It's weird that we're here, right? Prey launches next week on May 5. It's a title that stands as a reboot of a property that had a single release back in 2006. The original Prey barely came together, but was a success for 3D Realms in 2006 with 1 million copies sold worldwide at launch. The planned sequel followed a similar dire path before being handed over to Dishonored developer Arkane Studios and being rebooted. And this version of the game seemingly has nothing to do with the original.
With a decade standing between the first release and this one, the "Prey" name doesn't really mean much to anyone. Arkane Studios has space to redefine what Prey is. This is a double-edge sword, as folks have nothing to anchor themselves onto, which is likely why Bethesda released a demo for the game.
So what is 2017's Prey?
Arkane Studios' Dishonored and Dishonored 2 picked up where Looking Glass Studios left off with Thief and Thief 2, offering an intriguing action-stealth experience that had long been missed, even within the Thief franchise itself. Likewise, Prey seems to carry forward ideas established in Looking Glass' System Shock and its spiritual successor, Bioshock.
Prey follows the trials and tribulations of Morgan Yu, a new employee of the TransStar Corporation. You choose your Morgan, male or female, fresh on your first day at the company. After a personal helicopter ride, you're taken through a series of aptitude tests, before everything gets very weird. Morgan's perception of reality begins to fray and you find yourself back where you started, though things are far more different than your first time around.
It's a pretty effective intro when it comes to establishing the tone of Prey. This is a strong survival horror adventure, with Morgan trapped alone with the alien Typhon alone within the TransStar facility. One of the more effective encounters Morgan has in the demo is with the the lowest level of Typhon, the Mimic. These creatures shift from their dark, gelatinous forms into objects in each area. They're always hiding somewhere in the environment.
The reason Mimics work is because there's always that small, corner-of-your-eye blink as they change. You have that second where you ask yourself, "Did I just see that?" It keeps you fairly vigilant. Were there two chairs there when you went through this room before? Was that random machine shaking a bit? Horror is all about that sense of unease and Prey provides that in spades, at least within the confines of this Opening Hour demo.
Where Prey falters a bit is the combat. Those encounters with the Mimic? They feel rough when you're fighting with the Wrench, your starting weapon. The time from the enemy attack telegraph to the attack itself is pretty short, meaning against a Mimic it feels like you have to randomly take a hit with no way to avoid it.
Combat in Prey doesn't feel precise (input lag perhaps?). You're swinging wildly and hoping to hit something. Add in the stamina system - every swing of the Wrench or second you sprint drains from a stamina bar - and it can feel like the game is working against you early on. Even once you gain a ranged weapon, the first being a Gloo gun that can freeze enemies or build platforms, the shooting is passable, not great. Much like Eidos' Deus Ex reboots, this isn't going to stand up to pure first-person shooters.
But I'd say that Prey isn't meant to be a combat-first experience or a first-person shooter. It's an adventure game or RPG that happens to play out in first-person and offer real-time combat. Like Arkane's Dishonored, Prey offers choices to players in how they want to move forward. There are more straightforward options, like hacking your way through a door or searching of the code, but Prey also offers more interesting ways forward, like building new platforms with the Gloo gun.
Prey's audio component is a mixed bag. The sound design and soundtrack are in general, amazing. Horror relies heavily on sound design and Arkane got that right here. And the music pumped into the game is awesome, leaning heavily on the 80's movie scifi side of things.
The major issue is the mixing of the soundtrack: when you enter combat, it plays a fairly heavy combat song. While the song is good the first few times, it pops up with every encounter and the mix isn't great. Sometimes it starts way before combat does. Sometimes it'll keep playing after a Mimic encounter ends, whether it died or ran away. Arkane needs to do a bit of tweaking to makes environmentally-concious music work here.
From this demo, it looks like Prey will nail the exploration and environmental puzzle aspects, but may waver on the combat side of things. Combat currently feels like the thing you have to do to get back to the more interesting exploration parts. And honestly, I felt the same with System Shock back in the day. (Bioshock's FPS gameplay was sufficiently improved in contrast.)
The RPG-ness of Prey is merely hinted at here, with Neuromods allowing you to upgrade abilities, like being able to lift heavy objects, hack terminals, or deal more damage, but there aren't enough Neuromods available in the demo to really dive deep into it.
I'm tentatively excited about Prey. More games in the "Shock" style isn't something I'm ever going to tire of. This demo just gives me a bit of pause for the final product. Prey is the kind of game that needs a bit of time to fully open and come into it's own and the demo just doesn't give enough that. Here's looking forward to the full game.