As a fan of Arkane based on Dishonored, I was excited to try prey. I was looking for a fun fast-paced FPS and run around killing aliens, but that’s not exactly the experience I got. What I learned quickly is this is a horror-survival game first and foremost.
Prey looks great, with a very detailed space station to roam around in and interesting enemies and guns. The music and sound design makes it a truly memorable experience, though, with long stretches of silence interrupted by haunting tones when a phantom lurks across my line of sight. It made my heart race every time. I don’t always enjoy the first-person perspective, as there are times it makes me a bit nauseous, but this immersive perspective was vital in keeping me locked into the action.
Again, this was not the light-hearted alien shoot-‘em-up that I expected. This is a survival-horror open-world RPG. The story starts off by sending the player into the deep end of a mystery that unfolds slowly and seamlessly through the levels as there are no cutscenes. I was frustrated early on when I found my first weapon (GLOO-gun) and ran into my first real pack of typhons and I found myself unable to take them down. I must have died six times to what should have been the easiest enemies in the game. That sequence was crucial to teaching me that stealth was an option, and that facing enemies head on was not always the best plan. From there the game opened up and I found myself sneaking around an expansive ship and having a blast as I began to uncover secrets and find the tools I needed to survive.
Prey has the best open-world design that I have ever experienced. The space station is tiny compared to other open-world games like The Witcher, Far Cry, etc. But every room is so dense that there still feels like just as much to explore. Safes and cabinets containing loot, hidden passageways, furniture blocking my path that can be used to climb hard-to-reach ledges, live wires that need to be avoided or used to kill enemies lured into them. So many choices exist for every interaction. A locked door can be overcome in so many ways. Using high-level hacking to unlock the door, using a security terminal to find the person who had the key card and using that to open the door, finding the alternate route and using leverage to move the shelves in the way. Using athleticism or a pile of GLOO to jump up to the ceiling of the locked room and going in from there. The levels are designed so beautifully and thoughtfully, and everything in the world behaves exactly as it should. Each time I thought something to myself like “dang, I wish I could just jump up onto that pipe and walk up that way”, or “I wish I could just break this window and climb through the back that way” I just tried it, and it worked.
Once the game truly began it was always clear where I needed to go and I always could go about getting there in my own way, though I often found myself wandering elsewhere to look for more neuromods or more ammo or just discovering more secrets before continuing on with the main story.
Again, each room is dense with loot and clues that will open options for side missions. These missions are so seamless, again with no cutscenes, that they just felt like what I wanted to be doing anyway – which is exploring the space station. I often found myself embarking on my own side missions that I envisioned for myself. I would want to explore a different part of the ship and look for fabrication plans, so I would. I would want to find the code to open up a safe, so I would. All these experiences felt uniquely mine whether they were tied to the main story missions, the side missions, or were just my wanderings because of how I chose to approach them. Though some side and story missions will surely stand out as memorable moments.
Combat in this game is much like exploring the open world – there are limitless options. From different weapons and abilities to different stealth options of sneaking past typhons, distracting them with foam darts, or hacking turrets to take out enemies. These options keep every engagement interesting, and they were difficult enough that I often had to try multiple paths before getting past an enemy. Even after that I often reloaded the save to try to get through the segment while using less ammo or losing less life. Though this ability to load and save wherever can feel cheap at times and took me out of the action more often that I would have liked.
Combat can be frustrating, though, especially for someone who came in wanting to run-and-gun. Even after I learned the game and appreciated the stealth and hacking options, I found it frustrating when I needed to kill an enemy and my guns were so ineffective. This went to prove even further that this game is not primarily a first-person shooter. Gunplay is difficult as there isn’t even an aim-down-sight option and guns doing far less damage to typhons than their attacks do to you. The most frustrating part is that even when I spent many resources to upgrade my weapons, they were only marginally more effective. Different typhons asked me to research them and find their weaknesses, and when I did not have the right tool for the job, it was often prudent to avoid the foe altogether.
Still, I did have the option to take them out in many ways, but I often ended up needing a couple of health packs if I brute forced through using a suboptimal strategy. The fact that resource management is such a large part of the game as well balanced this out, though. I could go around with a pistol taking hundreds of shots to kill phantoms slowly, but I would need to prepare for that by stocking up and crafting those bullets along with the health packs I would need to recover.
I will say that enemy designs can be a little stale. The mimics are interesting – disgusting themselves as objects throughout the ship, but larger typhons mostly just float or walk around and shoot out some psychic blast when they see me. The biggest differences between those enemies are what weapons do more damage. Although treating turrets and rogue operators as enemies as well that can be hacked does lead to more interesting options.
As I alluded to, this game has a lot of RPG elements such as upgrades for the protagonist (Morgan) using neuromods. These can aid traversal around the station with hacking, leverage, running and jumping. They can also aid combat by increasing health, damage dealt, etc. Or they can aid looting and crafting by making allowing deeper looting of mimics and more efficient crafting. All of these feel useful and I was interested in upgrading so many skills that I found myself prioritizing finding neuromods over everything.
A ways into the game, though, even more upgrade paths open up, allowing Morgan to implement typhon abilities like disguising as every day objects, using psychic blasts, and more. These will come, though, at the cost of some humanity, meaning that turrets throughout the ship would begin to treat me as an enemy.
Looting and resource management were key to surviving, with crafting “fabrication” plans found around the ship allowing the player to make their own guns, med kits, etc to get along a little more easily. These systems work very well as I was always excited to find fabrication plans and found it engaging deciding whether to venture left to reach a fabricator/recycler or to go right and face the next challenge first.
The story plays out with no cutscenes, but the scripted moments can still be very memorable. What is more memorable, though, is the setup of being alone on this vast ship and uncovering tiny hints of what went wrong along the way though emails, voice recordings, and notes scribbled on paper at people’s desks. Wanting to uncover the mystery behind this collapse and the motives behind Morgan’s brother kept me moving forward, though, even when the rest of the ship distracted me.
Prey took me by surprise as it was not the typical FPS I expected but ended up being an immersive survival RPG with the most memorable and interesting-to-explore open-worlds I have experienced. Looting, crafting, upgrading, and unlocking new areas kept me going for hours at a time before finding my way back to the main story again. Every engagement with the environment or enemies cam with so many opportunities to be creative that my adventure felt truly unique. Combat may be frustrating at times, with difficult enemies and underwhelming weapons, but there are always other paths to take. Prey is rewarding, engrossing, and heart-pounding and is truly a special experience.
Open world full of possibilities
Fully interactable environments
Immersive survival action
Rewarding looting and progression
Frustrating enemies and guns