I'm not one to pay too much attention to environmental storytelling.
When playing a game, I'll focus on the plot. When I come across books or objects that give further world-building clues, I usually don't scrutinize them.
That changed with “Prey,” a first-person, science fiction, horror game set in space.
While Arkane Studios' latest game makes combat an unwieldy and frustrating affair, “Prey's” ability to scratch that exploration itch makes it a blast for anyone who likes a constant feeling of discovery.
“Prey” has an early story twist I won't spoil here that sets the stage for the nightmares to come.
Playing as Morgan Yu, you find you're one of the few survivors on Talos I, a space station overrun with hostile aliens. Adding to the tension is the fact that some of the alien species can mimic objects in the world, meaning you won't know if that coffee cup you're about to walk by or weapon you're reaching for is actually an enemy until it's biting your face off.
Adding to these frightening moments is great sound design and music. Sharp, shrill sounds that rang out whenever an alien saw me put me on edge. In the quieter moments, I enjoyed “Prey's” ambient, sci-fi-esque music.
What makes “Prey” so fun to explore is that the world tempts and tantalizes you with its endless secrets. Early in the game, I found several paths I couldn't pass because I didn't have the abilities to hack open a door or lift a heavy object out of the way.
Fortunately, most blockages have alternate routes. Want to get through a doorway you don't have the keycard necessary to open? Look for a nearby vent, or try to climb your way over the wall. Half of “Prey's” fun comes from figuring out creative ways to solve such problems.
“Prey” provides plenty of tools to play with. Using things called neuromods, players can unlock a plethora of abilities that make hacking, repairing or even ripping down barriers simple. Later in the game, you can even unlock some of the aliens' powers to add another fun wrinkle to the game's mechanics.
Talos I is relatively small but is packed with enough detail to keep it engaging some 15 hours later. I found the bodies of dead crewmates in peculiar places, and emails and voice recordings I found throughout my exploration detailed their grisly demises. Reading notes and watching videos helped me piece together some of “Prey's” mystery for myself.
I only wish the combat was half as interesting as “Prey's” world. The controls to swing your wrench are so loose and unwieldy that I missed as many swings at mimics and other aliens as I landed. Aiming with a gun isn't much better; with no iron sighting, Morgan's hip-fire aim is hardly reliable.
Getting into a skirmish with some of the humanoid aliens is sure to leave you wounded, which adds to the game's tension but doesn't make it any less frustrating. Morgan's speed slows to a crawl when attacking, making him a sitting duck for projectile-shooting aliens. Some species I fought were so large and beefy they'd feel more at home in a first-person shooter such as “Halo” than in a horror game.
It makes sense that Morgan isn't a great fighter; after all, he's a scientist, not a space marine. But fights became so annoying to me that I eventually made an effort to avoid them—which meant I had to leave some areas unexplored. In a game that rewards looking in every nook and cranny, I found that disappointing.
“Prey” knows how to reward gamers who love to explore and piece together mysteries for themselves. The game allows players to tackle problems in their own ways using a wide variety of powers and abilities, which makes getting into a locked room or hidden area satisfying. The combat isn't fun or even good, but at least it adds tension to an otherwise already unsettling game.
Final score: 7.5/10
“Prey” was reviewed on the Xbox One with a digital copy provided by the publisher's PR agency, fortyseven communications.