The door slides open and everything in the room seems to fall over. Chairs topple, table lamps find themselves on the floor, coffee cups loll on their side. There are mimics in this room. Like a game of Memory, you try to remember what moved, what’s a shadowy alien that’s changed form to hide from you. Are you the hunter in this situation, or are you the prey? Is that coffee cup going to try and kill you? Better smash it, just to be safe.
It’s unusual that a gameplay mechanic and the kind of exploratory mentality of players align so closely together. RPGs enable your latent kleptomania by encouraging you to rifle through people’s houses and steal everything of use that you can find, many action games and shooters now encourage you to loot the bodies of fallen enemies for ammo, while keeping an eye out for the little indicators for herbs that heal or boost your senses. Prey takes this kind of interactivity and runs with it, layering on a nascent fear that whatever you get close to, whatever you try to touch will turn into an alien and attack you. Even when I think I know that this inanimate object is going to transform, it can still make me jump.
But Prey actually starts off in bed with your alarm clock blaring in your ear. There’s another day of work to get to, and your brother Alex calls you up to make sure you’re heading in for a fresh round of experiments. Just mooching around your flat, a place that you have no real memory of, it’s easy to lose yourself in, again, picking things up and throwing them around. I downed the bottle of wine on the side before I even had a chance read the label properly, before going and standing under the shower in the dark for a couple of minutes.
Whether or not your version of Morgan Yu is as self-destructive as mine, It’s all quite clearly going to come crumbling down around you sooner or later, which you’ll know if you’ve paid even cursory attention to the game’s reveal and subsequent trailers. It’s a little clichéd, but still very nicely done and cinematic as it paints you, the player, and Morgan Yu into the same position, of not really having a foggy clue what’s actually going on. Amnesia’s a right pain in the backside, isn’t it? But there’s a good reason for that.
You see, it’s something of a Yu family tradition to put yourself at the fore of the experiments that TranStar are conducting – or at least, that’s what you’re told. Adding the game’s Neuromods to your body doesn’t harm you, altering your brain’s structure to learn new things, but the act of removing them also wipes your memory clean. With decades of advanced research on the Typhon aliens, experiments are well underway to try and add their abilities to humans, with Morgan Yu the primary test subject.
Predictably, it all goes wrong, and you soon find yourself on the Talos I space station where the Typhon aliens had, until very recently, been contained. There’s more than a few hints of the original BioShock to this environment, finding it devoid of human life, albeit with a couple of characters talking to you via phone calls, finding little snippets of the world that was through computer terminals and so on. There’s even a certain BioShock vibe to the art deco stylings of the space station, though it’s much more pristine and futuristic feeling here, as opposed to the clear signs of decays in the underwater city of Rapture.
Similarly, there are parallels between Neuromods and the Adam injections, right down to the injections that will have the squeamish out there tensing up and looking away from the screen. Neuromods are a little more general purpose than the Adam, though. Instead of bestowing you with specific powers, the ability to repair things like Grav Shafts and Fabricators in the world, increased health, and so on. Of course, what we know about the game from previous reveals and trailers mean you’ll gradually gain the various abilities that the aliens have as well, such as being able to turn into a nice mug.
Early on, as the game plays out its first few little twists, there’s also a kind of playfulness to the way it builds and puts new tools in your hand. Yes, the first few mimics can make you jump, and the larger Typhon forms that I encountered had me on edge as I fought them, but you’re going into this with just a wrench to start off with, the trusty melee workhorse of this genre of game, trying to land hits as the mimics skitter around on the floor. The Gloo gun follows, letting you gradually slow and freeze them in place, before letting you give them a good thwack while they’re defenceless. Oh, and tucked away in the corner of an office somewhere? A Bethesda home brand Nerf crossbow. Perfect for annoying your colleagues from across the room… oh wait, they’re probably all dead.
Two key types of machine can be found in various parts of the station: the recycler and the fabricator. Simply throw any old rubbish into the recycler, whether it’s frayed copper wire, bits of broken circuit board, or chunks of dead Typhons, and it’ll reduce those down in the essential building blocks for the fabricator. Here, you can then use any of the blueprints you own to create new weapons, ammunition, and so on. I didn’t have the right materials for new shotgun bullets, so I settled on making a second wrench, replacing my old one for a newer (and actually completely identical) model.
Ultimately, this is a very different feeling game to the one it shares a name with from 2006, but I’m perhaps even more interested to see where Arkane Studios take this wholesale reboot than I would have been to see a straight up sequel. Certainly, having played the game for around an hour, they’ve created an opening to the story that I absolutely enjoyed, with a dark twist of humour to its science fiction intrigue.
I’m just gutted I didn’t get to be a cup. That can come later, I guess.