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Prey (2017) review
Exceptional
by Esbylion

This review is as spoiler-free as it gets. I definitely recommend playing Prey with as little advance information on the specifics as possible, even if some things are obvious from the marketing materials alone.

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.
«Underrated»

Other reviews18

!
«Blew my mind»
«Can’t stop playing»
I didn't expect the game to be so great.

I liked the gameplay in general.Although at the end of the passage, after pumping, you do not want to collect everything in a row and fight with everyone,90% of the game you think through the best action strategies and are constantly in suspense because of the variety of enemies.

It is interesting to study the station and pass side quests.

A great soundtrack that complements the gameplay,not hinders it.

The ending was a little disappointing, because there are no special differences between them

Final score 8.5/10
«Can’t stop playing»
«OST on repeat»
Oh man I enjoyed this game so much.
Fantastic world building, the combat and abilities were great and it left a mark on me for sure.
I hoovered up all the emails, notes and voice files I could find and relished in every detail.
Definitely underrated.
«Blew my mind»
«Underrated»
A stellar SIM experience with a very oppessive atmosphere.
«Blew my mind»
«That ending!»
Journal Style Review:

Interesting start story wise. Gameplay feels very static though. It has a AA feel, not AAA. The graphics and art style are pretty generic. They aren’t atrocious but they aren’t very interesting either. 

Early on I’m interested in the upgrades this game has to offer. I’m not excited about the enemies though. I feel like fighting mimics and robots and other goo monsters will lose its satisfaction Pretty quick. Although I don’t have any psi abilities yet, that might increase the satisfaction. If this game turns out to be better than it initially feels it will have to be because of the story, the puzzles, and probably most importantly it’s going to need a well balanced rpg system where I have to pick and choose which ways to upgrade my character and gear effectively. It seems like it might do a pretty good job at that though. I like the way they deal with materials and the fabricators. I’m liking the neuromod skill trees. I’m struggling to decide which upgrade to unlock next, that’s the way it should be.

This game feels clever. I get the sense it’s well thought out. Which makes it a bummer that the handling is so poor. Why does the movement and gunplay feel so rough.

I have to give the game credit for one of the best video game jumps scares in awhile. Pushing buttons on the screen to calibrate it and then a phantom appears behind and I was caught completely off guard and yelled and jumped. Well done game. You got me. 

The game has been getting better and better. Im enjoying it more even though the combat is still not great. The dynamic between which psi abilities you upgrade vs other upgrades vs fabricator purchases is well done. And although the gunplay is still not great, the different ways to tackle combat has expanded. Do I use this piece of equipment or lead with a psi blast etc etc. I’m starting to see some of the appeal the combat has to offer.

I stopped playing 5 hours in to play Ghost of Tsushima. It is going to take a bit to remember what I was doing and to get back into it.

I’m dying a lot. Its partly because  I was rusty and I burned through my resources so Now I have like no ammo. But it’s also because I’m trying to kill everything so I can explore and loot every area, but I’m getting the sense I shouldn’t be playing that way. Some areas are too tough early on that it isn’t worth the resources. 

I’m slowly re learning the style of the game. Playing Prey after GoT is a big change up. GoT is so casual and peaceful and Prey takes a lot of focus. I’m getting there again though.

This game is alright. That’s how I feel about it. It has some fun clever moments, but also the combat and gameplay is pretty bad. It has some fun resource management and upgrade tree options, but also sometimes I just get lost or die doing the same thing for multiple times in a row because I put myself in a hard position.

This game is best played in sessions of reasonable length. You can’t just pick it up and play for 30 mins. Ideally you sit down and play for 2 hours. Also I haven't tried but I can tell this isn’t a game to play stoned.

The nightmare is a cool idea but it doesn’t work. You just hide in a random area or even better leave the room and it doesn’t find you. It isn’t intense like they are going for, it’s boring.

Loads times are not fast enough. 

The gloo gun is really fun to use to climb to new areas. It’s very creative. 

I dislike the zero gravity parts. The controls are so awkward, it’s not fun.

I sewered my saves and I need to get from one side of the station to practically the farthest part in a very short amount of time. A bit of a bummer. I’m essentially doing a speed run dodging past enemies and planning the absolute quickest route possible. Kind of a fun challenge but also a piss off.

Aaaaaand it turned out I could just use the lift...must have been a small goo monster nearby disrupting it that I couldn’t find.... fuck me

Pretty great final ending scene. The overall ending leading up to the final reveal was all pretty good and then I really liked the idea of the final twist. But I’m happy to be done also. Overall the game wasn’t that great. It’s a low tier B+.

Concise review:

Amazing: nothing

Great: occasional creative puzzle solving (Gloo Gun Climbing), final twist reveal

Good: Resource management system, Upgrades systems, story and atmosphere

Average: occasional creative combat solutions

Bad: overall visual presentation, enemy variety, number of times I was lost or confused

Awful: gunplay, movement, load times

Final score: B+
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Too large of a focus on combat with a boring combat system that frankly had it even been good would not have been appropriate for the enemy types in this game. I get that you're supposed to upgrade to approach encounters in different ways, but it's too little too late and acts more as mitigation of a bland system than an interesting system to play around with. Every combat encounter takes away the immersive sim from the immersive sim and the handful of stealth options feel more like Deux Ex Mankind Divided than OG Deus Ex. Huge disappointment coming from the developers of Dishonored.
Pretty much the pinnacle of immersive sims thus far. Prey provides interesting enemy design, a dazzling array of abilities and weapons, and a beautiful, immaculately planned environment to use them all in.

Pros:
- Amazing level design
- Interesting enemy design (visual and gameplay)
- A general feeling of cohesiveness you rarely get
- Innovative mechanics
- Interesting story (including minor subplots to be unraveled)

Cons:
- Facial animation of npcs can be quite a distraction
Why do I have to write something here? Just play the game.
«Time-tested»
«Underrated»
This sure beats the hell out of the original Prey that came out in the early 2000s by the same company.  Greatest reboot in the history of video games!
«Blew my mind»
«That ending!»
I find it difficult to put my love for Prey into words. It's one of my favorite games ever. It's tied with Hollow Knight for my personal GOTY of 2017. It was the most unexpected thing to come out of 2017, and, as with most of Arkane's titles, it doesn't disappoint.

Prey is the most recent game in the return to the "Immersive-sim" genre. You're placed on a seemingly abandoned, alien-infested space station, given the slightest nudge in the right direction, then let loose. You're free to approach any situation in any way you like, and are given an abundance of tools, weapons, and abilities to do so. The world responds to your actions in various ways, and there's several combinations of outcomes to the game's primary scenarios. The world is intricately detailed, with passenger logs and crew locators and logical layouts, like a real space station carefully handcrafted by Arkane.

I played through Prey three times. Once with only human abilities, once with only Typhon abilities, and once with no neuromods at all. All three playstyles (and combinations thereof) are fully supported. I did basically everything in a different way in each playthrough. I don't want to talk about specifics, because discovering the world and Prey's mechanics is an important part of the experience.
 
There's an abundance to discover and explore on Talos I, and I can't recommend Prey enough. It's worth full-price, and anything below $60 is a deal. If you're at all a fan of Dishonored, Deus-Ex, or sci-fi, you'll love it.
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The single gameplay elements of this game are not that amazing, but together with the interesting level design they make a very good game. The game is at its best in the beginning when you don't have a lot of resources and every encounter with the enemy feels dangerous, while visiting new parts of the station. Later on you'll probably have accumulated enough weapons and leveled up skills to not have to worry about it that much anymore. Towards the end the plot drags a bit and makes you run around in old areas a bit too much.