If you’re not looking forward to Arcane Studios reboot of Prey, well… maybe you should be! This is, after all, the developer behind the excellent Dishonored series, and they’re bringing that kind of freeform sensibility to Prey, with a deeply psychological twist and an ominously abandoned space station to explore.
There’s all manner of different ways that games can tell you their stories, but for me, one of the most gratifying methods is to tell you through the environment. Prey is another game that looks like it will shine in this regard, and it does so out of necessity. With the Talos I space station abandoned following the Typhon’s escape from containment, there’s few living characters to tell stories to you, and so you’re left to tap into the emails and messages left for one another, or simply examine the remains of their actions during the fall.
That could be as simple as finding a corpse lying within the radius of a live electricity field, presumably having been sabotaged or damaged by a rogue Mimic somehow, or it could be a lightly humorous element highlighting the growing paranoia the now missing scientists felt. In reality, they’re either dead or have been consumed by the Typhon and used as matter for their own replication.
It’s difficult to know whether you’re the hunter or the hunted in Prey. Certainly, I feel like I’m stalking certain Typhon at times, but how true is that when they can potentially overpower me so quickly? There’a This was the first time I got to play around with some of the Typhon alien abilities that you can acquire through the Neuromods.
Though Neuromods can enhance more humdrum abilities like hacking computers and repairing things, I’ve no doubt that most people will be eager to play with the alien abilities. Taking the ability of the Mimics, you can take on the form of all manner of nearby physical objects, and there’s a sense of glee as you try this out for the first time, turning yourself into a pair of scissors and then bouncing and rolling your way through a set of metal bars that were otherwise stopping your progress. There’s also things like the Kinetic Blast, that lets you create a powerful physical blast that sends objects flying and can easily pierce and set pipes alight.
Adding human abilities is relatively straightforward, with everything mapped out for you to see in the upgrade tree from the very beginning, but for Typhon abilities, you have to pop a helmet device called a Psychoscope onto your head in order to scan a particular breed of alien in order to gain their traits. Do so enough times with living samples, and their ability pops up in the skill tree for you to unlock with the surprisingly plentiful Neuromods. Just beware that there is a line to be drawn here, and rewriting more and more parts of your brain with alien DNA could eventually make you appear as a Typhon to the station’s security systems.
Stalking the aliens through the rooms and corridors of Talos I, I did feel oddly disappointed at the dimwittedness of the Typhon. Whether a last minute AI bug or an intentional part of their design that they simply shrug off the worries of the physical world, I was able to simply let a Phantom kill themselves on two occasions, as they walked dumbly into the flames emitting from a pipe and let themselves succumb to the heat.
At the same time, I’m glad of the respite, as they prove to be fearsome enemies in combat, and I quickly ran through my health kits – luckily, being able to feed stuff into the Recycler and Fabricator to create more is often an option. The Gloo Cannon comes in particularly handy, as an all purpose tool and as a way to slow and trap enemies, so you can deal damage in other ways, or perhaps pop the Psychoscope on to scan them quickly?
I’ve barely scratched the surface of Prey with the opening hour and this direct follow on, but it’s already easy to see the kind of twisted setting that Arcane have built up on Talos I. The experiments that TranStar have put into action go well beyond the unusual and fall distinctly into the cruel category. However, there’s already the early tendrils of a typical morality system within the game that drags everything into the murky grey areas.
Importantly, the game doesn’t really punish you for being “bad”, but you might have to work and think cleverly of ways to get the same rewards. An instance where I could trust and aid the first face to face human I encounter in the game, or decide to leave him to the Typhon plays out wonderfully well, giving you good reasons to decide either way. Personally, it was the desire to see the world burn around me and explore the darkness during a preview section of the game, and this meant that I then wasn’t given access to a locked room full of gear and weapons.
Instead, I had to find another way around, combining the Gloo Gun and the Mimic ability in this particular situation to first make an area safe, and then find an object to turn into that let me tumble and roll through the bars of the window. Of course, that doesn’t really take away from the sting of January’s remote commentary on your actions.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, there’s more than a passing resemblance to the BioShock series in the largely abandoned, but with an ever present wariness of your surroundings and the potential threat they contain. Of course, Arcane are putting their own spin on proceedings, and the science fiction trappings blend very well with the mind altering story. Getting to experience and play with some of the Typhon abilities just cements Prey for me as one of my most highly anticipated games of the year.