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After getting the chance to see the opening hour of Prey last month, I completely bought into what Arkane was doing with the game. Its intriguing story, great level design, interesting array of weaponry and exploration dynamics felt truly unique. Now, Bethesda has let me check out other areas of the game and, more excitingly, experiment with protagonist Morgan Yu’s alien powers.
It starts off in Psychotronics, one of the offshoot areas of the main hub part of the space station. Morgan’s brother Alex is first to dial into my radio comms, just to let me know how dangerous this area of the station is, and he’s right, because within five seconds of spawning I’m electrocuted by a malfunctioning junction.
This is another chance to see the versatility of Prey’s arsenal and also its level design, as with the GLOO Gun I’m able to shoot the junction and stop it from shocking everything for a few seconds, just enough time to run by. There’s also another solution: if I had upgraded Morgan’s Engineering skills in the tech tree, I’d have been able to repair the junction so it doesn’t malfunction. Eventually I’m informed by Morgan’s AI to head for the ‘G.U.T.S’, in order to get to the top of the station.
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Seems like a simple enough task, especially as the game then immediately sticks a waypoint on the screen to tell me where the thing I’m looking for is. However, along the way the area is full of enemy Mimics and Phantoms.
When I last played Prey I had some concerns about its combat, and whether or not it offered enough depth to keep players invested. Having got the chance to get into bouts with much tougher enemies, while it doesn’t offer the same level of feedback as a more traditional first-person shooter, it’s still pretty engaging.
Rather than taking cover and aiming down sights, Prey relies more on combining weapons and items to beat your enemies. At first using the GLOO Cannon and Wrench combo proves effective, until Phantoms with greater health and higher damage output become an issue. It then becomes a case of learning enemy weaknesses, which you can do using the Psychoscope. This will allow you to learn which weapons work best, new ways to kills enemies quicker and how to generally stay alive.
The Psychoscope also unlocks research points to develop Morgan by installing “Neuromods”. These can be spent in six different areas: engineer, scientist, security, energy, morph and telepathy. The latter three are alien upgrade paths, and the fun really comes in with morph, as you can turn into all sorts of crazy things.
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You may have seen on the trailer Morgan has the ability to morph into different items to camouflage into the surroundings, much like the Mimics. So of course I immediately unlock this trait and turn into a microscope. It offers no great tactical advantage whatsoever, it was just fun to do.
However, there are instances where morphing into everyday objects will help reach new areas. Behind a locked door in a reception area was a shotgun, with no keycard in sight and nobody left alive to tell me the password. Once again Arkane flexes its creative muscles with multiple solutions: in the room are a bunch of different objects, from random grenades (you pick these up in Psychotronics, which can be used to either stun enemies or limit their powers), microscopes and a desk chair.
I tried morphing into the desk chair, but the problem is you transform in the position you’re standing. For some reason I thought Morphing also offered teleportation to the object, it doesn't. As a result, rather than being inside this mystery locked room holding a shotgun, I’m now outside, laying on the floor, and I'm a desk chair.
While transformed, it uses Morgan’s alien power meter, which can replenish with the use of items, but in my current build these abilities can hardly be used for long. I also have a focus technique which slows time down and allows me to escape overwhelming situations, like when coming up against multiple Phantoms with little weaponry. I decided to spend most of my Neuromods on engineering this time, allowing me to repair terminals to create engineering and medical robots so I can regain health and armour using these floating machines.
Eventually I realise the solution to the room, and it’s a bit of a weird one. Before transforming into an object small enough to fit through the bars of the window, I need to first stand on its ledge. This looks like I’m breaking the game, exploiting some sort of design flaw, but this is what Arkane wants you to do. Now, when I transform into the microscope, I’m on the windowsill and able to slide right through, and get the shotgun.
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This took about 25 minutes of careful planning and brainstorming. I felt very proud of finally working out how to get into the room, only for someone from Bethesda to tell me all I had to do was use Morgan’s toy gun (yes, he has a toy gun, which at first I thought was a joke and never used it, but it’s actually used for a lot) to shoot the button on the inside of the locked door to open it. Genius. Made me want to punch myself in the groin, but was again an example of why Arkane games are so great.
After spending more time running around Psychotronics, fighting enemies using turrets, my silenced pistol and shotgun, as well as unlocking the secrets of the landscape via email terminals, I finally reach the G.U.T.S. But, before going in, Prey sets up a social experiment, to see how much of an evil bastard the player is.
First I walk into a lab experiment where a human test subject is stood in a glass cube. My first instinct is to let him out, primarily because he immediately begins screaming and begging for me to do so. I walk over to the computer terminal, and before being given access to the controls to the experiment, Prey shows me this guy’s criminal record, and it’s brutal. Human trafficking, solicitation of a minor, kidnapping.
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The subject – Aaron Ingraham – doesn’t deny the charges, but promises he is a changed man, and even says he has the key to a locked safe room full of loot which he’ll give you if you let him out. However, seeing as this is a demo, I wanted to see what happened when I let the experiment take its course, and suddenly a mimic is let loose in the room, which kills him and absorbs enough energy to multiply. I’m then able to harvest these Mimics for their raw materials. It all feels a bit wrong, but plays very well into Prey’s moral mechanics.
I’m still really impressed by Prey. The game feels like it could be a great adventure that's peppered with some instances of combat, robust puzzle solving and a strong narrative that all blends together very nicely.
What I love is the freedom that Arkane bleeds into every game it creates. Much like the sublime Dishonored series, no problem has a single solution, and it’s up to the player to create a character they feel is best to solve it.
I can’t wait to get my hands on the full game and see more of what this strange space station has to offer.