Prey Review – Neuromoderate

System Cock.

Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda
Format: PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One
Released: May 5, 2017
Copy purchased

Prey is almost nothing like its namesake and almost everything like System Shock, which is great if you don’t mind the use of unrelated intellectual property as a delivery vehicle for an inferior System Shock successor. Some of us will miss what Prey 2 was supposed to be, but there’s no changing that.

I wouldn’t mind it so much if Prey was superior to the game it aped in any way – any one meaningful way – but when we cut to the heart of it, we’re looking at a fan tribute to the Shock series lacking the atmosphere and imagination that made any of the official games so endearing. It seems “helping out” with development of BioShock 2 was not adequate experience to pull off a full game.

Like Prey‘s most marketed antagonists, the shapeshifting Mimics, Arkane Studios’ sci-fi horror adventure closely resembles the thing it’s trying to be, but it doesn’t take long for the artifice to make itself known.

Its unremarkable story and sterile environments are thoroughly uninspiring. Like its spiritual predecessors, most of the narrative is deployed via audio logs, but characters are given little depth or time to develop, and their stories aren’t particularly engaging.

The fall of Talos 1, taken over by the alien Typhon, is nowhere near as interesting as the collapse of Rapture, and the game lacks a strong antagonistic force such as Andrew Ryan or SHODAN to give the story any sort of kick. A villain with actual motives is introduced in the very final stages of the game and does his best to salvage some audience investment, but he arrives too late and his impact is too little.

Mission progression is a formulaic case of constantly taking diversions because of conveniently inconvenient lockdowns to the point where it’s almost comical in its repetition. The entire main story is a case of constantly needing to run to a certain place to fix a thing so you can go through some doors.

Side missions can be more varied, but usually revolve around locating and picking up varied McGuffins or basic upgrades, without much else to break up the monotony.

The Typhon themselves? Terrible.

Prey‘s gloopy grotesques are some of the least engaging forces I’ve encountered in a game, much less one attempting to evoke a sense of isolated dread found in the work it copies from. Described as being unable to “see” humans, this bestiary of amorphous oily shapes is devoid of personality and lacks any tangible motive other than destruction.

It’s not like you can’t make that work. The Xenomorphs from the Alien series or Warhamer 40,000‘s Tyranids operate on the same level. The different is that Xenormorphs and Tyranids are visually striking and genuinely terrifying in their methods, while the Typhon just skittering slime zombies.

Prey hinges a lot on its Mimics with their one gimmick of changing form to assume random pickups or environmental debris. At first, this concept induces a sense of light paranoia, but once the Mimics reveal themselves as little black balls with four tentacles poking out, any sense of fear quickly evaporates.

The most common enemies, the Phantoms and their many irritating variants, aren’t much better. Imagine Venom without any of Venom’s distinguishing features, or a toy skeleton dipped in tar. You’ve just imagined the Phantoms, stomping about Talos 1, making silly noises, being quite the opposite of scary.

If you’re absolutely starved for some Shock antics, Arkane does produce a serviceable forgery.

It runs nicely, it’s graphically pleasant if not artistically inspiring, and its quick crafting system is fun enough to use. Turning masses of junk into usable materials to make medkits, ammo, or even precious Neuromods is something that never quite gets old thanks to it cutting out much of the bullshit associated with modern crafting systems.

Talos 1 is well designed from an architectural standpoint. The space station is intricately mapped out and separated into various departments, all of which feature alternate routes through hazardous environments as well as obstacles that can only be dealt with by certain character builds.

Prey‘s Neuromod system allows players to enhance their character in a number of different ways, allowing for improved combat performance or more intricate skills such as repairing machines and hacking computer equipment. Again, it’s System Shock, so many of these upgrades will be familiar to many of you.

So many of you.

“Play your way” is a motto of the game, so much so it actually interrupts play to boast about it at one point. Unfortunately, it’s not strictly true. While there are several notable hindrances and combat arenas that allow for varied playstyles, the sheer amount of machinery and locks found on Talos 1 strongly favor anybody going into repairs or hacking first.

By the same token, even fully upgraded weapons will require a ton of ammo to put down even the most basic Phantom, so anybody whose way of playing trends toward the direct will have an undeniably tougher time until many hours in, finally competing once they have so many upgrades that combat becomes laughable.

It’s quite possible, in fact, to build a character “wrong” – or at least so ill-equipped for the early hours that gameplay becomes utterly miserable. This is the position I found myself in when I thought I’d break from tradition and play a more gun-toting protagonist.

My mistake, I guess… but the game told me I could play my way!

With every enemy taking bullet-absorption lessons from Scarface, and the world being littered with turrets and keycode screens begging for attention, I decided to scrap my first run after several hours. The difference on the second run, having invested heavily into the Engineer skill tree, was tremendous.

While Prey still remained a fairly mundane and unremarkable Shocklike for twenty dreary hours, the efficiency with which I was able to regain my lost progress was startling, not to mention how many more options for exploration opened up to me.

