‘Prey’ Is An Unabashed Tribute To A Classic PC Franchise, Just Not The One It’s Named After

05.05.17 3 months ago 2 Comments

Bethesda

Prey is, in theory, a continuation of a PC shooter franchise, a beloved game with a sequel that never got off the ground. But, aside from the title, this game has nothing to do with that franchise. Instead, it’s flagrantly a new System Shock game with the serial numbers filed off. But who cares about titles, when the game itself is so fun?

Prey follows Morgan Yu, a scientist who, after what appears to be a weird first day at Transtar, quickly discovers that he or she (you can pick your gender in the opening) has really been working at Transtar for three years, and has had their memory erased thanks to the removal of “neuromods,” which you use to gain powers in the game. Not helping matters is most of the aliens hunting you are tough as nails and have some sort of stealth capability, whether it’s becoming temporarily invisible, being able to shapeshift into objects, or other skills we won’t spoil.

That the enemies rely on stealth is, by far, is the best choice this well-engineered game makes. Instead of being a grimy lightless hellhole, Talos I, the space station is bright and shiny, aside from looking ransacked and corpses being everywhere. You can see everything, but far from being reassuring, that means there’s nowhere to hide. Every single object could potentially be an enemy. Are those two chairs just chairs, or is one about to attack you? It’s like the Thing sequel John Carpenter was never allowed to make.

The game itself plays about how you’d expect a classic horror first-person shooter, particularly one from Arkane, which loves nothing more than designing elaborate puzzle boxes for levels and letting players figure out their own way of solving them. It’s surprisingly generous with ammo and weapons, for a horror game, although going in guns blazing will get you killed more often than not, no matter how many guns you own or powers you acquire.

And even better, it feels, very much, like the System Shock sequel that never was. That said, the faithfulness to its spiritual predecessors sometimes goes a bit too far in the details. The crafting system, in particular, is terrible. You need to scrounge trash, take it to one machine to turn it into useful trash that clutters your inventory, and then find yet another machine to turn that trash into things you actually want. Yes, ha ha, you made the “vendor trash” literal trash, Arkane, very funny. To be fair, you don’t have to engage with this system if you really don’t want to, but if you’re an obsessive “grab everything” type, you’re going to want to curb that.

Still, that’s a nitpick for a game that’s fun while being incredibly tense. As the game opens up, and as you collect tools to deal with alien scum, the game becomes a fun story threaded with paranoia, and a loving tribute to a series that’s moved on to biological engineering and old-timey settings. And seeing Arkane stretch its legs after Dishonored is a great thing to see: The studio can do far more than clockpunk ninjas. As we enter the summer doldrums of gaming, Prey arrives at the perfect time to give us some chills.

Verdict: Clear Your Calendar

This review was conducted with review code provided by the publisher.

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