As I sit on the couch, watching Netflix’s screensaver-like announcements, I’m left wondering why we do not give games the same shelf life we do other forms of media. No matter how old a movie might be, it still can find its way to the forefront of the conversation. However, with games, We’ve become accustomed to focusing solely on the next best thing. And our backlog serves more as a monument for pride or shame than an actual space to discover classics. Yet this is where we find ourselves – returning to the games we loved and missed. It is in this space that I discovered Prey.
Prey pulls inspiration from several classic games while improving on the design philosophies presented in Dishonored 1 and 2. Instead of returning to HQ after a mission, the entire space station is yours to explore. This level of exploration creates a deeper connection with the level design. Unlocking new perks creates an incentive to return to old areas because you never know what’s behind that locked door or blocked maintenance shaft. But exploration just for the sake of exploration isn’t the only motivating factor. Those upgrades are needed against the Typhon.
In Prey, you are never the apex predator. You are always one or two steps behind the alien race that now inhabits Talos One. Enemies are strategically created to keep tension on the player. The first creature you encounter, called a mimic, does what you would think – mimic items in the environment. In the first moments in the game, I spent my time moving slowly through Nueromod Division, hitting everything with a wrench for fear of a surprise attack from a mimic. And as you upgrade your skills and suit, the Thypon creatures you encounter become stronger and more varied. Even near the end of the game with a fully upgraded shotgun, I was never fully confident an encounter would go my way. Of course, if I didn’t want to fight head-on, I could always choose stealth.
I’ve always been a stealth player. While some of my friends choose to build tanks or complete offensive character builds, I’ve always enjoyed playing close to the shadows. Maybe it’s my love of characters like Batman, or it could be as simple as the feeling you get when you’ve outsmarted someone. But almost all stealth-based games fall to pieces once you’re caught. In Dishonored, combat was never as fun as sneaking around, and if you were caught, you would be graded on your failures. Prey improves upon the stealth mechanics from Dishonored by removing the grading system and easing the transition from stealth to combat. Even though Prey is a game that gives you the freedom of choice, combat sits at the forefront. Because I’m given a wide variety of ranged weapons, I can blend my play style. I can quietly find a more advantageous position before engaging the Typhon. Morgan Yu might be outmanned but never outgunned.
The story is the thread that ties all these elements together. The game begins with a mindfuck and never lets up. Nothing is what it seems in Prey, and even when you believe you have the answers, you learn something new that changes the game. It is also one of the only games that you can play a second time. Upon completing the campaign and learning the truth, a second play gives you opportunities to see story elements you might have missed. For example (lightly spoiler-ish), ever notice the birds in the intro when you’re flying in the helicopter? Prey begins me back to the days of Bioshock. It’s a modern classic that’s worth a revisit.