Review: “Prey” (2017)

Another video game review! I said I’d review “Prey” when I finished it, and I finished it.

Summary: Gorgeous, ungainly, ridiculously fun sci-fi first-person shooter. CW for alien bloodshed, human corpses, and a lot of exploding heads.

Spoilers ahoy!

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The game begins with that prototypical narrative no-no: you, Morgan Yu, waking up on a bright sunny morning in 2032. You check your messages and find one from your brother, Alex, telling you he’s excited about your forthcoming mission and he knows you’ll do well on the testing today. You climb into your space suit—kind of a heavy-duty outfit for this undefined testing, especially on such a lovely day—and take a helicopter through bright blue skies (and a gorgeous title sequence) to the Talos office building. You’re greeted by Alex, who encourages you to relax, and sends you into the testing room.

There you meet Dr. Bellamy, who’s kind of an ass. He asks you to do simple things—move some blocks, jump over a low barrier—but no matter how fast or agile you are, he talks to you like a three-year-old who’s missing all their developmental milestones. Hanging on to Alex’s confidence in you is getting kind of rough.

In the last room, you take a written test—a simplified version of the Trolley Problem—and are presented with a big butterfly Rorsarch image to study for a while.

And then Dr. Bellamy’s coffee cup turns into an alien, and kills him and an assistant just as your testing room is filled with gas, causing you to pass out.

When you wake up, you learn it’s actually 2038, your “test” was a simulation, and you’re on a space station that’s been decimated by aliens that had been kept as test subjects but have broken containment and are now highly motivated to kill absolutely everyone on board. Including you.

Hi there, “Prey”! Nice to meet you!

The first thing I noticed about “Prey” is that it’s big. Talos I, the space station you’re trying to escape/save/destroy, is massive, wind-y, and complex—and all of it is available for you to explore. The game gives you objectives—some required, some optional—but apart from a few timed things, you can rummage around as much as you like. “Prey” rewards rummaging, often with useful items (like neuromods, which give you enhanced physical and psychic powers) and information that lets you bypass the more complex solutions to puzzles and impediments.

Of which there are a lot.

There are locked doors and blocked tunnels, restricted areas and hull breaches, anti-gravity tunnels and areas flooded with radiation. There are maintenance passages and ventilation ducts, and the massive, open exterior of the increasingly damaged station.

And on top of all that, there are aliens. Everywhere. The little ones can morph into any object smaller than themselves; the big ones can do everything from throwing fireballs to projecting fear into your mind. Each form can damage you in different ways, and all of them can kill you.

You’re provided with a variety of weapons, but I found one of the most effective ways of killing the enemy is good old-fashioned whacking. The first weapon you find is a big ol’ wrench with a head the size of your palm: perfect for the little guys, but sometimes—if you’ve got enough health points and medkits—exactly the right way to dispose of the big phantoms as well. Q-beams and shotguns have their place, but there’s something satisfying about defending your life and the lives of your comrades with something you’d find rusting on the floor of your garage.

Narratively, “Prey” does a little bit of handholding, but not a lot. The main objective has a distinct navigation marker on screen that allows you to see if you’re heading in the “right” direction. There’s also January, an AI copy of, well, you, that explains your objectives and gives you the occasional hint. And there’s your brother Alex, who may or may not be on your side, sort of. He gives you hints as well, except sometimes his hints and January’s contradict each other. The game does reach a point where you need to decide who to believe.

Unlike “Detroit: Become Human,” “Prey” doesn’t have 45 endings (it has, effectively, two), but I won’t spoil them anyway. The pleasure, really, is in the many different ways you can walk the path to those two conclusions. Little choices—even the order in which you do things—can affect what tasks come before you.

And to drop a hint: compassion plays a role, too. Which is something to think about when your entire objective is to blow the whole place up.

Conclusion: “Prey” is fun. It’s fun a lot, for a long time. It stands up well to repeat play, offering tweaks on events for making different choices, even on small points. BRB going to whack some mimics now.

The Good:

Engrossing, well-paced gameplay
Wide variety of challenges, combat and otherwise
Absolutely beautiful graphics, with a rich, massive universe open for exploration

The Bad:

Absurdly easy to die early in the game, even in super-easy mode.
Aiming at those bastards with a PS4 controller is an inexact science.

Liz’s Completely Subjective and Undefined Rating: 9/10, would play a lot.

One last thing: Sit through the end credits, and you’ll encounter another scene. Only one decision to make here, but it definitely adds some shape to the narrative.

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