What I'm Playing - No. 182
Welcome back to another weekly wrap-up of the games I’ve been playing over the past week!
Click a title to skip to that section. Games contained within this post:
Prey Mooncrash (PC)
Prey: Mooncrash is DLC for Arkane Studio’s Prey. It released in 2018, and features the mechanics you know and love from Prey with a new setting, new playable characters, and rogue-lite gameplay mechanics. You play as Peter, a hacker in a satellite orbiting the Pytheas moon base. The moon base recently suffered a Typhon outbreak similar to the one on Talos I during the main game, and you’ve been contracted by KASMA Corporation, a competitor to TranStar who built the moon base, to piece together exactly what happened during that outbreak by running through virtual reality simulations of it using recovered data and memories from five people who experienced it.
You only play as Peter between simulation runs for brief story sequences. Once you’re in the simulation, I guess you’re still technically playing as Peter, but there are five different playable characters, each with different skill trees to give them a unique play style. Some characters have powerful psychic abilities, others have none, some characters have more health, and so on. You only have one character in the beginning, and unlock a 2nd after completing the tutorial run. After that, you have to complete a few specific objectives during your future runs in order to unlock the rest of the characters. Each character’s run ends in either escape or death, and your ultimate goal is to unlock all the characters, complete each of their story objectives, and then escape with all five of them in a single instance of the simulation.
What makes this a roguelite comes down to two main things. First, although the layout of the moonbase is the same in every run, elements within those areas can change from run to run. Maybe a door is broken in one run, requiring repair before you can enter, or maybe it’s locked and you need to find the key card on the body of whoever last used it. Maybe one area is without power, shutting down all the electronics in that area and forcing you to make your way to Power Control and either divert power from another area or find two Control Modules to install in order to restore power. Maybe the only working escape pod is in Moonworks in one run, but the next run it’s in Pytheas Labs instead. Changes like this force you to think on your feet, and they add enough variety to each run to keep things interesting. The loot you’ll find in containers and on dead bodies is also randomized each time, so you might find different weapons in each run and that also helps keep things fresh.
The second roguelite element is the progression. During each run, you gain Sim Points for a bunch of things like defeating enemies, collecting important items like keycards or fabrication plans, and completing objectives. After the run ends, you can spend your Sim Points to start your next character with a better loadout, filling their inventory with extra weapons, healing items, or Neuromods. Just like in the main game, Neuromods are the points used to unlock things in each character’s skill tree. What’s cool about these in Mooncrash is that while everything else on a character resets at the end of the run, Neuromod abilities you unlock are unlocked permanently, so if you unlock a health bonus or a cool typhon power on a character, you’ll have it unlocked for every subsequent run as that character. You can also find Neuromods within the simulation, but they’re a little rare, so it’s way faster to spend Sim Points to get extra Neuromods to gain abilities.
Whether you escape or die as a given character, they will become unavailable for your next run. The next character you play as will play through the same instance of the moon base simulation. Any doors you unlocked or things you repaired or hacked as the previous character stay that way for the next one. This also includes items you’ve picked up and containers you’ve looted. If you cleared a lot of supplies out as a previous character, then your next runs will probably be a little harder since supplies will be more scarce, unless you strategically left some supplies behind for the next character to use. There’s definitely a trade-off in deciding how much to pick up as one character. You want the character you’re playing as to survive and escape, but you don’t want to consume so many resources and make escape too difficult for the remaining characters. Also, once you escape through one of the five different escape routes, that escape route will not be available for the remainder of the simulation for the rest of the characters, so you’ll have to plan around that when trying to get all five characters out alive too. Once all your unlocked characters have either escaped or died, the simulation resets, and your next run will be in a newly randomized version of Pytheas.
Another thing to keep an eye on during runs is the Corruption Level, which serves as a sort of time limit. As you’re running through the simulation, the Corruption Level in the top right will slowly increase, and once it’s full, the Corruption Level goes up by one. A higher corruption level means stronger enemies will appear, making survival more difficult. Corruption Level 5 is the highest level. The meter keeps rising once you’re at Corruption Level 5, but if it fills up then you’ll be kicked out the simulation. There’s items you can use to lower the Corruption Level meter. They can’t reduce the Corruption once it’s increased a level, but these are really helpful to stay on the lower, safer levels for as long as possible. The Corruption Level doesn’t reset until the whole simulation resets either. Once it goes up a level, you’re stuck at that level for the rest of the characters until they all either escape or die. The Corruption Level definitely puts the pressure on to accomplish your objectives and get out quickly. It doesn’t increase that fast in the beginning, but as you get closer to the end of the game, it starts increasing slightly faster.
Each run starts in the same place, an offshoot of the central Crater area. From there, you’ll make your way to the Crater, and deal with the first real hurdle: the Moon Shark. This is a new enemy Typhon in Mooncrash that looks like the Nightmare from the original game, but this one digs underground through the moon dirt and hunts by feeling vibrations in the ground. Vibrations like your footsteps. Anywhere in this crater area, if you step on exposed dirt, the Moon Shark will start heading toward the sound. Even if it’s all the way on the other side of the crater, if your feet touch dirt it will become alerted and starting heading your way. Your best option is to avoid the dirt and jump from rock to rock to avoid the Moon Shark’s attention, or maybe keep it distracted by using a Typhon Lure and make a run for it. You could also try killing it, which there is an achievement for, but it’s pretty strong so there’s a good chance fighting it head on will lead to death. The Moon Shark was a fun element to plan around at the start of the run. If you’ve got the jetpack, then getting around the Crater without alerting the Moon Shark isn’t too difficult. There’s always a jetpack near the start of the run, this is one of the few loot locations that isn’t randomized, but if you grab the jetpack as the first character, you won’t have it for your next run in this simulation, and you’ll have to figure out an alternate way to evade the Moon Shark. This new enemy was really cool, the way it tunnels underground reminds me of the graboids from the 1990 movie Tremors, which I was a pretty big fan of as a kid.
