mimic, is also one of the most obnoxious. It looks and moves something like a black four legged spider and it can take the shape of everyday objects to hide from you or spring a trap. A chair out of place might just be a chair out of place, a coffee cup vibrating on a table might have been affected by something else, or it might be a Mimic waiting for you to approach it so it can latch on to your face.

These creatures will generally change to an object as you turn to look at them, returning to “spider mode” when you are not looking their way and following, with their feet making a creepy ticking noise, you until you look at them again. It’s a fancier version of the Ghost creatures from Super Mario Brothers and it’s a lot creepier.

The upside of this is if you detect a Mimic in its “hidden” form you can attack it for a pretty significant damage bonus, the obvious downside is that you could be wasting ammo shooting a chair and these little buggers can turn into anything including medkits and weapons that you want to pick up.

A single Mimic generally isn’t a problem to deal with but watch out as they often come in packs and there are stronger versions that are stronger and come with other abilities.

While Prey is not a linear game it has been designed to push you early on towards certain things you will need such as a Psychoscope. This device allows you to study Typhon creatures, robots and other items to gain a knowledge of their strengths, weaknesses and to power up your Psi skills (more on that in a minute). The device also works as a zoomable monocular which can be useful for checking out an area before you actually move into it.

At this point it should be mentioned that Prey combines flat out combat with the requirement to sneak, find objects, sneak past enemies or attack them by surprise for a combat bonus. Sneaking around is especially important once you possess a Psychoscope because it allows you to study hostile Typhon or robots (or friendly robots) without having everything in the area attack you.

It should also be said that if you “clear” an area while sneaking you will undoubtedly find and kill all of the larger enemies, however Mimics that are disguised may not detect you sneaking by so players can run into a situation where an area seems clear but standing up will cause them to be detected and attacked by Mimics that were previously hidden.

Part of sneaking is understanding the bar that appears above enemies which reflects the degree to which they are aware of your presence. When the bar is full and white the enemy knows you are there and will actively search for you. When the bar turns red they’ve seen you or know your current location and will move to attack you there. If you’re careful you can usually slip away. Of course you can also use this as an excuse to face-shoot some aliens too.

Prey also incorporates features those familiar with Myst might recognize. There are a lot of locked doors on Talos I some of which require a pass card. Others are locked by a code that you have to find. These codes are randomly generated by the game so you can’t look them up.

You will have to find the sticky note, voice recording, email or whatever that contains the code before you can open that door unless you have the skills to hack the keypad. Once the code is obtained you must manually enter it but it appears to the right of the keypad on your HUD so forgetting it is not a worry.

While not completely Myst-esque in their complexity some things can be difficult to find since they’re based on poorly drawn maps that now dead people drew after everything hit the fan.

Another feature of Prey is that the game incorporates crafting. Ammo is not plentiful in this game but you can make ammo, weapons, medkits and a host of other useful objects by combining the powers of two machines that are semi-common in the game; the Recycler and the Fabricator.

Most corpses you find will have what amounts to junk on them and you will find a lot of gatherable objects such as flowers, fruit peals and damaged electronic components in various areas. These items can be tossed into the Recycler to create base organic, synthetic, exotic and other ingredients that you can then pick up.

Those crafting materials can then be placed in the Fabricator and used to make something like a box of shotgun shells, a medkit, suit repair kit or whatever else you have the plans for. The Recycler can break down anything you can add to your inventory but you may want to be careful about that.

Breaking down food can yield useful ingredients but sometimes players will want to consume that food for a “Well Fed” bonus that grants additional healing and stamina recovery for a short period of time.

Prey also uses two sets of skill trees to level up your abilities both of which rely to some degree on Neuromods. One of them is your general human skill set for Security, Scientist and Engineer which is based entirely on Neuromods. The other relates to your Psi abilities, grafted on to you by Neuromods and Typhon research.

While these latter skills are extremely powerful additions to your abilities if you use too many of them you will soon have enough Typhon material in your body to be detected as a threat by the stations security system and automated security, such as turrets, will attack you on sight.

Further augmenting your abilities in Prey is the suit you wear. How you upgrade it determines how much stuff you can carry in inventory, how much it protects you from various kinds of incoming damage as well as a number of other bonuses it can provide. The suit and certain mods are required to survive outside the space station which, at times, you must exit.

