Some of the most enduring gaming memories I have come from the immersive sim genre. I got to experience such greats as System Shock 2 and Deus Ex on PC when they came out. The Bioshock games make my list for sure. I remember having a lot of fun playing with automated turrets and drones in Bioshock 2. I played a good chunk of Dishonored, but I eventually fell off it. I’m not entirely sure why. I’ve started Dishonored 2 a few times, and I always put it down shortly thereafter. I began to wonder if I just wasn’t into immersive sims anymore.
I recently joined the subreddit r/GamePassGameClub. Per their description, “It’s a book club, but for Xbox’s Game Pass!” It’s a fantastic idea, and the Game Pass game for October of 2021 was Prey. I told myself, well shucks, maybe this is my time to finally give Prey a chance.
The game was awesome…like one of the better games I’ve played in years awesome. I rubbed up against the same reasons why I quit Prey before, but with a little prod and determination, man did it pay off. Let me share some of the reasons why I think Prey is so stellar, and you can decide to give it a try if you haven’t or raise your glass if you have.
The setup and environment you are traversing throughout the game, the huge space station, Talos-I, is beautiful, strange, terrifying, and maybe most importantly, lived-in. Arkane has built a world largely devoid of human characters, yet their traces are everywhere throughout the station. Their stories become part of your story. They are tied into your quests in a meaningful way, and they are expertly written and presented.
Your encounters with the alien menace in the game, the Typhon, begin with games of whack-a-mole and jump scares against terrifying spiderlike creatures called mimics that can transform into inanimate objects. You’re on edge early on, because you’re serious underpowered, and these suckers could be anywhere. As you progress, the Typhons send shadowy foot soldier types that might have fire or electricity attacks. Eventually, you find yourself facing off against some truly bizarre and powerful aliens.
After finishing Prey and reflecting on the times I put the game down, I realize not surprisingly that it was after three or four hours of being underpowered, swinging my wrench around at mimics, and quite frankly, having shot my nerves to hell with all the jump scares. Combat is undeniably slow in the beginning of Prey. You don’t have a lot of ammo, and your guns are not super powerful against the stronger alien enemies. Just like in many other games, you’ll get stronger and gain abilities with the more resources you collect. And this is where Prey really ascended to a keystone gaming experience for me.
The economy of resources in Prey is so freaking good. All the objects you find in the world, flowers, pieces of paper, baseball mitts, pieces of typhon, can be recycled and produced into other useful objects by using a fabricator. It’s satisfying to hear the clank of your recycled cubes coming out of the recycler and then building those things into medkits or shotgun shells. You’re on this huge space station, and it’s filled with resources needed for crafting, ammo, health, and abilities, but it never had too many resources. There were a few times in the game where I was down to my last bullets, but because of the open playstyle encouraged by Arkane, I could improvise. I learned to rely on auto turrets. It felt great to strategically place a few turrets, reinforce them, and have them obliterate an enemy that might have caused me serious problems.
You will not find fast-paced action in Prey for the most part. You will find many good combat situations that require you to approach them tactically, otherwise you will burn through your health and resources. The combat scale begins to tip away from being so underpowered once you augment the protagonist, Morgan Yu, with more neuromods. The upgrades are standard in the beginning, things like more health, ability to pick up heavier objects, or hack into the terminals. You can eventually scan Typhon enemies, learn their capabilities, and incorporate Typhon powers into your lineup. This evens things out considerably, and although you have a finite amount of hypnopoints to launch these attacks, it gives you many more options than just whacking a 10-foot-tall murder alien with a pipe wrench. You can possess these enemies or transform into inanimate objects yourself.
Keeping with the overall item economy of the game, you have many potential options for skill and power upgrades, but this isn’t Assassin’s Creed, you can’t get them all. You need to choose your skill paths wisely and commit to them, developing strategies that work for you along the way. I loved that everything I did in Prey felt consequential. I wanted to access every room, every locker, every emergency hatch, because it truly effected my survivability in the game, and it felt like this paid off in the end.
Prey allows you to traverse through space outside the station. This begins with a few quick fetch quest type missions, but soon you are moving around either outside the station or through zero gravity transport chambers within Talos-I. The movement feels great. I played the game on normal difficulty. During my playthrough, I didn’t need to worry about running out of air when I was doing space walks. This allowed me to explore what I wanted to, and Arkane did a nice job of peppering time-sensitive missions in to give you a sense of urgency out in the deep black.
I’m not going to reveal any major story details here. They are worth witnessing firsthand. I will say you are often given a few options as to how you will handle major story situations, both of which possess their own unique merits and drawbacks. I legitimately sweated a few of the choices and thought through the pros and cons.
It took me a little under 30 hours to get through Prey. I was consistently rewarded for my exploration, but never in an overly generous way. It always felt fair. In the last hours of the game, I felt good about the weapon upgrades and Typhon abilities I had acquired. I could hold my own. Not obliterate everything on the map, just hold my own. If you haven’t tried Prey or have fallen off it like I had, I recommend taking more time to collect resources and finding ways to get into caches like safes and storage rooms. You will soon reap the benefits of your efforts, and it all comes together into a masterful immersive sim. Prey has renewed my love for the genre.