Besides the new Moon Shark enemy, there are also some new weapons in Mooncrash. Some of these I picked up and never tried out, like the Typhon Spore. I completely forgot about those whenever I had them in my inventory. But I got a lot of use out of the new Psychostatic Cutter weapon, a laser knife that you can charge up to send out beams of psychic cutting energy. I love this thing, it’s so much more fun to use than the wrench for melee combat.
Though not exclusive to Mooncrash, Survival mechanics are another new addition to gameplay. When Mooncrash released, these were also patched into Prey as a setting you can turn on when starting a new game for an additional challenge. In Prey, I never played with these on because they sounded tedious. But in Mooncrash, they’re always on, so I had to play with them. They’re actually a lot of fun! In addition to survival mechanics like weapon durability, there’s a handful of different Trauma status effects, like fire causing a burn that reduces your maximum health, or certain types of damage causing a concussion that reduces your max SP and prevents you from spending Neuromods until it’s cured. These can all be cured by either finding a Medical Operator or by finding or crafting a cure for that particular Trauma, like how Dermaweb Skin Grafts cure the burn status. These Survival mechanics add another nice element to the gameplay that works especially well in Mooncrash’s roguelite setting. I’ll have to turn some of the Survival options on in Prey to mix up my next playthrough. Without Mooncrash, I probably would have never given them a try.
In addition to escaping, each character also has a Story Objective to complete. These reflect the actual events that took place during the Typhon outbreak at Pytheas, and these are a big part of how the story of Mooncrash is told. But before you can start a character’s Story Objective, you first need to complete another objective to unlock it. For example, to unlock the Volunteer’s Story Objective you have to escape using the Mimic Portal in Pytheas Labs. It sounds easy at first, but once you reach that point you realize the Volunteer can’t complete the objective on his own because part of the Portal equipment is broken and he doesn’t have the Repair ability. So to unlock the Volunteer’s Story Objective, you first need to enter the simulation as the Engineer and have them make the necessary repairs, then play as the Custodian to hack the computer, so that when you finally play as the Volunteer, you can make your way to the Labs to escape using the mimic portal. The Volunteer is the first playable character unlocked, but his Story Objective was the last one I unlocked and completed because of the other characters it requires you to unlock first. Things like this regarding the order you have to play certain characters in the simulation to unlock various Story Objectives reminds me a bit of Deathloop. It’s interesting to think about how various elements they tried out in Mooncrash might have influenced Deathloop’s development. Of course, Deathloop doesn’t have as many roguelite elements as Mooncrash does though.
I was surprised at how solid the story is here. I went into Mooncrash expecting rogue-lite Prey, and I thought the only storytelling would be done through the environment with audio logs and notes. There are still quite a few audio logs and notes around, and you can learn a lot about the setting and characters from them. But the way the characters’ stories intertwine through the Story Objectives added a lot more to the storytelling than I expected. It was cool to gradually piece together the events at Pytheas and each character’s role in them, and there were also references to Prey and the events on Talos I. Besides the Pytheas Moonbase story that unfolds during the Story Objectives, as you make overall progress unlocking characters and completing Story Objectives, there’s also a plotline outside of the simulation. Gradually, we learn a bit more about Peter, the hacker we’re playing as, and his employer, KASMA Corporation. Peter’s story is also a complete arc, and by the time I completed all the objectives and the credits rolled, I was very satisfied with the whole package.
My one complaint about Mooncrash is that you can’t keep playing on your save file once you finish all the KASMA Orders. The story is over at that point, so the game ends and if you reload that save you’re stuck in a story segment before the credits and there’s no way to enter the simulation to do more runs. If you want to play more, you have to start a new game, beginning the process of unlocking all the characters again. Which is fine, but it’d be nice if there was a way to keep playing on your late game save file, or a way to start a new game with all the characters unlocked so you can skip some of the tutorial stuff. As it is, if you want to keep playing through the endgame content, you have to strategically leave at least one of your KASMA Orders uncompleted. The easiest way to do this is to leave either one of the characters’ Story Objectives uncompleted, or just make sure at least one of them dies during the simulation to avoid escaping with all five.
The gameplay in Prey: Mooncrash feels very familiar but the rogue-lite mechanics and the new enemies, weapons, and powers change up enough of the experience that it’s well worth playing and even replaying after you’ve finished Prey. Having five different characters with different available skills means that unlike in Prey, you never have one single character who can do everything. You’re forced to think on your feet about how to get around obstacles, and you might run into things you can’t get around as your current character. It’s a lot of fun, and it makes for a great supplemental experience to the original game. If you played Prey and you’re craving more, you should definitely check out the Mooncrash DLC. My final time was 8 hours 44 minutes.