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Prey Hands-On: A Love Letter from Arkane Studios to BioShock, Portal and Many Others
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 04:11pm 17/02/17 | Comments
We spend an hour in Prey and walk away with more questions than answers, along with a little bit of nostalgia. Read on to know why...

I’ve been a fan of the Prey universe since smashing the first game on PC back in the day. It was something of an unsung hero, that game, ushering in concepts and realities a lot of other games tended to avoid, or ignore. So when I saw firsthand how its sequel from original developer Human Head was shaping up, I was more than on board. It was a refreshing move for a sequel, too, in that it switched protagonists completely, and only really had the first game’s mass abduction as a causal link between the two games. They shifted the setting from alien spacecraft to alien world, and gave the player a new sense of what the titular meaning of the game was, because you’re no longer the prey, now you’re out hunting prey as a former Air Marshal-turned intergalactic bounty hunter. On paper (and in demo form), it was essentially brilliant.

But we all know how that turned out now, don’t we.



Fast forward to today, and we’re just over a month shy of getting that long-gestating Prey ‘sequel’, only now it’s not Prey 2 but rather a reimagining of the IP from Dishonored developer Arkane Studios, with this title more specifically being headed up by studio co-founder Raphaël Colantonio. So, with a fresh start, we’re introduced to Morgan Yu (which is a clever first name given its gender ambiguity) who you can decide is either male or female. Morgan is apparently part of a large experiment designed to unlock features of the mind and is derived from our first contact with aliens we only know as Typhons. The game takes place entirely on a space-station called Talos I which was initially a part of a joint USA-Russian space program, but in the game’s fictional future, is privatised. In this Prey, the Cold War essentially didn’t happen and JFK was never assassinated which led to generations of growth and prosperity between the two superpowers.

For fear of spoilers, because the game’s intro is very, very cool, I’ll leave out just how you begin your adventure, but I’d be remiss not to at least explain that Prey as a reimagined IP wears its heart(s) on its sleeve. This is very much a love letter to System Shock and BioShock, to Portal and even to Dead Space. It’s even a bit of a love letter to Arkane Studios itself, and the game’s intro heavily reflects the influence of the games mentioned above to a point where the BioShock influence is almost a bit *too* heavy. However, as with all Arkane products, the game very quickly comes into its own and the systems you realise you have at your disposal become the real launching point for your experience, and that experience is very much decided upon by you, the player, and just how you want to play Prey.



The other influence that emerges is mimics. If you’re not entirely familiar with what mimics are in the worlds of pen and paper and videogame RPGs, they’re essentially enemies hiding as normal parts of the environment -- interact with them and they come to life, attacking the player. Often mimics are among the hardest of enemies to fight in traditional RPGs, and they also appear heavily in JRPGs as chests giving players the option to either gamble that the chest in front of them is holding some sweet, sweet loot or is more likely going to be the thing that kills you because it's leveled so much more highly than you.

The reason I bring up mimics is because the aliens in the game -- wistful creatures that look like spiders and humanoid ghosts (so far) -- can turn themselves into any physical object, regardless of size. In many ways this is one of the game’s ‘horror’ components in that you never fully know what’s actually what. Moreover, they tend to get jumpy when you’re near, and so various objects will hit the ground and move under the weight of their own physics leaving you befuddled as to which one it might actually be. I played the game on Normal and didn’t find there was too much of an issue taking out the smaller ones (actually called Mimics), even in numbers, while I did get a bit of a challenge when taking on one of the humanoid-looking Typhons called a Phantom. My second encounter with this creature, however, was dealt with using one of the coolest weapons in the game -- the Gloo Canon.



One of the very few things (so far) that remotely throws back to the first Prey is your initial weapon -- a monkeywrench. But as you progress you’ll find a pistol, a shotgun and the Gloo Canon (among others). There was also a nerf bow I found that you can actually use to fire nerf arrows silently to hit switches, or to fire through small openings where rooms might be locked to unlock them by hitting buttons -- the extent to which this can be used remains to be seen, but its very place in the game is part of that Arkane coming into its own thing I mentioned earlier, but I digress.

The Gloo Canon has a number of uses, whether it’s to slow down baddies (such as the Phantom I more easily defeated with it), stop the flow of liquid or gas or the like from busted pipes to creating your own steps or pathways to reach otherwise unreachable spots. The Gloo Canon is another system that essentially frees Arkane’s influence sleeve and helps the game come into its own and it plays to the idea of player-choice, because you *could* take an elevator or the stairs to a higher point in the game, and face whatever dangers might await you on that path of traversal, or you could just make your own way up a vertical wall and jump from Gloo blob to Gloo bob and reach your destination that way. The possibilities with this weapon are, somewhat, endless (within the confines of the game).



But heading back to the influence point, the BioShock love is strong with this one. Throughout Talos I you’ll find Neuromods, which are essentially the Plasmids from the aforementioned, and allow the player to upgrade themselves across three different disciplines -- Scientist, Engineer and Security. Security is especially poignant here because it also allows you to hack various devices which come complete with, you guessed it, mini hacking games. But as I’ve maintained throughout, the Arkane stamp on the game is very strong, and taking cues from one of the best modern games ever made isn’t really too bad now, is it?

There’s a crafting component to the game, which is tied heavily to looting. You’ll find what is essentially scrap, which you can then feed into a big recycling machine which will turn it into usable crafting components, which you can then use to upgrade weapons or craft available items. Item management also follows the game-changing Resident Evil 4 grid storage system, and without upgrading your carrying capacity, you will run out of room. This sort of stuff reveals the game to be a hybrid RPG alongside sandbox action-adventure but with the Arkane twist of player-freedom and system stacking. I actually locked myself out of a gravity elevator because I’d initially tried to climb the shaft using the Gloo Canon before realising I could repair it (you can repair various devices throughout the game), only to climb in and have the gravity force lock me against a chunk of Gloo I’d left on the wall. I was stuck with no other means to move and actually had to restart the game, but it stood as an example of how this title lets players simply play freely with the tools Arkane has given you, regardless of the consequences.



In all, I realised after an hour that I’d barely scratched the surface of the collated depth of systems within this Prey reimagining. It’s a lush game (with an absolutely brilliant soundtrack) and while it does “wear its heart(s) on its sleeve” it’s not such a bad thing when Arkane’s narrative and direction begin to overtake the obvious influences. And there’s a multi-layered story here, aligned with an alternate history which helps in freeing up the suspension of disbelief and just giving the writers license to really throw us unique and strange ways. And for the hardcore out there, the game-world itself is brimming with extra information and narrative content, should you choose to dig as deep as you want.

It’s not specifically the Prey 2 initially promised in 2011, but it’s a damn good start to reimagining a series that looks to have a long and healthy life in some pretty capable hands. I just want to be set loose on Talos I in a complete version of the game, Gloo Canon armed and ready.


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