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Prey (2017) is a single-player sci-fi first-person shooter developed by Arkane Studios Austin and published by Bethesda Softworks. While it is technically a reboot of the 2006 game of the same name developed by Human Head Studios, of which the sequel suffered a fall into development hell before the license was sold to Bethesda Softworks, there is no relation between the stories and universes of the two games.
The game is set in the near future of an alternate reality. You find yourself stranded on the Talos I space station, invaded by hostile aliens referred to as the Typhon. To survive, you must explore Talos I in search of weapons and resources to fight off the invaders. Along the way, you'll use neural modification devices to learn skills and psychic abilites.
Prey's gameplay loop takes heavy inspiration from System Shock and Bioshock. The game received critical acclaim for its gameplay and its atmosphere. Prey received one paid DLC extension called Mooncrash which introduced a roguelite mode and a free update called Typhon Hunter which introduced a multiplayer mode inspired by classic prop hunt.
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Prey (2017) reviews and comments
- Amazing level design
Arkane Studios has a relatively specific niche; players explore detailed, intricately crafted spaces in a first-person perspective, using a variety of synergistic tools both intrinsic and extrinsic to their character, with a focus on reactivity and a living world. Even though it could be argued that this perception only came about with their first major attempt at it with Dishonored in 2012, effectively giving us exactly one example of their talents in making this kind of game, the pedigree of the creatives who work there and the sheer readiness with which Dishonored embodied and advanced the traditions of other games in that vein solidified their claim to it immediately. The fact that each follow-up to Dishonored (its DLC, and the sequel) managed to equal or even surpass it, was confirmation enough that this was their forte.
Prey, then, was a very interesting case in that it was the first time we'd seen the Arkane style applied to a new world, and though it was clearly still within the same niche, held different goals to the sneaky, magical power fantasy of Dishonored. Developed out of one of their two studios in Austin while the first worked on Dishonored 2 in Lyon, it took on the name of Human Head's 2006 shooter, Prey, as Arkane's parent company (Zenimax / Bethesda) owned the rights to that. I haven't played Human Head's Prey, but it seems apparent that Arkane's Prey doesn't have much in common at all. In fact, I suspect that a working title for Arkane's Prey would have been 'Psychoshock', since it appears to have more similarities with games like System Shock, and others that have adopted the '-shock' suffix.
The differences between Prey and Dishonored, then, are not so much about making a very different type of game as they are about using the same tools to accomplish different things, in a way that mirrors the use of tools in the games themselves. Dishonored's level-based structure uses Arkane's unique talent to develop spaces to give you a whirlwind tour of Dunwall and beyond, presenting the player with levels that provide individual challenges and allow for a self-directed pacing, while Prey's singular, interconnected area can feel cramped, and builds familiarity in a way that isn't present in Dishonored. Dishonored's singular objectives can be approached from a variety of ways, much like Prey, but where Dishonored gives you a single clear point to work towards, and a narrative with a solid structure, your goals in Prey are especially unclear at the beginning, and it takes some time before you have a full understanding of the 'bigger picture'.
These departures from Dishonored are largely because of Prey's different aesthetic goals; Prey begins in a similar state to a horror game, giving you a limited toolset, limited spaces to explore, and a limited understanding of the game's world. It makes you feel these limitations keenly, making a great first impression to work with later. As the game progresses, you start to push back these limits in various ways, exploring new areas with new abilities, until you've finally built yourself a very capable character. It gives the game a more traditional, character-dependent arc, but the consistent introduction of new elements keeps a playthrough from getting stale. These new elements are often very significant departures from one another, instead of just having bigger numbers to deal with, like many RPGs. In these ways, you're less embodying an existing character, like the Royal Protector of Dunwall or an Empress, and more building your idea of who your character is, now that you're in charge. It's a fun sense of progression that manages to keep the adrenaline going through much of the game, supported by the themes of the narrative, and the number of different twists the game's story takes.
The aesthetics bear this out, helping create a space that feels hostile, empty and lived-in all at once. You rarely have much in the way of verticality or freedom of movement, but as you learn the intricacies of the different abilities you have, and develop strategies, you also develop an understanding of the game's setting and location. The game's setting and aesthetics aren't just a coat of paint on top of the blocks making up a level, the architecture provides reactive elements and wildly varying structure to individual moments of gameplay. They're not just beautiful spaces, they're beautiful interactive spaces, that breathe history. The game's setting is fun to move around in and explore physically, sure, but it also rewards you for developing familiarity and understanding of what this place was, who lived in it, and what happened here.
A number of aesthetic traditions carry over from other Arkane games here beyond that. The game has plenty of diverse bodies in it, more than just depicting characters that belong to various different ethnicities. The protagonist's gender can be selected, and multiple queer relationships exist in the game. Music and sound is a high point, capturing a variety of emotions ranging from retrofuturistic hopeful sci-fi, to creeping dread, to the totally alien. The voice acting is all superb, and in true Arkane style, the voice credits are always surprising, in that they manage to rope in a handful of notable actors for relatively minor roles. Benedict Wong is an exception, lending his considerable talents to one of the main characters, but there are a couple of others you might've heard of, or seen before. Keep an ear out; or more likely, look at the credits when you've beat the game, and wonder how you didn't recognize the Academy Award winning actor who had a minor role as an sidequest NPC for all of five minutes.
All in all, while Prey owes a lot to its forebears, the inimitable talent of Arkane Studios means that instead of a rote recreation of something we've seen before like System Shock, we get a unique, modern story delivered in lavishly designed visual detail, anchored by some of the strongest emergent gameplay yet designed. Arkane has their niche, but as Prey proves, that's far from a limitation.
If you need more proof of that, Prey's Mooncrash DLC provides a single-player experience that's close to a roguelike, relying even more heavily on the procedural aspects that Prey championed over its predecessors. Where Prey holds the structure of a largely static set of goals, Mooncrash transforms that into an ever-shifting, laser-focused series of 'runs'. It's experimental (to a degree) and a very good time, though maybe not as endlessly replayable as they might have hoped.
Microsoft from Deutsch
Microsoft from Deutsch