What I'm Playing - No. 163
Welcome back to another weekly wrap-up of the games I’ve been playing over the past week!
Be warned, minor spoilers may be contained within. Generally, I do try to keep things spoiler-free but this isn’t always possible/practical! If you want to totally avoid all potential spoilers so you can play these games yourself in a blind run, you shouldn’t continue reading! Click a title to skip to that section. Games contained within this post:
I’m talking about Prey today, the one developed by Arkane Studios and released in 2017, not the one by Human Head Studios that released in 2006. Although I have played that one as well, a long time ago. Other than the name, Arkane’s Prey shares very little in common with the 2006 game. Set in an alternate future on the space station Talos I, Prey puts you in the shoes of Morgan Yu, and thrusts you into the middle of a crisis on the station. With a blend of first-person shooter, RPG, and horror mechanics, the gameplay here is extremely compelling, and once I started playing I couldn’t get enough of it!
Things start out pretty normally. You start by picking whether to play as a male or female character. You’re supposed to be launched into orbit to work on the Talos I space station with your brother Alex soon, but you have to go through a few tests first. Things go wrong very quickly during these tests when aliens appear and begin killing the examiners. Morgan is sedated, and they wake up back in their apartment, but it becomes clear very quickly that what happened wasn’t a dream. You find a corpse in the hall, and a mysterious figure called January calls and tells you that things aren’t as they seem. January asks you to escape your apartment so they can help you, and shortly thereafter you find out that you’ve really been working on Talos I for the past 3 years. As the game progresses, more and more of the history of Talos I and Morgan’s role on it are revealed, but I won’t spoil any of that here. The introduction makes a great impression, and it definitely left me wanting to explore and learn more about what was going on.
One of the goals of Talos I is to research and develop Neuromods, devices that allow you to instantly learn new skills. Neuromods could allow someone to who has never studied medicine to become a neurosurgeon overnight, so it’s understandable that TranStar, the company who invented them and owns Talos I, is heavily invested in their development. Of course, aliens attacking and killing the staff on the station throws a wrench into those plans. These aliens are called Typhon, and you’ll be seeing a lot of them as you explore.
There are several kinds of Typhon, but most of the time you’ll be seeing one of two kinds. Mimics are little spider-like Typhon that can take the form of anything they find laying around, from coffee cups to medkits. They’re the source of many jump scares throughout the game, and in the early game I was pretty paranoid about running into them. The enemies you’ll see most often are Phantoms. These are bipedal monsters with loud, thumping footsteps. You’ll hear them before you see them a lot of the time, and they also cause the lights to flicker when they’re nearby. I was horrified of these things in the early game, and the fact that I could hear them before I knew exactly where they were made things so much scarier. Combat can be very intense too, especially early on. Phantoms hit hard, so if you don’t deal with them quickly, you’ll probably die. I was playing on Normal difficulty, and I died several times throughout my playthrough.
Just like Arkane’s other games, the “play your way” philosphy is in full force throughout Prey. There are multiple ways to approach obstacles and complete the objectives presented to you. For instance, if you find a locked door, you might be able to get through by finding the keycard that opens it, or maybe there’s a maintenance panel nearby that you can crawl through to make it around to the other side. That kind of situation and many others come up often while exploring Talos I, and the systems within the game offer a lot of freedom of choice, and creative thinking can get you into seemingly unreachable places where valuable loot might be waiting.
There was a moment when I came across a locked security station and wanted to get inside. I didn’t need to get inside, but I wanted to see if I could. I couldn’t get through the locked door, but I realized that there were tiny windows in the glass. After some trial and error, I realized I could use the Mimic ability to transform into a small object, slide through the window, and transform back. I love how Prey allows for solutions like that, and I would get more use out of that same strategy later with other security stations, as well as making it past barricaded doorways that were otherwise impassable.
Mimic is just one of many abilities and passive upgrades you can acquire through the skill tree system. This is wher the Neuromods I mentioned earlier tie into the gameplay. You collect Neuromods and spend them to unlock skills. There are both human skills and Typhon skills available. The human ones can be unlocked right away, but you won’t be able to unlock the Typhon skills until you get the Psycoscope, which you find pretty early on in the main quest line. Using the Psychoscope, you can scan enemy Typhon to research them, and when you’ve scanned enough of a given type, you’ll be able to spend Neuromods to acquire some of their Typhon skills. As you might have guessed, by scanning Mimics, you can unlock the Mimic skill for purchase. Scanning Phantoms unlocks the Kinetic Blast skill, which gives you the ability to trigger a powerful psychic blast that damages enemies and moves objects in an area. Another Typhon ability I liked using was Psychoshock, which lets you trigger a phychic blast against a single enemy for decent damage. The human skills are split between passive upgrades, like more health or inventory space, and upgrades that give you more options to advance past obstacles and complete objectives, like hacking, repairing broken items, and lifting heavier objects. There are several tiers of each of those, and in the late game I got a lot of use out of the fully upgraded Hacking IV skill.
As I’ve come to expect from having played several of Arkane’s other games, the level design here is top notch. Talos I feels very organic and believable, but at the same time the levels are carefully crafted to allow multiple paths through them. The station is composed of several large areas with loading screens between them. In the beginning, you can only go to a few of them, but eventually things open up and you have access to the entire station. You also have many, many optional objectives you can complete, with more becoming available depending on your choices and how much you explore. You might unlock a side quest simply by finding and listening to a TranScribe that describes hidden dead drops around the station, that kind of thing. I completed several side quests over the course of my playthrough, but there was still a long list of optional things I didn’t do by the time I finished the game. There’s a ton of depth here, and if you’re into it, there’s also a lot of lore to be found. There’s plenty of books and emails to read, and you can learn a lot about the station and the people who worked on it if you’re interested.
While researching for this video, I noticed some interesting things about Prey’s voice cast. Many of them have had a lot roles on TV, in both voice and traditional acting roles, in addition to video games, but for some, like Benedict Wong, who voices Alex, Prey is the only video game they’ve ever been a part of. I wasn’t familiar with any of the people in the cast by name, but I’m definitely familiar with some of the characters they’ve played and voiced over the years. Here’s a few of the cast members I found interesting: Mae Whitman, who plays Roxie Richter in the Scott Pilgrim vs. The World movie, James Hong, who voices Chi Fu in Disney’s Mulan, and Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants. That last one blew my mind a little bit, never in a million years did I expect to see the voice of SpongeBob in a game like Prey.
I really enjoyed Prey. It was a deeply immersive and rewarding experience. After finishing the game, I watched the Noclip documentary on the making of Prey. They interview several members of the development staff, and some of the games they cite as having influenced Prey are System Shock as well as Arx Fatalis, the first game ever made by Arkane. With how much I enjoyed Prey, I guess I really need to play System Shock 2 at some point, but Arx Fatalis is definitely on my radar now too! There’s also the Mooncrash DLC for Prey that I’m looking forward to playing in the near future. The backlog just keeps getting longer! My final time for this one was 17 hours 31 minutes.