Due to Bethesda’s pre-release review policy, we’re unable to provide a full Prey review in time for its launch. We recently acquired the game and, since it is quite lengthy, it may be some time until we can deliver our final verdict. However, having played it for close to 10 hours, we are able to offer some early impressions in the meantime.
And those impressions, at this stage, are mixed. If you’ve played the Opening Hour demo available on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, you’ll know that Prey starts strong. It leans on a big narrative twist that pulls the rug from underneath you, and it’s very effective in sparking curiosity. We won’t spoil the nature of this revelation, but suffice it to say that it plants a seed of doubt, forcing you to question everything and everyone around you.
Thus far that aspect of the narrative hasn’t developed into anything of note, however. The lingering supposition of dishonesty has been the main driving force behind a story that has otherwise been quite uneventful. That’s not to say it won’t develop into something more interesting, and shades of nuance are indeed slowly revealing themselves over time.
In its early hours, Prey wants you to immerse yourself in Talos I, the space station where the game is set, and soak in the story its environments have to tell. Talos I is a wreck, with upturned furniture strewn around its rooms, corrupted companion robots marauding about its hallways, and raging fires enveloping its corridors. The station has been overrun by a sentient alien life form called the Typhon, and while it’s clear they’re the cause of all this, the exact circumstances of the outbreak are still shrouded in some mystery. Furthermore, there’s also the question of who’s to blame for it.
Similarly, Prey’s gameplay feels like it is yet to develop into something unique, mostly because the more interesting abilities are deeper into the various skill trees than I’ve been able to reach. Up front, Prey is surprisingly generous with the Neuromod items that unlock skills, but so far I have only been able to develop a rudimentary playstyle. I’ve spent the majority of my points improving my health pool, allowing myself to repair broken turrets, and expanding my inventory space.
This, in turn, translates to a vanilla combat experience. I’m using the GLOO Cannon to immobilize enemies, and then bludgeoning them with a wrench or emptying shotgun shells into them. In other situations–usually when I’m low on health or ammo–I have opted to sneak around enemies to avoid combat, using lures to manipulate enemy movements or methodically crouch-walking in between furnishings.
Developer Arkane Austin has promised players they will be able to take on challenges in a variety of ways, and while that seems to be true so far, the options I’ve been given have felt uninteresting. I’ve made note of numerous blocked pathways that will no doubt become available as my skillset improves, but as of yet, my path through the game has been fairly directed. Dishonored 2–developed by Arkane’s Lyon, France-based sister studio–encouraged players to achieve their objectives through creative use of powers. My hope is that when more powers are available to me, alternative opportunities will open up and combat will allow me to be experimental.
A major sticking point for me so far is the behaviour of the Mimic enemies. As their name suggests, they have the ability to shapeshift into any object that is in their immediate surroundings. This means that you can walk into an ordinary, empty room and not know that you’re actually seconds away from having a Mimic pounce on you. The idea behind this is sound–it creates a constant sense of tension–but in practice it has very quickly become annoying. Not just because a Mimic can attack when your back is turned and you’re focused on something else, but also because the appearance of a Mimic is signalled by a sharp, shrill sound effect that–thanks to its overuse–soon grates. It is designed to create a jump scare moment, but since I was frequently looking in another direction and away from the Mimic, it often felt mistimed.
There are other reservations I have with enemy behaviour and combat right now, but I’m hoping that, given some time, they’ll click into place.
At around 10 hours, I’ve been acquainted with the fundamentals of the Prey experience. It all feels quite familiar at the moment, but I’m aware that these are also building blocks. I have just unlocked the ability to use alien powers, which introduces an interesting dynamic when you consider Talos I is littered with sentry turrets that attack lifeforms with alien DNA in them. I’m also moving into a brand-new area of Talos I and accruing side-quests as the world opens up, and with any luck it will start to coalesce into something worthwhile.
Stay tuned for our full review in the near future.