Expansions: Currently, Prey has no expansions and none have been announced as being planned. However, Bethesda regularly offers expansions for other single player games of theirs, notably the Fallout franchise, so future expansions are entirely possible. Patch v1.2 with some fixes was released on 10 May, 2017.

Guns and Gear: Weapons in Prey vary enormously and are pretty darn cool. As with many games of this type the first weapon you get is a melee weapon, in this case a wrench. Other weapons can be found in the game as can the plans to make them.

One of the more interesting, and useful, weapons is the GLOO Gun (see first image) which fires a goop that turns to a solid on exposure to air. It can be used to put out fires, temporarily stop electrical arcs from damaged machinery, create surfaces for you to climb up on or to temporarily immobilize enemies so that you can kill them more readily. With ammo in short supply you want your lethal rounds to count and the GLOO Gun certainly helps in that regard.

Other, more standard, weapons exist in the game. One of the first lethal weapons players will encounter, other than the wrench, is a silenced pistol that has a quasi-Luger style action to it. There is also a shotgun with a hexagonal barrel, a stun pistol and a variety of other weapons.

Weapons can be upgraded using upgrade kits which you find or make with a Fabricator. The kits are generic, as is the upgrade tree for the weapon which contains abilities to increase range, reduce recoil, improve handling or increase ammo capacity or, with some specialty weapons, something else.

Past a certain point the ability to continue to upgrade a certain feature will begin to require a skill such as Gunsmithing. Upgrades do not seem to change the appearance of the weapon, only it’s abilities.

Your abilities with certain types of weapons can also be upgraded by putting Neuromods into your Security skill tree. Some weapons can also be “charged” to do more damage. The Stun Pistol and Wrench can both be made more powerful by holding your attack button before releasing it. With the Pistol you will consume more batteries for doing this while the Wrench will consume more of your stamina.

The ammo status of weapons in the game is digitally displayed on the weapon itself rather than as part of your HUD, which is a pretty nice feature to keep you from glancing around during combat to figure out how low the ammo in your magazine is. Unfortunately, Prey does not feature an ability to look down the sights of your weapons and therefore all aiming is done only with a reticle provided on your HUD.

The game also contains a variety of hand grenades with different capabilities to which some enemies are vulnerable. For example, EMP grenades will damage certain enemies, especially corrupted robots.

There is also a Typhon Lure that can be used to distract or ambush enemies and a really cool grenade that implodes, pulling nearby enemies and objects into the implosion and then spitting out base crafting materials based on what it pulled in.

The gear in this game comes down to your suit, Psychoscope and the chipsets you choose to mod them with. The initial inventory is kind of small (based on your suit) and since you have to pick up stuff to Recycle, upgrading that quickly might be a good idea.

Otherwise you’ll find yourself running to and from an area to gather things and after awhile more Typhon will show up potentially running you out of the resources, like ammo, the very thing your gathering materials to make.


Specifications: Prey by Bethesda Softworks

Release Date: May 5, 2017
Base Game: $59.99
DLC Content: Patch v. 1.2

Ratings (out of five stars):

Graphics: * * * *
Prey runs on the CryEngine and the graphics are fantastic. Smooth and well rendered with lighting that really, really adds to the creepy factor and determines how well you can sneak.

However, I knocked off a star because at high graphics settings there is a dramatic drop in draw distance for textures. The standard “Medium” setting works well on my machine but you will need a darn nice GPU to run this game well at full graphics settings. (For reference the author is currently running a GeForce GTX 960.)

The graphics also lend themselves well to a 1930’s sort of feel to the design of a lot of the game which gives it Prey a somewhat Bioshockian feel. (If you work for 2K, disregard that last sentence.)

Physics: * * * * *
CryEngine. ‘Nuff said.

Story: * * * * *
While somewhat predictable in terms of following the overall story arc of a game like Doom there are plot twists and you end up learning a lot about the personalities of the individuals (who are now mostly dead) that inhabited the station before everything went pear shaped.

Playability: * * * * *
This game has a decent number of controls, some of which take a bit of practice to learn, but they’re smooth. Players may wish to remap a few keys depending on their play style but that’s par for the course.

