By: Vincent Justin Mitra
Prey (2017) by Arkane Studios takes place on a space station in an alternate future . . . and is the only game that has made anyone afraid of coffee cups.
The player takes control of Morgan Yu, a man or woman born into a world where JFK survived the attempt on his life and then doubled down on the space program. Morgan works aboard Talos I, a space station focused on the research and creation of neuromods, devices which inject knowledge and abilities into the user. The space station is invaded by aliens, as often happens.
An immersive sim is a game which presents a believable, detailed environment and allows the player different avenues to creatively complete objectives. Other games in this genre include the Bioshock and Dishonored game franchises, the latter of which was also made by Arkane Studios.
This allowance for creative problem solving is one of the strengths of the game. For example, a number of doorways have been hastily barricaded with furniture, requiring a skill to be upgraded to a certain level before Morgan can pick apart the pieces and reach the sweet loot on the other side. Alternatively, Morgan could simply throw other pieces of furniture at the barricade until enough pieces fall over. Or, of course, use one of the game’s recycler grenades to clear the way by breaking down the barricade into resource cubes of useful material.
Like many recent games, Prey allows the player to craft things out of other things. Unlike other games, however, the crafting isn’t stupidly convoluted. While some other games might task the player with skinning seven sharks to make a wallet and 12 lions to make a slightly bigger wallet, this game streamlines it by having everything made up of four material elements. Everything can be made by various amounts of the four materials and everything that isn’t nailed down can be reduced to various amounts of the precious, precious cubes. It is super satisfying. As a result, Morgan is encouraged to pick up everything they can carry, effectively sweeping everything off a desk and into their pockets. This is where the aliens come in.
The aliens, known as the Typhon, look to be made of shimmering tendrils of shadow. The aliens come in various sizes and shapes, as well as possessing different abilities. The most notable of these, and the first Morgan will encounter, is the dog-sized crablike Mimic. Their main ability is to disguise themselves by mimicking a nearby object in the room (such as a coffee cup). Their other ability is to screech and jump on your face when you get too close because you didn’t know they turned into a coffee cup.
The game is also pointedly diverse. The station is staffed with a multicultural crew (Morgan is shown to be born to German and Chinese parents) with a notable number of racial and sexual minorities. More importantly, none of the minority characters are caricatured, and each of the 268 crew members are named and given at least some backstory regarding their life on the station.
The game manages to balance resource scarcity while still letting you solve problems the way you want to, resulting in a very satisfying overall experience. This is slightly marred by the unfortunate loading times between segments of the station, but the art deco style of Talos I is rather pretty, so you might find yourself taking time to enjoy the large brassy and wood-paneled rooms as you go. Nevertheless, Prey is a game with great gameplay, story, and representation, as well as a worrying number of coffee cups.