Prey Preview: Say yes to the player
And f*ck ladders.
Prey is Bioshock in space.
It’s apparent straight from the start, with protagonist Morgan Yu thrown into a mystery that seems layers upon layers deep. Clueless to what’s going on around her (or him), Yu picks up a wrench and soon after gains powers over time and matter. As Yu you struggle to recall your troubled past, you’ll soon learn that a 1-2 combo of GLOO gun plus a whack with a space wrench is your ultimate saviour against waves of horrific, shape-shifting aliens known only as the Typhon.
Well, you’ll use that combo you run across an electricity-throwing monstrosity. That’s when you’ll need to find a shotgun.
Prey is the result of multitasking by developer Arkane Studios. After the release of the original Dishonored, Arkane split into two teams; the Lyon, France branch moved on to Dishonored 2 while the Austin, Texas-based branch began work on Project Danielle, later revealed as Prey. Completely separate from the original title (at least, as far as we know), Prey embraces Arkane’s key design principles. Several framed signs placed in strategic locations remind developers of their overall goals.
“F*ck ladders” is the most eye-catching, affirming, “You’d just fall to your death anyway.” “Say yes to the player,” reads another; “If it occurs to players, and sounds like fun, let them do it.” “Well-integrated puzzles” is the heading of yet another, reminding designers to create “Plausible problems to solve, not gimmicky key-lock puzzles with only one solution.”
They surely beat inspirational photos of cats hanging in there, as do special post-it notes comically stuck to fruit bowls, coffee cups and even a replica of Corvo’s mask from Dishonored. As I found out by playing earlier, you can never be too careful.
As Yu, I walked around Talos 1’s open world space station playing as I always do — reading every note I could find and picking up every single object I came across. Numerous times in my playthough, I kept hitting X to grab a note and expecting flavour text to appear; nothing ever did in those cases. It wasn’t until my fifteenth note that I decided to stop and take the time to get up close and personal to read it. “Not a mimic,” it proclaimed, causing me to laugh heartily.
This low-tech detection and verification system wouldn’t have been humourous to the inhabitants of the doomed space station.
The grunts of the Typhon, Mimics, are extremely evocative of Alien‘s xenomorphs. Sporting writhing, oil-like tendrils, they can transform themselves into any object littered around you; the one time you don’t think to approach a coffee mug or a cardboard box with caution will be the time that object is actually your mortal enemy. As terrifying as they can be, they’re nothing compared to the large, menacing Phantom — I couldn’t help but be reminded of Slenderman as one approached me.
Combat is always a delicate dance; do you try to use Yu’s GLOO gun to freeze everything in place, or do you simply go in guns blazing? Do you focus on the fast-moving Mimics or the damage-dealing Phantoms? More importantly, do you take the time to scan your opponents to learn more of their powers, potentially expanding your own skill set?
As with Arkane’s titles, there’s no definitive answer; things have been designed to let a player approach a situation however they choose. Those choices have consequences; the scanner will let you research and develop powers like mimicry, but that happens as the cost of your humanity. The powers require Typhon DNA, essentially, and adding that to your person means you lose a bit of what you were. Maybe you’re better off just stocking up on a shotgun and a wealth of shells.
It be noted that in order to gain powers, you’ll need to stab yourself in the eye with a set of long, sharp needles. It’s deliciously Dead Space?
The notion of choice isn’t just restricted to core mechanics either — in our hands-on, I was presented with an imprisoned human. As he begged me to free him, a nearby monitor proclaimed his sins. He was a pedophile, a human trafficker; the worst of the worst. The screen also informed me I could sacrifice him to the Typhon for personal gain. I was presented with a Star Trek-like conundrum: do I show how humanity can be bettered by freeing the man, or do I simply get rid of the vile criminal, ending up with personal gain? It’s a video game, so I naturally manipulated quicksaves to explore both options. It’s okay, though — Arkane encourages that kind of thing, after all.
If you free the man, he gives you a code that allows access to a nearby armoury. If you kill him, you get to see Typhon entities feast upon his energy, in turn letting you harvest that for your own neuromod enhancements (aka space Plasmids). It’s basically win-win, though the latter choice does its best to remind you that you’re no better than the criminal you’ve selfishly just sentenced to a painful death. It’s heavy stuff.
I ended up splitting the difference by letting him go free, gaining access to the armory, and then bludgeoning him to death with my wrench.
Stevivor has already previewed Prey twice. Reading both Shane and Luke’s thoughts on the game, I was interested — it’ s sci-fi after all — but overly excited for Arkane’s newest. Actually getting hands-on time has changed that completely. I’m more than eager to continue playing now; to gain access to crazy Typhon powers and find out just what Yu’s real purpose is on Talos 1. May can’t come fast enough.
Prey heads to Windows PC, Xbox One and PS4 on 5 May.
Stevivor was flown to Arkane Studios in Austin, Texas as a guest of Bethesda in order to preview Prey and interview Arkane staff members Ricardo Bare and Susan Kath.