Prey Does Everything Better Than Every Other Game Ever
I’m an enormous Dishonored fan, but I only got around to starting Prey last week. I reckon it’s because I’m a big baby – just look at how close Phasmophobia came to making me shit a brick – or could be a result of that weird Desmond-from-Lost energy where you never consume stuff you know you’ll like so you still have it down the line. Maybe it’s because I’ve finally stopped being a four-year-old who sleeps with a nightlight, or perhaps it’s because we recently passed the one-year anniversary of the pandemic starting and I felt it was okay to start something new. Either way, I’m finally playing Prey, and holy shitballs – it’s good.
Prey is one of those games that convinces you of why you need to play it less than ten minutes in. It takes you on a helicopter ride around a lush and extravagant cityscape, with Arkane’s stylish flair cranked right up to 11. You do some activities, which mostly seem like standard shooter calibration tests, and something goes wrong. You wake up again on the same day, at the same time, and extend your arm to shut off your alarm in the same way. You walk outside and pick up a wrench off of a corpse, which you then use to crack a hole into your window, revealing that the gorgeous view it depicts is actually just a cover-up for the back arse of a rundown soundstage. You’re living a lie, and Arkane has managed to pack all of that into a neatly condensed intro section that tells you who you are without revealing a single shred of information about yourself. From that point on, Prey feels like one continuous flex.
When I say that Prey does everything better than every game ever, I sincerely mean it. Bear in mind this is a game that came out in 2017 and the fact I’m only playing now assumes I have a) no bias towards it and b) played loads of other games since it originally launched. Prey does suspense better than every other game. It does immersion better than every other game. It does tool design, environmental traversal, and even regular crouching better than every other game. Anything Prey sets its mind to, it pulls off with sheer, unbridled brilliance. It feels like a game where every single developer in every single department had their hand in every single aspect of it. You can hear the sound design in shooting a GLOO canister, see the art direction in Psychoscoping a Mimic, appreciate the programming in being allowed to fill a lubbering Technopath full of Q-Beam rays. Dying from hurtling into a stray beam in the Talos 1 Exterior is a miracle, because the registration of velocity, health, suit integrity, and trajectory as variables leading to the same ultimate impact value is precise to the point of perfection.
That’s the core point in terms of why Prey is able to do everything better than anything else. Like Dishonored and Deus Ex before it, it’s an immersive sim, meaning that this is a world where the game allows you to do pretty much anything. Want to turn into a roll of bandages in order to sneak through a ten-centimeter hole and unlock an otherwise inaccessible medical operator? No problem. Want to fabricate a ton of neuromods, do a recon mission where you disable every turret in an area, and use said neuromods to fill yourself full of Typhon goo that the now-deactivated turrets would have packed full of lead had you not taken care of them? Go for it. Want to skirt around two Etheric Phantoms by building yourself some makeshift stairs out of GLOO to a balcony above them, from where you can chuck an explosive container down and set it off with a single silenced pistol bullet? The world is your oyster, mate. GLOO away to your heart’s content.
It’s the synchronicity of all of the above that makes Prey truly shine. It doesn’t just allow you to do anything – no matter what you do, it feels as if the game has already anticipated you’d do it. There’s never a silly little bug you get from jumping in a weird area, or an overpowered combination between three weapons that the devs missed. It’s an immersive sim that offers total freedom and rewards boundless creativity, but it’s also far more inventive than any one person could ever imagine. Just like each animation, sound effect, and input registration feels like the collaborative effort of every person who worked on the game, the sheer scope of availability when it comes to maneuvering through this terrifying world seems as if it took cues from a supercomputer composed of a thousand brilliant minds. Except it’s not all hard-coded into binary choices – it’s got enough of a human touch that anything is possible.
Prey sets out to do a few things. It tells a story in an alien environment filled with mystery, intrigue, and terror. It gives you tools and creates a playground for you to use them in, except the swings and roundabouts have been co-opted by vicious alien parasites. It focuses on horror, but also hope, and humanity, and the fact that both hope and hopelessness are inherently human states of mind. Most of all, it’s a game where you are given the necessary task to trust your past self as they guide you towards mutually assured destruction – and for what? Well, you just have to play to find out, don’t you?
The thing is, no matter how ambiguous, or how difficult, or how scary Prey may be at times, it’s sufficiently compelling to supersede all three of those conditions at the same time, every time. If you compare its individual sections to other games that execute similar systems well, Prey wins out pretty much every single time. So when you take those sections and stitch them together, you’re left with a cohesive whole that is the phenomenal sum of its individually fantastic parts. Part of me doesn’t even want to finish Prey, because I don’t want the sense of wonder to be over. Then again, this is a game that allows you to do literally anything that is possible within its own logic, so maybe it makes sense to gun for a second playthrough and do everything differently – hell, I’ll probably be playing and replaying Prey for a long time to come.
Next: How Valve Put Together The Game Changing Ending For Half-Life: Alyx
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Cian Maher is the Lead Features Editor at TheGamer. He’s also had work published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Verge, Vice, Wired, and more. You can find him on Twitter @cianmaher0.
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