The first half of the game is tough no matter where you invest your Neuromods. The Typhon are thick smoky meat shields and dart around the room with erratic swiftness once alerted, quickly turning any battle into an anarchic shitshow. Players may quickly find resources are tight while their opponents never run out of juice and tend to repopulate previously cleared areas.

Due to there being no sense of adequate balance in the game, the second half is a sudden twist in the other direction.

Getting hold of a Neuromod fabrication plan is difficult not to do before the closing credits roll, and with a few easy investments you’ll be able to loot Typhon corpses for “exotic material,” a key crafting component. With these two elements in place, you can create unlimited upgrades for as long as you have the easily acquired materials.

After agonizing about how to customize my character for the first portion of the game, by the end of it I was investing in upgrades for the sheer hell of it.

As well as general gameplay upgrades spread across three skill trees – Scientist, Engineer, and Security – Prey offers Neuromod paths for Typhon abilities unlocked by scanning different enemy types for their data.

The suite of alien powers are useful but generic, consisting mostly of various energy blasts and mind control abilities. Aside from being able to mimic the Mimics themselves and morph into different objects, there’s nothing really original or impressively done with the more juiced up powers on offer.

They’re worth taking simply for how much they can hurt Typhon (Psychoshock isn’t just what the game clearly wants to be called, it’s a damn good attack), but they’re not exciting in the least.

That’s Prey all over. It works, it’s well made, and polished, and all those things we expect “AAA” games to be. What it is not is exciting. At all.

It’s an also-ran that I was quite frankly happy to see the back of once I was blessedly finished.

On a final note, whoever worked on audio balancing needs a stern talking to.

Prey makes very limited use of pre-rendered cutscenes, but the few appearing are considerably louder than the rest of the game and they appear as sudden flashback sequences, meaning at any time you could be ambushed by the game fucking screaming at you. Scott Cawthon may have repopularized horror for the kids, but Five Nights at Freddy‘s has not a single jumpscare as jarring and horrifying as Prey‘s poorly mixed cutscenes.

Operators, floating robots that can restore health, armor, or ability-governing Psi energy, are also curiously louder than anything else in the game, with distance or solid walls doing nothing to govern their noise. At one point, I couldn’t hear an NPC in the same room with me because an Operator outside was yelling “GOOD TO SEE YOU.”

It couldn’t actually see me because I was in a different goddamn room. What was so good about this situation?

One of the final and most important pieces of dialog in the game was actually ruined by Prey‘s inability to handle its audio. I received an unbidden radio message at the same time one of the game’s sorta-maybe-antagonists was delivering a crucial monolog. Prey chose to subtitle the radio message, and played it far louder than the man directly talking to me.

I don’t know what the fuck he said. What his ultimate motives were.

But hey, at least I know it’s good when the Operator sees me!

And like I said, it’s good to see the back of Prey.

5/10
Mediocre

trodrigues
Member

“Getting hold of a Neuromod fabrication plan is difficult not to do before the closing credits roll” You probably just missed it? You get it around the same time you get your psy powers and it’s really easy to find and very obvious because there’s a quest that takes you to the office of the guy (director of Psychotronics or something). And you can get it earlier if you backtrack to the Fabrication in the Neuromod area you start in (which you can because you get a code into the Volunteer area early on in the Lobby and there’s a… Read more »

Stefan van der Wal
Member

Hard to fault your comments sInce you are correct on all counts. That being said, I enjoy the game. I find the crafting well done it is not as much of a chore as other games. I appreciate the atmosphere. So I guess this is where I flame, Ddos and act like a general c*? Or shall we just agree to disagree?

proboss
Guest
proboss

imo i think the setting and its enemies limited what cold be done in this game, would much prefer this game being like its original with crazy exotic weapons and a bad ass one-liner spewing main hero, here it just feels like a system shock game that will hold us over until the remake comes along. #identityissues

Lies That Bind
Guest
Lies That Bind

I can see why this game didn’t strike you too well and even agree with some of your points but Im still enjoying the game well enough. Agreed on the play your way aspect (if you play it like a shooter you’ll die a lot) and the sound mixing. But I was intrigued from the start with the story. As for the artistic style it’s a space station so I can forgive it being a bit drab. 8/10 material from me so far granted I still have the other half to play. Unrelated but how do I get a picture… Read more »

Dragongelf
Member

It’s a right shame that “inspired by” usually devolves into “superficially stolen from without the seeming understanding what made the original work”

That and the lack of new IP’s being brought out by our glorious overlords in the AAA industry.

Now I’ll go back to twiddling my thumbs while I wait for “ohmygodIcan’tbelieveit’snotCoD1337” because god knows we don’t have enough shooters in this day and age!

Austin_SJ
Member

Oh dear, I wonder if the Prey defence force will show up here too. I prey they don’t after all they could be preying prey rather than coming here to prey on your prey review. Prey.

