Slowly, I make my way down the corridor, going over everything with a fine-toothed comb. I find an apple on a table alongside a split of champagne. I take both — after what I've been through, what I've seen,I deserve a no-judgment drink. I go to take a sip, when I see it out of the corner of my eye:A small, jet-black blob darts to my left. I steady myself and walk toward the quivering mass, and it rears up to attack. I use my wrench to beat it until it is a lifeless mass of goo. Then, I harvest its organs for later use.
Welcome to the world of Prey. Developed by Arkane Studios and published by Bethesda Softworks, Prey is a first-person action sci-fi game that's familiar, yet foreign, with plenty of jump scares.
Don't Call It A Comeback
Don't let the name fool you. This title is totally different from the original Prey, which debuted back in 2006. You shouldn't even consider this a spiritual successor. The only similarities between the earlier Human Head title and Arkane's new game is that you're going to be fighting some freaky-looking aliens.
The new Prey puts you in the shoes of Morgan Yu, a crewmember on the Talos 1 space station that's orbiting the moon in 2032. Something is amiss, as most of the crew and passengers are missing or dead. Instead, there are ink-black aliens called mimics roaming the halls and disguising themselves as almost anything — cups, tools, clipboards — to strike.
Something Borrowed, Something New
As I escaped from the testing facility in the first part of the game, Prey suddenly got really familiar, but in a good way. Armed with a wrench, I admired the futuristic art-deco motif of Talos 1 as I was guided via radio by a nameless figure who called himself a friend. And that's when it hit me: Prey is kind of like BioShock, but set in space.
Like the underwater city Rapture, Talos 1 is breathtaking. But it's also seen better days, as evidenced by the scads of debris that an explosion blasted out into the darkness of space. The desolation and threat of my impending demise put me on edge — a feeling I got when I first encountered Sander Cohen in BioShock.
Even though the main mission has a pretty linear focus, Prey presents the perfect environment for going off the beaten trail, thanks to a healthy smattering of side quests. Some of my best moments in the game involved me skulking around an area I had no business being in and stumbling on an intriguing side mission or my untimely death — whichever came first. That's how I discovered the Q-Beam, one of the most powerful guns in the title, after 3 hours of play.
However, in some cases, you might not have the necessary tools or abilities to access certain areas. But never fear: There's usually another way to get around. If not, you can always come back later.
There's No Wrong Answer
In those moments when you're not running, hiding or blasting hostile aliens, Prey is a thinking person's game. Thanks to the variety of powers and weapons in the game, there are multiple options for tackling various obstacles, like a locked door or a particularly nasty battle. In one instance, I used my hacking skills to access a room that was filled with resources. After looting to my heart's content, I noticed a maintenance shaft that led me to an area I'd previously visited.
A little ingenuity can also save you from entering into costly, unnecessary battles. Instead of charging headfirst into every room, for example, I started employing stealth mode to creep by patrolling Phantoms. In situations where a room was crawling with enemies, the Huntress Boltcaster and its Nerf-like toy bolts were literal lifesavers. It came in handy for deploying out-of-reach switches or touch screens I needed to access to move on to the next area.
Depending on the powers and abilities you've chosen, you could do the old run-and-gun for a while. But against some of the stronger enemies, you won't last long.
Know Thy Enemy
Even though I played through an earlier demo, I felt an immediate sense of dread when I booted up the retail version of the game. The minute I broke out of the simulation, I was fighting to keep that panic at bay the best I could, which meant tense breathing and a cold sweat. It's not so much that I was afraid of the mimics, with their oil slick bodies;it's the idea that they can be anything. In one instance, I walked into a room just in time to see one transform into a turned-over chair, right next to the real deal.
While mimics aren't necessarily difficult enemies in and of themselves, their small bodies and erratic movements make them hard to kill. However, several good shots with the wrench usually does the trick.
But the mimics aren't your only concern. I also encountered a larger, more powerful version of the aliens called Phantoms. These hulking black masses deal damage with a powerful melee attack, as well as shoot electric or fire attacks depending on the Phantom. The aliens get weirder and more hostile the further you progress. There's the Telepath, a floating mass of black tendrils that launches psychic blasts of energy. And if that isn't bad enough, it can mind-control helpless human characters to attack you.
It seems that the key to defeating these creatures for good lies in locating your brother, who is deliberately keeping secrets from you. Meanwhile you're trying to piece your memory back together after undergoing experiments that augment your natural ability with the very aliens who have overrun the ship. Sounds like a hell of a good time, right? Then, would you kindly keep reading?
Combat: My Kingdom for an Auto-Aim
I wish the aiming system were better in Prey. I had a hard time putting down mimics no matter how leveled-up I was, thanks to their small bodies and lack of lock-on aim. That forced me to resort to swinging the wrench spastically in an attempt to connect with the buggers before my stamina ran out or I wasted valuable ammo from my GLOO cannon to freeze them in place and then beat them to death.
The shooting doesn't get better with larger enemies, as I soon discovered with the Phantoms and their terrifyingly fast teleports. I could get only a few shots off at a time before it teleported away or — worse — blasted me. The aim situation gets a little better as you upgrade handling on your guns, but not enough to make me stop wishing, hoping and praying for a better way to lock on.
My other complaint is the spotty AI. Sometimes it was so bad that I could remain unnoticed by an enemy simply by crouch walking in front of it. But then there were occasions when a Typhon keyed into my position and chased me relentlessly through the station.
Arkane and Bethesda have taken the best parts of some of my favorite games and movies and made something that I've been having a ball sneaking and sleuthing my way through.Prey takes the best aspects of BioShock, Dead Space and Dishonored, and creates something that's equal parts scary and satisfying. Although mimic-based jump scares can get old after a while, I never got tired of exploring every nook and cranny of Talos 1 to get to the bottom of how everything went so far left.
If Bethesda gives Prey a sequel (and I hope it does), the game publisher needs to retool the combat system and tighten up the AI. But for now, if you're looking for a great sci-fi survival horror title to raise the hairs on the back of your neck, turn off the lights, turn up the sound and get ready for a scary good time.