Customize This: * * *
Weapons, your suit and your skills are acceptably customizable with the suit and your skill tree being better than the weapons. While the weapons can be significantly upgraded, doing so doesn’t change their appearance and doesn’t really customize them to your play style as opposed to simply making them more powerful and easier to use in combat.

Weapons: * * * * 1/2
Warrant Officer Ripley wishes she had the weapons from Prey when bugs showed up on the Nostromo but the inability to aim down the sights is kind of a disappointment in a modern game.

Balance: * * * * *
Pick your difficulty mode and roll with it. The game’s balance is very good but difficulty levels cannot be changed on the fly. On “Normal” difficulty expect to die a few times.

Overall: * * * * 1/2
A very good showing for Bethesda Softworks yet again. Would be a full five if not for the limited customization options for weapons.

comments

  1. avatar gargoil says:

    very disappointing it has nothing to do with the original Prey, which was awesome.

    1. avatar Steve says:

      I challenge you to go back and play it and say that…

      The original Prey was decent at the time as it filled a void between much better FPS games. Playing it now is just kinda ‘meh’. Definitely good, but doesn’t have the lasting appeal as some of the more mindless games like Serious Sam.

  2. avatar Warlocc says:

    Game reviews on a 960? WTF?

    1. avatar strych9 says:

      I built this machine about 18 months ago and mainly put my money into the CPU and Mobo. I generally upgrade my GPU every two years, which is coming up.

      That said, reviewing everything on a 1080Ti isn’t really fair to most players who don’t generally have the latest and greatest card and don’t necessarily want to drop $700+ on a GPU right now. This let’s people know that the game will run well at about 60FPS without the newest GPU and that they will get satisfactory performance from a new game without an upgrade. Nothing sucks more than getting an awesome new game and then having to wait/go to the store and upgrade your graphics card.

  3. avatar Noishkel says:

    Looks good. But I would have still rather seen more of the original game. It had a lot of great new game concepts for the time. Still… sounds good. Might snag it on sale later.

  4. avatar PK says:

    Dramatic drop in draw distance at high settings? That’s Bethesda for you. No optimization for the past decade of their games.

    1. avatar strych9 says:

      It’s optimized for the newer GPUs like a 1060. I’m running a slightly older card at this point that’s probably more representative of what most people have.

      Really serious people will have a nicer GPU, but casual gamers probably won’t.

      Still perfectly playable and it looks good. I was getting about 60FPS without over clocking my GPU though that could drop a bit to around 55fps if there were a lot of explosions.

  5. avatar barnbwt says:

    Sounds an awful lot like;
    System Shock’s setting & general plot
    Deus Ex’s gameplay mechanics
    Half Life’s alien enemies
    Metro 2033’s alien abilities & creepiness

    1. avatar strych9 says:

      System Shock’s setting & general plot – Not really.

      Deus Ex’s gameplay mechanics – With the exception of faucets, toilets and showers, no. Definitely not.

      Half Life’s alien enemies – No, not really. If you were going to make a comparison Doom would be far superior but still not the same.

      Metro 2033’s alien abilities & creepiness – Emphatically not. 2033 really isn’t very creepy at all in comparison. A far better comparison would be Requiem: Avenging Angle for creepiness and the Borderlands series for abilities with a bit of Painkiller tossed into for the “Oh shit! WTF!?” moments.

    2. avatar strych9 says:

      System Shock’s setting & general plot – Not really.

      Deus Ex’s gameplay mechanics – With the exception of faucets, toilets and showers, no. Definitely not.

      Half Life’s alien enemies – No, not really. If you were going to make a comparison Doom would be far superior but still not the same.

      Metro 2033’s alien abilities & creepiness – Emphatically not. 2033 really isn’t very creepy at all in comparison. A far better comparison would be Requiem: Avenging Angle for creepiness and the Borderlands series for abilities with a bit of Painkiller tossed into for the “Oh shit! WTF!?” moments.

    3. avatar strych9 says:

      If I was going to categorize the game like this I would say it’s a mix between Bioshock 2, Borderlands, Fallout 3 with a touch of Halo.

  6. avatar Tile floor says:

    New Vegas had some sweet weapon mods you could do.

    All time fave is the mass effect series though.

  7. avatar Dissatisfied Reader says:

    The Truth About… Anything But Guns?

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