Prey Preview

February 15, 2017 by Laura Michet

Prey's first hour is a tightly-plotted thriller full of ghost spider aliens, giant goo guns, eyeball needles, brain implants, individually named skeletons, and some gorgeous art-deco spaceship lobbies.

The upcoming Prey by Arkane has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the original game. There is precisely zero relationship between the two. There are not even easter eggs, jokes, or references to the original Prey in this game, says lead designer Ricardo Bare.

“If the new game has absolutely one hundred percent nothing to do with the original Prey,” I asked, “then why is it a Prey game?”

The designer laughed and clapped his hands together like a super-villain. “Because Prey is a really good name for a game,” he sad.

2006 Prey was about a Cherokee guy named Tommy who gets sucked into an evil alien harvester machine where he is forced to play a kind of messed-up Portal. 2017’s Prey tells a completely different story about completely different people, places, aliens, and themes. You’ll play as a man or woman (your choice!) named Morgan Yu who works for a gigantic art-deco space corporation (literally: a tech company which is just in space, in a space station, for some reason) named TranStar. TranStar makes mind-altering technology which can teach any human any skill, instantaneously— but when a skill is uninstalled, the patient loses all memories they acquired while the device was in place.

In the first couple minutes of the game, you’ll grow to realize that the world as Morgan sees it is an illusion. Morgan’s actually a subject in a TranStar experiment. Or is Morgan an engineer? A TranStar executive suffering from the amnesiac effects of their own brain-scrambling technology? A victim of their brother’s mad-scientist machinations? A willing sacrifice to science? A goddamn coffee cup???

Bare told us that unlike Arkane’s other major IP, Dishonored, Prey won’t be a game about abstract morality systems— it will be a more personal story about Morgan’s search for the truth behind their own identity. The demo covered the first hour of the game, and although we didn’t get to see many of the weapons or powers Morgan will unlock, we were treated to three or four different horizon-expanding plot twists. (Which is kind of a lot for the first hour of a 16-to-20 hour-long game, isn’t it?) The question “Who is Morgan Yu?” was answered, like, a bunch of different ways, with bigger and weirder implications each time. If this is any indication of how the rest of the game will go, it seems like Arkane have focused pretty hard on plot and surprise.

Your brother, Alex, manages to be prettttty dang suspicious in the first hour of Prey. Your brother, Alex, manages to be prettttty dang suspicious in the first hour of Prey.

When Morgan isn’t crawling around behind-the-scenes in a test-chamber recreation of their own apartment, uncovering secret videos of their past self warning them about evil brain technology amnesia, or watching coworkers get devoured by aliens, again and again, behind ever-larger and sturdier walls of glass, they’ll be doing the kind of things we’re used to doing in Arkane games. Arkane has honed a specific (strong) take on the “immersive sim” genre over the last few years, and Prey is very much the kind of sci-fi game you’d expect the developers of Dishonored to make. You can crouch and sneak around the TranStar space station, or go in guns-a-blazing. You can try and immobilize your alien enemies before choosing how to deal with them, or you can go toe-to-toe and brawl it out. You can use superhuman powers, too: in the demo, I unlocked the ability to slow my perception of time during battle. Every environment can be traversed in multiple different ways, either as a high-conflict warrior, or stealthily, watching the enemies’ alert-bars.

An early sequence plops an air duct right next to a locked door, then pops up a tutorial screen which says, says, basically: “Hey! Player! This is a game about choosing your path! You can do either of these things! Make a choice!”

In Dishonored, your playstyle had moral implications. “High chaos” runs in the first game, for example, exposed the city of Dunwall to plagues and ruined your chances of a happy ending. Prey goes in a different direction. It isn’t interested in telling a story about moral principles, but there will be multiple plot outcomes based on your behavior. As you explore the TranStar space station, you’ll discover survivors. How you treat them, Bare told us, will have “significant consequences” for the endgame. These choices, however, won’t follow any kind of abstract moral binary, or offer moral “paths” through the story.

The game's other big departure from Dishonored is the swap from a mission-based structure to a kind of open-world-esque environment, traversable in many different ways. Bare told us that both the inside and the exterior of the space station are “fully crafted" and that, if we had the right abilities, we could just go traipsing around in outer space if we wanted to. I don't quite know to what degree the inside or the outside of the space station is “fully” realized in a realistic or logical way, but it seems fitting that the game allows its players the choice to leave the spaceship entirely and take shortcuts outside whenever they please. Prey is definitely a game about shattering your perceived horizons and showing you new and weird ways to think about yourself and the space you’re in.

The first big mindfuck comes pretty early, when aliens appear suddenly, without warning, and for no foreshadowed reason. One moment, you’re doing pointless test-chamber exercises for a jerk scientist; the next, he’s getting skeletonized by a kind of four-legged spider-ghost-alien thing called a “mimic.” In the demo, I only saw two kinds of aliens: these little mimics, and a taller, humanoid-ghost-thing called a “phantom.”

I only got to fight mimics, though, and I’m not going to lie: the actual feeling of fighting a mimic with the early game’s limited toolset is a little silly. The cool part comes not when you’re gracelessly bludgeoning them to death, but when the mimics flee from you and try to hide nearby. They’ll dash around corners and transform into random environment objects like boxes, coffee cups, and garbage cans. At one point I stared down a coffee cup rattling beneath a desk before deciding it was a mimic and smashing it to death. It’s definitely a cool twist on the kind of early-game junk enemy I’m very used to seeing in games like these. If the mimics are Prey’s answer to headcrabs, they’re definitely more interesting than headcrabs were.

By the end of the tutorial, my arsenal included this moderately boring wrench, a shotgun, a “goo” gun which shot enemy-freezing glue (that could also be used to create bridges and staircases in the environment), and a foam-dart nerf-gun-type weapon which, the developers told us, could be used later in the game to manipulate computer screens and switches at a distance. I didn’t get a good sense of what alien powers Morgan can unlock, but the human powers I saw were mostly utilitarian abilities focused on environment traversal and stat boosts.

During my time with the demo, I took some upgrades to my gun damage and a time-slow power. I could have taken powers that boosted my sneaking skills, a hacking skill, and even a “Leverage” skill which would have allowed me to lift some of the heavy objects I found blocking doors in the space station’s fancy but thoroughly wrecked-by-aliens lobby. It seems as though the best place to get an idea for the alien side of the powers tree is still in the gameplay demo videos Arkane released last year.

In general, I found Prey’s first hour to be pretty impressive. It’s not precisely “sci-fi Dishonored,” but it’s clearly following in Dishonored’s footsteps. It’s packed with impressive plot twists. The eerie elegance of TranStar’s immediate post-disaster emptiness is pretty great, too. Prey seems to be shying away from the traditional dark, sparking, blood-smeared, alien-packed environments you often think of when you think of space disaster stories. I spent most of the demo battering coffee cups to death in a series of high-ceilinged, well-lit, wood-paneled conference rooms filled with elegant leather-bound books and the horrible, withered, individually-named-and-labeled corpses of very specific dead coworkers. It was a weird and energetic experience, and I’m excited to see what comes next.