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

Gregory Masters
Member

Spot on for me even tho i never played System Shock.
Im mainly completing the game for a possible shocking story twist or something.
I HATE KEYCODE LOCKS and hacking minigames. Dunno why they gota fill a game with those.

Stanley Parable
Member

I really like prey, sorry 🙁

Made me go back and finsh dishonored and now im playing the 2nd game

sleepingdog
Guest
sleepingdog
I have never written anything here – I felt the urge to comment because it is really rare that I disagree completely with someone while at the same time being able to 100% understand where the critic is coming from. I am sure many know the feeling: They read a critical statement and feel like the writer has no idea what he is talking about. That is not the case here. Prey really is one of those games where personal taste and the way you approach a particular game has a huge impact on your experience. Random Planescape Torment spoiler… Read more »
Chris Topher
Member

I too felt it was an average game best picked up on sale. I personally had played it all before and better elsewhere.

Nick
Guest
Nick
I’m late commenting on this because I actively avoided reviews and other opinions to go in without thinking about what others have thought about it, and I have to agree with the review. In the beginning it had brief moments I thought were interesting, but not soon after I found myself bored out of my mind. It looks good, polished pretty well (didn’t experience any bugs), and has some things I liked about it, but ultimately I quit after several hours. Playing games is supposed to be a time-waster of enjoyment and I wasted a lot of time not enjoying… Read more »
Chris Topher
Member

Agree. Boring game with little originality but not bad just not that good.

Schismatism
Guest
Schismatism
I read this review and had to feel it was like the good Mr. Sterling was seeking out adjectives not to criticize, but rather to fill the grey morass of fluff. “This is a game. It does all the things that a game is meant to do. It plays like a game, it feels like a game, it does… gamey things. And then it’s done.” I think that pretty much sums up the review. That’s no argument against the style of the review at all, which covers all the important details and nitpicks appropriately. More, it’s about Prey, which is…… Read more »
Robert Dooley
Member
This review is the biggest disagreement I have ever had with you Jim, this is my game of the year thus far, I love the multi-layered writing, creepy atmosphere, almost dark souls-ish level design, story, wide array of powers and upgrades, and so much more, I feel so bad for you, in that your not able to take the massive amount of enjoyment I have taken from this game, I truly pity you Jim, and I’m not able to agree with you on really any level about this (except for the visual design of the enemies). I’m sorry that you… Read more »
Elementalcobalt
Guest
Elementalcobalt
I am with you on enjoying this game. I was surprised by all the hate, because I really love this game. However, one thing these reviewers have that I don’t is experience. They’ve played so many games that they’ve seen it all before. Prey is a lot of things, and for someone like me who only plays maybe two games a year, that means a lot, but when you’re pounding one game after another, combat here, stealth here, story here, all you can do is see how other games did those things better. If you only play a handful of… Read more »
Tyler Johnson
Guest
Tyler Johnson
I disagree with a few points here. Firstly, anyone who knows system shock knows that you can DEFINITELY play the wrong way, and I was actually glad to see that here as well. Forcing players to actually think about how they play the game is not a bad thing, in my opinion. I too went for the run and gun option and had NO PROBLEM progressing through the game. Going for the achievement that asks you to play through the game twice, each time using only either the human or typhon neuromod skill tree, meant that I had to get… Read more »
Matrim42
Member

My biggest problem is that they called it “Prey” when it has nothing to do with the original beyond “aliens.” I would’ve been way more interested in this game if they’d called it anything else instead of trying to hitch it to a franchise.

Black
Guest
Black

Loved Bioshock 1&2
Hated Bioshock Infinate (becuz quatum theory is bad for narritive development i.e. me caring about anything.)
This was ok, not good not bad. As far as Beth titles go it was no Doom but it was leagues better than The Evil Within. The review wasn’t bad either.

Sebastian Quiroga
Member

I am confused, is The Evil Within considered a bad game? I personally really liked it (except for the last chapter, of course)

Stelios Markios
Member

How do you even compare this to the Evil Within? They’re completely different games.

Snowskeeper
Member

But Jim, I liked this much more than you did, which must mean that you are part of a conspiracy to destroy the games industry by giving everything scores I don’t agree with.

Chris Schwartz-Brown
Member

Specifically it’s a conspiracy of feminists to destroy gaming by rating good games badly. Something something force us all to play Walking Simulators and Tumblr games something something. Read between the lines sheeple!

WeightGain4000
Member

so the usual, wait a year or two and pick it up in a steam sale for 5-10 bucks. then again, I did the same for bioshock infinite and utterly regretted that choice in the end. so maybe I’d like this more, considering how much of a shock game this seems to be when infinite just… wasn’t? eh, time will tell.
the remaining question is, of course, how the whole “alien bountyhunter in an open world” prey would have looked and played like, but alas, seems like we’re doomed to never know. pity.

Kyle Fulton
Guest
Kyle Fulton

Hey, Jim. First time reading the comments on one of your reviews, and I must say, I have a new appreciation for what you have to deal with from the… fans? Let’s go with fans, for lack of a better term. Anyway, love the review. Keep up the good work. Cheers!

