“Good morning Morgan“, says a silken pre-registered voice. “Today is Monday, March 15th, 2032.”
The black screen fades to a sci-fi room, as soft rock music starts playing in the background.
This is how your journey starts. This is how Prey is reborn.
I’ve been waiting for this game for twelve years (no kidding). Back in 2006, the first Prey was a delightful surprise: a sci-fi shooter with horror/gore-ish elements, a twisted story, and excellent level design. Not to mention mechanics, strange weapons, and a truly inspired world building. There was clearly potential for more, A LOT more, in that setting. It looked like the start of a new franchise, in that golden era of videogaming that gave birth to Assassin’s Creed, Bioshock, Mass Effect, Portal, just to name some.
In fact, during E3 2012, we got this juicy teaser trailer:
It still gives me the chills, honestly. I mean, come on: sci-fi bounty hunting in the same universe as Prey, with an expanded lore that panders to Star Wars (Coruscant, anyone?), Cyberpunk, Cowboy Bebop…what more could I ask, as a fan?
Yet, things rarely go as planned. Prey 2 was cancelled, the software house disbanded (if I remember correctly), and the project became an echo in the distance. Vanished, or not, then vanished again. Until Arkane Studios surprised us all, announcing a reboot (that probably isn’t a complete reboot, but that’s another story). Arkane Studios. The very same guys behind Dishonored, one of my favorite franchises of all time. Aaaaand obviously my hype senses started tingling again.
Nevertheless, I bought Prey last Christmas as a gift to myself (yes I do such things). My desire to play it with the right mindset was so pressing that it remained bagged since last week. Seriously. More than six months there, untouched.
So far, Prey meets my expectations (and sometimes it surpasses them as well). At first I expected a Dishonored clone, with a sci-fi setting; it is not far from being so, but it also has its own peculiarities. For example, level design looks more intersected to me, and less vertical. Unlike in Dishonored, there are a few possible paths to advance or overcome obstacles; however the combination of powers and weapons creates a good mixture for the player to experiment. Which is great.
Despite a very enjoyable gameplay, Prey’s charisma lies in its setting: recalling to Alien and a pantheon of sci-fi horror myths, the game builds upon a sense of anxiety that derives from uncertainty, suspicion, and distrust. There are enemies, in the game, that can morph into any object. Imagine entering a room without being 100% sure that a chair is, indeed, a chair; a mug is a mug; or a book is an actual book. Well, an actual digital 3D depiction of a book. Whatever: you enter this room, and suddenly a phone starts vibrating, swinging its way towards your avatar. Then it transforms into a huge spider-ish thing that seems made of living ink, and jumps towards the screen.
Because it works, it makes you feel uncomfortable in any given situation. Just like the original Prey did, even if with different takes: I remember very raw scenes, and creepy situations as well. So there’s also a sense of heritage, a preservation of what the franchise represented, or brought to the table in terms of uniqueness – or character, at least.
This approach is clever, I think. Forcing a new kind of phobia into the player, suggesting that nothing can be trusted anymore, reworks all the consolidated patterns built during years of videogaming. And makes Prey a worthy successor of its namesake.
Oh, and remember: