Prey - Brutal Backlog
Brutal Backlog is a semi-regular feature where the JDR team plough through some of the unplayed games on their shelves (both digital and physical), disregarding their age or the technical limitations of their era. Only the very best titles will stand up to scrutiny today.
During my playthrough of Prey, I kept trying to place its influences. I would first say to myself that if Half-Life and Portal had a baby in space, that would sum up the game quite well. But as I continued to progress in the story, I realised not only was there a bit of Bioshock and System Shock in there, but it was very much its own game with its own ideas and unique mechanics.
Twenty Minutes In
Before the game starts you get to choose the gender for the protagonist Morgan Yu. I like that more games are giving the option to choose these days. I think it allows the player to put a bit of themselves into the story and feel more connected to the character. The year is 2032 and female Morgan has woken up in her apartment with a call from her brother and work colleague Alex Yu. He informs you that a helicopter is on its way to pick you up for work. I explored the apartment a bit before heading up to the roof and getting into the helicopter. I love the fast movement of the character. It reminds me of speed-driven shooters from the 90’s like Doom or Quake. The art style is slightly cartoonish, but still realistic enough to feel grounded. Once I had arrived and said hello to Alex, I was instructed to head through a door to start some testing.
This is where things get weird. First of all I was wondering why Morgan was being tested on. Then once I got to the last test, some kind of alien creature attacks everyone and Morgan passes out. Then I wake back up in Morgan’s apartment as if this was some kind of nightmarish version of Groundhog Day. Only this time things are not what they seem: a phone call comes through from someone called January and tells you to smash the glass in your apartment. So I pick up a wrench I found on the floor and break the windows to find that the apartment is in some kind of laboratory and was never real. January instructs Morgan to head to the exit which leaves you to figure things out for yourself. There are computer screens dotted about which include emails, downloadable files and utilities. Over time, the emails might help build a picture of what is really going, but right now I don't have a clue.
Three Hours In
Clues are starting to reveal what is really going on, yet I am still far off from understanding the truth. It turns out we are in a space station that has been overrun by alien Typhon organisms. Typhon come in various forms and some of them can mimic everyday objects, while others have some kind of electricity power they use to attack. A lot of the core mechanics have been introduced now. I have acquired a Gloo Cannon gun that fires a hardening foam which allows you to freeze the Typhon for a few seconds, or you can shoot the foam at walls to help you climb up to high spots or get across areas that you otherwise do not have access to. This is one of the unique aspects of Prey: the level design is incredible. It has been built in a way that allows the player to explore its semi-open world map in your own way, and the Gloo Cannon is the main tool for the job.
I have found out that the Typhon were being experimented on and Morgan has the ability to harness their powers which are called Psi. This is introduced by an upgrade system using Neuromods, stat enhancers which can be found throughout the station. The Neuromods are also used to upgrade your health and strength, as well as for hacking doors or repairing machines. Looting is an important factor to survival. You loot dead bodies and Typhon as well as pick up random scrap along the way. You then place any junk you’ve gathered and put it into a Recycler which turns the junk into a variety of coloured blocks that you then use to create ammo, weapons or items in a Fabricator. These machines are strategically placed around the space station. I always seem to find one just as i need it, or not long after. So far I have been mostly trying to access a certain area that requires a key card. This has involved a lot of back and forth and puzzle solving, similar to how in early Resident Evil games you would be running from A to B trying to remember what fits where and why you need it.
Ten Hours In
I am now about halfway through the game, and I am still being surprised by new items being introduced which have the potential to flip my way of playing on its head. The level design has also continued to evolve and present new challenges. One thing I particularly love about the gameplay is that there is a large amount of stealth required. Being a huge fan of stealth games, this is a nice surprise. I have a few weapons in my inventory now, but ammo is always fairly low. There are some unique weapons and throwable devices that open up a multitude of strategies when attacking the now wide range of Typhon enemies. Shooting the smaller Typhon with the pistol is hard because they move so fast, so I have been mosting using the wrench to attack them up close. Shooting the larger Typhon is easier, but a standard pistol isn’t very effective on them so you have to combine various skills and attacks to take them down quickly.
There are times where you must go out into space to reach areas that you cannot get to from the insde. I found these moments a little frustrating because Morgan is hard to control in zero gravity. There was one moment where I didn’t have enough ammo to attack a Typhon out in space so I had to make a few repeated attempts to just fly past it. This isn’t the ideal way to play and for me it takes away from the immersion, but it was only a minor mark down from an otherwise solid experience so far. Your mileage may vary too — because there are so many variables at work in the game, another play through might have seen me with plenty of ammo at this point. One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is the superb sound design and music. Both complement each other in a way that not only sets the tone for the game, but also feel intrinsically linked throughout. I would go as far to say that the sound is a cut above many other games I have played in recent years.
Eighteen Hours In
The difficulty has ramped up and my arsenal of weapons and tools has reached maximum capacity. I have had lots of fun with the Psi abilities. There are quite a few to unlock, with the option to make each one stronger. You could unlock them all but I decided to unlock just a few and then upgrade them to maximum. My favourite by far is Mimic, which allows you to transform into objects like mugs or pizza boxes. This is used for sneaking past enemies or getting through small gaps, another impressive mechanic that you are unlikely to find in many games — if any. With many questions being answered, the story is reaching its peak. But not everything is crystal clear and along with trying to destroy the space station, I am also trying to find more answers and meet up with Morgan’s brother, Alex.
Twenty Hours In
And so it ends. Despite being able to just run past a lot of enemies due to the nature of the final objectives, the last few hours were particularly intense. There is an interesting twist at the end which I didn’t see coming, and as I abruptly reached the end, the last moments of gameplay felt strangely paced. This might have been down to me as I was rushing the last moments due to the lingering fear that I wouldn’t make it. But once the credits were rolling and I had a chance to relax, I was satisfied with the conclusion to the story.
During my twenty hours with Prey, I had so much fun that I could almost go back and replay it straight away. And the fact that there are so many ways to approach objectives means if I did, I would have a whole new experience to look forward to. Whether you want to play in short hour-long bursts or marathon chunks, the game will cater for you with its incredibly clever systems and scope for different approaches to play. Whether you have had your eye on Prey or you do not think it might be for you, I urge you to give it a go. I was similarly unsure was unsure about it, but once I got started I was hooked.
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