Prey: Under-discovered Gem of 2017

2017 was a fantastic year for video games. With titles like Super Mario Odyssey, Nier: Automata, Breath of the Wild, Divinity: Original Sin 2, and many other critically acclaimed releases, it was quite the time to be alive as a video gamer. However, with so many good titles, it is easy to miss some great games, and Prey just happened to be one of those hidden gems. Yes, it is no longer 2017, but with the recent release of New Game Plus and the Mooncrash DLC, there’s no better time to play Prey than now.

Prey is a first-person game that incorporates a lot of different game-play elements, from shooting to exploration and puzzle solving. You also acquire various powers that help you accomplish your tasks more easily, and a large part of the game is knowing which abilities to use to get around the various obstacles the game throws in your direction. I won’t get into too much detail with the premise as I believe that not knowing too much about the game will greatly enhance the first-time experience, but it involves a space station and enemy aliens called Typhon that are somewhat reminiscent of the Half-Life series.

How’s the game-play? Well, if you’ve played any other recent games released by Arkane Studios (Dishonored) and/or the Deus Ex games after Human Revolution, then you’ll probably feel right at home with Prey. You have various weapons you can use to defeat the various enemies in the game, with each weapon being unique in its functions. One of the most interesting weapons you get is the GLOO Cannon, and you can use it to immobilize enemies, but you can also use it to plug leaks and even create surfaces for you to climb over. You also have your standard firearms like a shotgun and a pistol, and even a wrench if shooting enemies isn’t your cup of tea. Aside from weapons, you have access to different powers, called Neuromods, that grant you increased abilities, ranging from simple upgrades to health and stamina to supernatural abilities like mind control and slowing time. You acquire these abilities by spending Neuromods to unlock them, with the stronger abilities requiring more. These abilities are really cool, and the more you get, the more options you have to tackle a particular obstacle. Is there a door you need to get through but you don’t have the access code? You can try hacking it, you can try jumping to find a maintenance hatch, or you can shut off the power and force it open with your bare hands. The great thing, however, is that no obstacle is insurmountable without powers; there is actually an achievement you can get by beating the game without acquiring a single Neuromod ability. I personally don’t recommend doing that though until you’ve already beaten the game normally, as playing with powers is fun, especially late-game when you are pretty much a walking god with your upgrade abilities and weapons.

Prey also features a rudimentary crafting system which adds to the creative depth; no need to worry about finding rare supplies when you can just craft them yourself! Crafting is a very simple process that’s pretty intuitive; you access a recycler (a machine you find at various spots in the game) to recycle any junk you acquire into crafting materials, and with sufficient crafting materials and the appropriate fabrication plan, you can craft pretty much anything in this game. The most common things you’ll be crafting are likely going to be ammo for your guns and Neuromods so you can further upgrade your abilities, and those things require materials, so embrace your inner pack rat and hoard all the junk you can get your hands on.

Dealing with a Telepath with a shotgun and the Combat Focus ability

The game’s biggest strength is in its level/world design. Prey features a somewhat “open world” system in that you can access different areas at different times, all connecting from a main hub. Each region has its own obstacles and treasures, and if you are unable to complete a particular objective at a time, you are free to return to it later when you’ve acquired the powers/resources you need. That, combined with the freedom to accomplish an objective in any way you want, makes Prey a game that truly rewards creativity and critical thinking. However, the nature of its world design means that there is definitely going to be backtracking to previously explored areas depending on what your current quest is, so some may find that a bit tedious, but the game acknowledges that, and usually provides new enemies/challenges when you return to a region you haven’t been to in a while. The enemies themselves are also quite freaky, and considering one of the main enemies in the game, the Mimic, can transform into regular objects, you have to be constantly on your toes otherwise you’ll occasionally be in for a nasty surprise.

I would honestly consider Prey to be a fantastic game just on game-play alone, but I was also a big fan of its story and writing. You play as Morgan Yu, a scientist who has been undergoing experiments to test the various Neuromods you can equip yourself with. The interesting part is that every time a Neuromod is removed from a person, any memories the test subject acquires after the Neuromod is installed gets wiped, and repeated installations/removals can even result in personality shifts due to all the memory wiping that gets done. As a result, Morgan’s memory is extremely screwed after all these tests, which provides somewhat of a blank slate for the player. What makes it interesting is that you pick up logs throughout the game that have history involving Morgan before the game’s events, and you can essentially see the various sides of Morgan that developed after all the experiments, and basically decide which Morgan you want to be based on your actions and choices. The exploration to find story and lore tidbits, combined with the enemy design, Morgan’s unreliable memory, and a few plot twists all combine to form an intriguing thriller narrative.

There are honestly very few flaws I have with this game, with the only possible one being potentially tedious backtracking, but the other gripes I originally had with the game when it first came out last year were more or less addressed with the updates that came out along with the Mooncrash DLC. There wasn’t a New Game Plus mode until this year, which was one factor that prevented me from replaying the game (for me, the introduction where you’re weak and have no powers is fun the first time, but just gets tedious if you’re looking to play the game again), but now that Prey has a New Game Plus mode that basically resolves that issue. Performance can also be a problem for those with lower-end computers, but the game runs a lot more smoothly than it did when I first played it last year.

Overall, if you’re looking for a creative sandbox combined with a thriller that plays like Dishonored or Deus Ex, don’t hesitate to give Prey a shot. This game deserves a spot among the other acclaimed titles that came out in 2017, despite its relative lack of popularity.

Rating: Retail goes for $30, so absolutely worth it.

Software engineer and gaming enthusiast, writing reviews to share quality media; check out my personal site at www.edmondwu.dev

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