I want to like Prey more than I do. It’s a good game, but also a frustrating one. It just couldn’t quite take that final step from good to great in the way that I wanted it to. It’s a game that’s clearly taken inspiration from the ‘Shock’ series of games – most notably, System Shock 2. And SS2 is one of, if not my favourite game ever.
Prey is set upon Talos 1, a space station not so dissimilar to Citadel Station in the original System Shock. But though the setting may be more SS1, the gameplay is entirely based upon SS2. You begin, as in SS2, with a simple wrench, but your inventory soon expands to include a range of conventional ‘security’ weapons (pistol & shotgun) to more advanced, laser based weaponry.
Your character can also install cyber-modules – sorry, neuromods – which grant a range of ‘human’ upgrade options based around hacking, repair, health and weapon proficiency. But as you progress, you’ll also gain access to more exotic abilities including telekinetic attacks – just like the psi powers of SS2.
Hell, you even have psi-hypos to restore your psi points in addition to health packs and food. Like SS2, you’ll find written and audio logs as you explore Talos 1. You’ll also be able to ‘research’ your opponents – although the research system is more similar to that in Bioshock than SS2.
That’s not to say Prey doesn’t have any new ideas of its own – most notably the mimic ability and the ‘gloo’ gun – but it’s very clearly structured both in terms of story, environment and gameplay upon System Shock 2. And I f**king love System Shock 2. So why don’t I love Prey?
In Prey you play as Morgan Yu who awakes upon Talos 1 to find everything has gone to shit. Guided by other characters you’ll explore the station section by section, upgrading your abilities, securing new weapons and hacking doors and safes. There’s a fairly substantial core quest chain in addition to a large number of side quests.
Which brings me to my first major issue with Prey – there’s too much content. It seems like an odd complaint to make, but Prey is overloaded with what I’d describe as ‘low quality filler’. The majority of the side quests really aren’t worth your time, at least not from a narrative perspective. The problem is, you never know which quest will lead to something interesting.
And this creates pacing issues with the main quest. If, like me, you’re someone who likes to explore everything you can and complete as much as you can, you’ll find yourself bouncing from one end of the station to the next, backtracking through sections multiple times. Which wouldn’t be such an issue if the side quests led to something interesting – but only a handful do.
These side quests only detract from the focus on your core mission. Yes, they’re optional, but some of them are so short and uninteresting that you wonder why they were even included. System Shock 2 didn’t have or need dozens of busy work side quests. It kept a laser focus on your core objectives and anything else you discovered emerged naturally through your own exploration.
Prey didn’t need all these busy work mini-quests, either. It bombards the player with needless distractions that only lead to disappointment and irritation, as you realise you wasted 10-15 minutes of your time on an entirely pointless errand.
And this leads into my second issue – environment design. Whilst the individual sections of Talos 1 are great, the overall structure of the station and the way you traverse it is just . . . not very fun. Some sections can only be accessed by traversing other sections and you’ll find yourself passing through some areas so many times you may get sick of them. Unlike System Shock 1 or 2, there’s no central lift to connect every deck.
As much as I like the design and individual sections of Talos 1, navigating the station can be irritating and repetitive. That said, I did really like being able to access the station exterior and fly between different airlocks – it’s a neat and welcome addition, even if I frequently crashed into things because of the fiddly flight controls.
My third major issue with Prey is enemy design. The early mimic creatures are great, but the ‘phantom’ creatures you later encounter are rather dull and generic and not particularly interesting to fight. There’s a ‘fire’ enemy. An ‘electric’ enemy. It’s all a little by the numbers. There’s a couple more interesting critters that I won’t spoil, but it’s not a great selection.
And finally, my fourth major issue is story. Prey, I’m sad to say, just isn’t terribly interesting from a story or character perspective. It’s not bad. It just lacks the edge it needs to really draw you in. There’s no real ‘antagonist’ as such, which I actually kind of liked – although the game unfortunately makes a poor and misguided late attempt at one – but the plot lacks drive. It never quite gets you invested in its story. At least, it didn’t for me.
Getting bogged down by low quality side quests certainly didn’t help, but the main plot, whilst not bad at all – it’s actually pretty decent with some interesting ideas – never really engaged me. And whilst I appreciated that the game didn’t try to put together a lame final ‘boss’ to fight, the ending does feel incredibly rushed to the point where I sat back and said ‘is that it?’ I even checked the ending online in case my game had bugged out and I’d missed something.
To say that Prey has a disappointing and flat ending would be an understatement. It’s also an ending with a couple of twists, at least one of which you’ll see coming fairly easily if you pay any attention to the various logs and audio files. It’s still an interesting ending and an interesting plot in general. I just wish it was better executed.
Aside from those main issues, Prey has several other small annoyances that hold it back. The hacking mini-game is irritating and not fun. The UI is clearly designed for a control pad, which can make it awkward to use. The game makes a thing of using automated turrets and sealing doors to ‘secure’ areas, but enemies respawn regularly and half the time you’ll return to a section only to find your turrets destroyed making you wonder why you bothered.
Seriously, I tested this shit. One time I left four fortified turrets guarding the main section entrance. I departed the section and then immediately returned to find all four turrets wrecked and no enemies in sight. It makes using spare parts repairing them entirely worthless.
The game gives you a ton of cool abilities, but you rarely need to use any of them. The mimic ability is great at first, but only actually useful in a handful of situations – it’s more of a novelty than anything. The same applies to the extensive range of ‘exotic’ powers, only one of which saw frequent use – there’s really little reason to bother with the others.
Visually, Prey looks oddly dated. Audio is fine. Performance isn’t great though. Considering how dated it looks, it’s a surprisingly taxing title. I had to drop most settings to a ‘medium’ configuration to keep a solid 60.
Overall, despite my complaints and what may seem like an overly negative impression based on this review, Prey is a good game. It just has too many issues dragging it down, pulling it back from being great. It’s frustrating because the potential is there – but it never manages to take that final step. As a fan of the ‘Shock’ series, it was good to play a title that, in many ways, feels like a new ‘Shock’ game in all but name. I don’t know if we’ll see more of Prey, but there’s certainly scope to expand and continue this story – and it’s something I’d like to see.