A lot of games and movies make you wait a long time before there’s a big twist; think of The Sixth Sense or Knights of the Old Republic.
Prey, though, doesn’t waste any time before getting to its first big twist. I’m not going to spoil it here, but suffice it to say that it is brilliantly executed and sets the tone for what is to come.
The successor to an identically named 2006 game by Human Head Studios, this year’s Prey is developed by Arkane, and takes a lot more inspiration from the classic System Shock than it does from its namesake; this is no surprise, since a spiritual sequel to System Shock is exactly what the developers had in mind.
What sort of game is this? There’s shooting, but it’s not a simple first-person shooter. There are puzzles, but it’s not a puzzle game. There are some scary moments and a very tense atmosphere, but it’s not exactly a horror game either. Throw in some role-playing elements and a Dark Souls-esque approach to level design, and simple definitions seem lacking.
It is perhaps best described as an “immersive sim”, a genre that focuses on making the player feel that they are truly inhabiting the game world, and that tries to create emergent gameplay.
It’s all about creating a game world and set of systems that gives you multiple ways of solving problems and approaching situations.
That still doesn’t quite get to the heart of Prey, though. What do you actually do?
You take on the role of Morgan Yu, who finds him or herself on a space station inhabited by some very unfriendly aliens.
Where do they come from, what do they want, and how on (or should that be off?) earth did you get mixed up in this entire mess?
These are just some of the questions you’ll ask and find the answers to as you explore the magnificently designed Talos I, collecting resources, crafting tools and ammunition, upgrading your abilities and fighting off enemies that range from the pesky-yet-deadly to the terrifying.
The pesky enemies I mentioned are also the first ones you encounter, but they remain a threat throughout: Mimics, small, black, ethereal tentacle creatures that can take on the form of pretty much anything of a similar size.
The fact that they can take the shape of so many things that you have to touch, collect or move as you make your way through the Talos I makes for some, means that you can never be sure when there’s a jump-scare on the way.
Prey does a very good job of teaching you its systems without making it feel like you’re being spoon fed. Everything feels intuitive, so even if you’re not the sort of gamer who usually likes puzzles, you don’t have to worry about becoming frustrated. If however you do like some puzzle elements, you’ll definitely be in your element.
Prey gets a lot of things right, but perhaps its greatest achievements are creating a unique atmosphere and sense of place. The Talos I feels like a real place, and a big part of this is because the game isn’t broken up into a series of discrete “levels”. The whole station is your playground, and everything is interconnected in ways that may not seem apparent at first.
All of the above results in a world you find yourself thinking about even when you’re not playing, and the experience of playing it stays with you. “Memorable” is surely the greatest praise that can be bestowed on any game, right up there and next to “fun”.
This is a game that is both of those things, and also isn’t quite like anything else out there.
A unique experience, a great atmosphere, a story full of twists and turns, mysteries you can’t wait to unravel, great design and graphics, a whole lot of fun... what more can a gamer want?
Platforms: Windows, Xbox One, PS4