LegendaryFrog
Guest
LegendaryFrog

You know why you don’t re-use names? Because when someone does a search and finds a game with the same name from 10 years ago they think it’s just going to be a port or a remaster. I didn’t even bother paying any attention as a result and didn’t know it was even know it was a System Shock style game.

Adam
Guest
Adam

That makes me sad you didn’t enjoy it, but based on your videos I was kind of expecting this. That being said, I love it. But as you and Laura say, we are all grown ups and can have different opinions and still like one another (paraphrase, perhaps not, that may be longer than the actual quote.)

Hoo-ah
Guest
Hoo-ah
I loved playing through Prey, but I think the biggest problem is its story. The voice-acting is phenomenal and I like how choices are presented (and the variety of responses you get for unconvential actions). The issue is that the aliens are…nothing. The game seems to build up a mystery with the Rorschach blots and some of the enemies exhibiting human traits but it amounts to nothing. [Spoilers from here on out] The coral is a neural network, hence why it looks like nerves, but it’s just a transmitter for a giant hungry blob? How about we interface with it,… Read more »
Unit
Guest
Unit

My personal biggest guff with the game are that there’s still costly bugs. For example: Every time I transitioned an area, the Q-beam would just vanish from my inventory. No rhyme or reason to it. Which is a shame because it felt like it was supposed to be the counter to a few of the bigger creatures.

Other than that, yeah. Not super memorable. It’s okay. Not horrible, not amazing either. Though that after-credits sequence made me roll my eyes. There’s a reason nobody pulls that shit and it is: Because it makes everything that happened into complete garbage retroactively.

Hurbster
Member

I really enjoyed this game, loved the attention to detail and the background information you could find. The ‘play your way’ interrupt – that’s an Arkane thing, same happened in Dishonoured 2.

Are we forgetting that System Shock 2 devolved into a jumping puzzle at parts towards the end ?

Still, opinions and all that.

Jonathan Erinder
Guest
Jonathan Erinder

Agree on the enemy design bit, hope they leave prey alone now, the pricks.

Omnicrom
Guest
Omnicrom
The worst part of this review of a what I thought was a good and very enjoyable game is that Jim is going to be crowing about his opinion for months. I’m damn sure I’m not the only one who’s sick to death of hearing Jim make Breath of the Wild jokes and Jim underselling Prey looks to be the next “Jim stirs shit by mockingly repeating opinions in passing oh hoo-hoo!” I think Prey is quite good, I have now heard Jim’s opinion to the contrary, I don’t find them particularly compelling, and I am now eagerly look forward… Read more »
Jake
Guest
Jake

You’re fundamentally misunderstanding the jokes at that point my dude, the reason he made BotW jokes isn’t because “I had a contrary opinion and people thought it was dumb” or to retroactively stir shit, it was because of the absolute absurdity of the situation, people screaming that he has an anti-Nintendo bias, saying he was part of some grand conspiracy to make games shit, DDOSing his website, and generally just attacking the man for a 7/10, an overall positive review of the game.

KaptnKrunch
Guest
KaptnKrunch

Reading such idiotic review saddens me. This game is undeniably brilliant and your biases and limits are painfully obvious.

Sad.

Zulnam
Guest
Zulnam

Well, this came as a bit of a… SHOCK. Hue hue hue.

Still gonna get it, though. Probably when it’s on sale and with all the DLC.

Jonathan Erinder
Guest
Jonathan Erinder

I would recomend the original, its like Doom 3 with indians.

drsnodgrass
Guest
drsnodgrass

Eww, don’t say that!

It’s more like Doom 3 but you can see, and there’s aliens an interesting story with unique pro and antagonists and a surprising twist on an old standard plot, and portals before portal and gravity switching and wall walking, and out of body spiritual stealth, and descent-like flying vehicle segments and so much more! That game flew low under people’s radar and it’s a shame.

Zack “Shadowkat” West
Member
Definitely would like to see you and someone who’s enjoying it a lot like TB talk about this; could be interesting to see why two different people who both seemingly enjoy the genre end up having two very differing views on its quality. Wasn’t going to buy it now at the best of times though, and considering that Zenimax is abusing trademark law so fragrantly with them forcing poor No Matter Studios to change “Prey to the Gods” to the incredibly stupid “Praey to the Gods”. I hope you’ll cover that on the Jimquisition, considering it parallels with your Nintendo… Read more »
Yours
Guest
Yours

Not surprised.
Jim really HATEs bethesda’s games after their copy policy
That is all

Jonathan Erinder
Guest
Jonathan Erinder

So preys good then, or are you just misstaking Bethesda with Todd Howards Bethesda? Because Bethesda Bethesda are kinda slopp.

Lazyaza
Member

Honestly not surprised at all game looked bland as fuck a long time ago.

Jonathan Erinder
Guest
Jonathan Erinder

This

Jaz
Guest
Jaz

Yeah the game did feel.. well.. mediocre.. its a functional game.. thats it, nothing special.

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