Engaging and unique anachronistic visual design. Outstanding sound and music. Mechanics offer a bevy of solutions to different problems.
Iterative of existing genre tropes, Minor framerate and quest tracking issues at launch.
- Bottom Line
Prey owes a lot to its heritage, but still offers some cool new twists on old ideas.. While it would've been nice to see Prey venture a little further from shore, the shooter provides a fantastic iteration of existing concepts, making it an Editors' Choice.
Let's get this out of the way: Prey is an unofficial System Shock game,. On the surface, Prey could easily pass as the brainchild of industry veterans Ken Levine or Warren Spector. While the opinions of the latest spiritual installments (Bioshock 2, Bioshock Infinite) in the "Shock" legacy remain divisive, the original game remains a hallmarkof the shooter-RPG genre. Bethesda's interpretation may not necessarily be innovative, but Prey does the genre justice, while incorporating some interesting ideas of its own.
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A shock to the system
In Prey, you play as Morgan Yu, an employee of the Trans Star corporation that operates an orbital space station called Talos One. Prey follows an alternate history, with events diverging from our own near the end of the Cold War. President Kennedy was never assassinated; instead, he fosters a new age of space exploration with the Soviets. Humanity eventually makes contact with a species of semi-intelligent aliens called the Typhon, which we capture and study aboard Talos One. Naturally, the Typhon escape containment, and you are left to piece together the events that occurred aboard this now derelict station.
The Typhon are clever and powerful. You'll need wits, as much as brute force, to get the upper hand. Learning more about the Typhon unlocks powerful new abilities, such as being able to mimic otherwise benign objects in your environment, presenting an opportunities to sneak up on your would-be attackers, or create alien minions from nearby corpses. While each Typhon ability makes you increasingly powerful, it sacrifices a part of Morgan in the process as he or she becomes less human.While you may be tempted to use these abilities, investing in them heavily can ultimately effect how the events of Prey resolve. This forces you to make decisions about whether or not you put your humanity on the altar for the sake of survival.
Predator and Prey
With a few exceptions, Prey ditches conventional weapon tropes in favor of combatoptions that range from the creative to the absurd. There still remains the typical menagerie of ballistic weaponry, but why waste bullets when you could break an enemy down into crafting components using the recycler grenade? Generally speaking, Prey's weapons have multiple applications, but it's up to you to determine how best to use them. Much like in System Shock, often conflict can be avoided altogether through clever use of your environment, sneaking through maintenance ducts, or igniting fuel lines next to your enemies.
The full range of possibilities may not be readily apparent, but the more you experiment, the more they're revealed to you. I was quick to dismiss adopting any of the Typhon-based abilities because they turned the station's turrets against me, but once I realized that I could transform into a coffee cup at will to breach previously inaccessible areas, I was hooked. If you're anything like me, you'll find yourself saying "why didn't I think of that" on more than one occasion. Prey's mantra is "if it looks like you can't do it, you just aren't trying hard enough."
It's difficult to recall a single anecdote or idea that really cemented what Prey's gameplay was all about for me. But, I kept coming back to a moment very early in Prey's campaign, where you're asked to interpret a Rorschach test and I later realized how analgous that was to the entire experience. How I played could be drastically different from another person's experience, and this would be solely based on how we interpreted the variety of factors that compose Prey's rewarding and unpredictable gameplay. Someone might decide the best route to deal with a group of enemies is to go in guns blazing, whereas someone else might see an opportunity to set a clever trap with some conviniently placed turrets. These moment-to-moment decisions are where Prey excels, rewarding you for analyzing situations and for sometimes producing unconventional solutions. It's here that Prey's homage to the System Shock franchise is most visible.
Prey's nonlinear structure is fantastic, but it sometimes hinders the game's pacing, as many of the side quests force you to double back over ground you have already covered. Being presented with multiple solutions to a given set of problems is great, but sometimes I would complete part of a quest only to forget why I was doing it and what I was expected to do next. This wouldn't have been much of a problem except I ran into some minor issues with quest tracking that often left me running in circles.
A Mirror Darkly
Prey's graphics and visual aesthetic are top notch. Much like its spiritual predecessor, Bioshock, Prey boasts a prevalent art deco theme, but paired with near future sci-fi tech that looks like something from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Prey is a very technically demanding game; I tested it on the Razer Blade Pro, and while the gaming laptop maintained a relatively steady 60 frames per second with maxed out settings, there were instances where the framerate dropped significantly during larger encounters. Curiously, the framerate dropped drastically during one particular section for no apparent reason. The Razer Blade Pro well exceeded Bethesda's recommended specs, with its 3.4GHz CPU equivalent and 4GB GPU. This is an issue that Bethesda is aware of and is working to amend, but was not resolved at launch.
Prey's sound design and music convey a sense of perpetual unease, but only in the best way. Much of the sound ambient, with intermittent groans and hisses punctuating your journey through a place that is falling apart and seemingly on life support. Mick Gordon, veteran composer of Doom's award winning soundtrack, delivers another dynamic and unique score. Spanning an impressive range from synth-heavy beats to eerie sci-fi ambience, Prey's music pairs itself with exceptional sound design and delivers a truly outstanding experience.
No gods or kings
Prey isn't a particularly innovative game, but everything works very well together and there are enough new wrinkles to keep the formula from feeling exceptionally tired. Prey is a game that knows what it's about and does it very well, even though it may be something we've seen before. But, the amalgamation of these new ideas manufacture something that is more than the sum of its parts. Besides the absence of anything particularly new, and a small number of technical issues, Prey is a keystone title in the genre and an Editors' Choice.
Alice Newcome-Beill is the Inventory Control Coordinator for PCMag. Alice graduated from CUNY Brooklyn College with a degree in Television/Radio Broadcasting. A lifetime gamer, she has written video game and hardware reviews since her freshman year of college. In her spare time she dabbles in bicycle maintenance, creative writing, playing board games, and emulating old PC titles for modern machines. More »
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