Chainsaw
Guest
Chainsaw

I have to agree on the Sound mixing being a big problem. I also turned the music almost off after a bit because it just wouldn’t stop playing and it overpowered everything else. I think sometimes mimics are stuck in the walls or something and the game thinks your in combat? In general I think I like the combat a bit more than Jim, the shotgun makes early game a lot more manageable and If I get the chance I prefer sneaking anyways. I’m not that far in so I don’t know what happens at the end, but so far… Read more »

phantomrachie
Member

I finished Prey over the weekend and I agree with much of what Jim said. To add a few points of my own: Characters are constantly talking over each other if they are in the same room, which is very annoying, as I missed character building moments. The crafting system is probably one of the best I’ve seen, straight forward, simple and extremely useful Female Morgan is gay making it an AAA title with a LGBT protagonist and while it barely comes up, it’s really nice to see. The loading screen times are frustratingly long, particularly when you just want… Read more »

Paul Barnes
Member

I was genuinely anticipating this game, even after “Prey 2” was shelved (I still cry every time…), however after watching parts of it on stream I’m glad I saved myself the €60. I already own all the Bioshock games, Dishonoured and the System Shock games, and from what I’ve seen this game doesn’t offer anything new or particularly unique.

Maybe I’ll get it on sale in a year as it looks to me like this will be franchised. Hopefully they can build upon a solid foundation and not just give us another Shock game.

Matthew Wade
Member

I’ll probably just stick with Deus Ex really.

Joseph
Guest
Joseph

Oh my god it’s worse than breath of the wild, jim scoring a game lower than that is surely a sign that ragnarok is upon us. In all seriousness I was hoping arcane could pull this one off but poor sound mixing is a bit of a dealbreaker

El Chica Incognitus
Member

Any game that tries to tout that whole “play your way” nonsense just causes me to roll my eyes. VERY few games that have ever come out has had a dev team creative enough to come up with enough alternate solutions to a situation which makes the player feel clever for coming up with non-standard solutions. Most games it’s literally “You can do it the “right” way using this particular skill, or you can run in guns blazing but we clearly didn’t mean for you to do this since we spent no time developing our combat system beyond the basics”.… Read more »

Bonzai10
Guest
Bonzai10

I love the game. I have finished it already. I am not going to loose my mind because you don’t like it. I like the review though.

Kevin Wilson
Member

I am near the end of the game now but haven’t played since last week (never a good sign). I also played it on PS4 and couldn’t help but feel this would be better on PC. The combat would be improved with a M&K and avoid that “shitshow” you spoke of. Also, the load times while you are moving about areas are ridiculous! often having to jump back and forth late game, it started to really grind my gears!

Polishfury5000
Member

Yeah, average seems about right. Playing the demo was fun, but I wouldn’t drop full price on it. I can see myself buying on a flash sale down the line. I’ve been on a crpg kick lately, so it’s nice to see developers trying to keep the genre alive for the modern generations. At the end of the day, I’d rather play an average system shock clone than another open-world-collect-a-thon devoid of pacing. Here’s hoping they learn from what didn’t work and make the next one better. Those aliens really are kinda shit, and if you want to make a… Read more »

Brad
Guest
Brad

I was really looking forward to this game. It seemed like a really cool concept. I myself was really let down by the lack of variety in the gameplay. Also, the fact that someone can speedrun this in less than 7 minutes is an issue for me.

Galactix100
Member
Galactix100

But Jim, the audio balancing can be fixed with a patch. It’s irresponsible of you to submit a scored review that will be on metacritic. You should wait until they’ve fixed their game that’s already been released for sale before reviewing it. Think of the bonuses Jim, the bonuses.

Royston get the dogs! Jim’s trying to take Arkane’s metacritic bonuses!

V1rax
Member

This game is one of the best things I’ve played this year. Even with it’s audio issues I had to turn down. My only gripe is with the “Nightmare” which is creepy as hell when you meet it but once you actually watch the thing from a distance… it’s dumb as hell. Which is actually a statement for the A.I in general.

Andrew
Guest
Andrew

ugh…. that’s a shame. I can’t stand it the sound gets in the way of dialogue.

Alex
Guest
Alex

Agree to disagree I guess. I found it quite abit more engaging than both Bioshock *and* SS2

DarkKitarist
Member

Great review! I don’t agree with some of the stuff, but we all have different tastes. And my love for the artwork and the general atmosphere of the game made me literally eat up the game.

Jun Kurosu
Member

So the cock is mediocre

InfamousDS
Guest
InfamousDS

NB4 diamond tells you you are just as bad as IGN and that TB said that a 4 was bad so a 5 must be just as bad.

Se7en_Th1rt3en
Member
Se7en_Th1rt3en

I recommend watching the under 8min Speedrun of the game by Bjurnie.
It’s hilarious and again I am stunned how heavily exploitable these games still are.

And thanks for the Edit function I asked for with that comment that never appeared. 😀

Rob
Guest
Rob

5/10, how dissapointing.

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