Video game review: ‘Prey’ successfully shifts its shape—and yours, too

Todd Hailstone

Four stars

Prey Reviewed on PS4. Also available for Xbox One and PC

The first moments of Prey felt slick and “cool” in a way I typically don’t enjoy. As Morgan Yu—the name left purposefully gender-neutral as, you can choose to be female or male (I chose female)—you receive a wake-up call in your sleek, upscale apartment and hop into a private helicopter, all set to a synth-pop soundtrack. But moments into the game, my expectations were subverted, as my apartment and the helicopter were revealed as a farce on an elaborate soundstage. And Prey goes on to mess with players throughout its 20-plus hours of gameplay.

The space station Talos I is overrun. Secret research on the shape-shifting Typhon aliens has gone predictably awry, and you’re the only one who can help. Though I never felt real fear while playing Prey, which is more psychological thriller than survival horror, I did have a general sense of unease and a swirling head full of questions, which to me is a greater achievement.

Arkane Studios successfully bends its narrative around a maze of convoluted themes, deceiving the player in layer after layer of immersive storytelling. As you uncover the doomed space station’s secrets, you begin to distrust everyone on Talos I, including yourself.

Mechanically, Prey is essentially a first person shooter with RPG elements. “Neuromods” are used to unlock new skills and abilities in an effort to help Morgan survive. The skill trees vary widely, forcing you to make hard decisions that affect not only how you play the game but also how the story unfolds.

The Typhon first appear as small, spider-like “mimics” that can morph into various objects within the environment. What looks like an ordinary cup of coffee or office chair can suddenly ambush you, adding a blanket of relentless tension to the game. As you progress, the Typhon gain more elaborate powers and abilities, and if the player chooses, he or she can adopt some of those abilities through advanced research.

My first shape-shifting experience had me hiding from a rampaging Phantom as a roll of toilet paper in the men’s bathroom. But adopting those powers comes at a cost. The station’s security turrets, once a useful asset for fighting the aliens, now sense your adopted alien nature and consider you a threat.

There are no right or wrong choices in Prey; from ability upgrades to story decisions there are benefits and consequences to all actions. Arkane masterfully succeeds in creating an action-packed shooter in a believable sci-fi environment, a compelling psychological thriller that transcends player’s expectations.

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