To say that "Prey" has a tortured history would be an understatement. Conceived in 1995, it has gone through several iterations and setbacks. Developers worked on the series but then abandoned it. The franchise itself changed hands between video game companies 3D Realms and Bethesda Softworks.
The followup to the 2006 hit was supposed to be a sequel. I even saw a 2011 demo for "Prey 2," but that game was ultimately canceled. So it surprised nearly everyone last year when Bethesda announced a new entry to the series.
Instead of a sequel, 2017's "Prey" is a reboot helmed by Arkane Studios, makers of the "Dishonored" series. It stars a new protagonist named Morgan Yu, and it takes place in an alternate history, in which Russia and the U.S. work together to build a clandestine space station called Kletka. The facility's purpose: Contain dangerous aliens found near the moon.
After decades, Kletka eventually changes hands from the government to a corporation. TranStar Corporation has bought the facility and renamed it Talos 1. By 2035, the company has made several breakthroughs studying the aliens collectively known as Typhon.
"Prey" follows the experience of Morgan, the lead scientist (initially, you can pick the gender of the hero). The facility is in turmoil. The aliens broke containment, and players will will have to escape Talos 1 and decide its fate.
With a new studio aboard, "Prey" bears little resemblance to its predecessor. Interestingly enough, it has more in common with "BioShock" than any other title. Morgan is initially weak, and ammo for weapons is scarce. The Typhon are so overpowering that it's better to run away than fight. This makes the first third of the campaign similar to "Alien: Isolation."
Eventually, Morgan stumbles upon weapons, along with chipsets and Neuromods. This slowly changes the survival equation. "Prey's" arsenal isn't diverse, but to the game's credit, each weapon is useful and distinct. The GLOO Canon is the most versatile piece of gear, letting Morgan freeze enemies so that she can whack them with a wrench. It can also be used to obstruct doorways, seal flame-spewing pipes and create makeshift platforms on electrified floors.
As for chipsets, they tweak abilities and offer bonuses. Think of them almost like armor pieces that accentuate a playstyle.
Having that equipment would have made a decent game, but the Neuromods are what make "Prey" intriguing. These are essentially "Bioshock's" plasmids and they alter Morgan's mind and body to give her new abilities. Some powers are focused on stealth, giving players an advantage in shadows. Others bestow the hero the aliens' ability to blast fire, electricity or psychic energy at foes.
By the end, Morgan should be powerful enough to dominate enemies in the final leg of the campaign. Players will have plenty of satisfaction ripping through enemies that killed them in the past, but a game like "Prey" is all about the journey, not the destination.
Arkane Studios did a great job designing Talos 1 into a cohesive and convincing place. Its history is obvious in the art deco design and Soviet-style posters. The different departments make sense within the context of the space station. Areas such as the zero gravity maintenance tunnels mix up the constant running from room to room.
Woven into the architecture of the world is a mystery built upon paranoia and uncertainty. Experiments have left Morgan with amnesia. She has hints of her past, and players uncover them as they learn more about TranStar and the people who worked there. Although the main narrative is entertaining, the side stories with the employees and understanding the complex web of relationships is even more compelling.
Delving into the drama of sidequests was better than the overarching plot itself.
"Prey" is a game verging on greatness, but it's held back by its execution. The project has plenty of bugs. Quests sometimes don't activate or a lag emerges in the menu. This forces players to reset the game. The one major problem is how Arkane handled the in-game interfaces. Morgan is always reading emails or using fabricators to craft items. It's immersive but annoying and cumbersome to use.
Despite its flaws, "Prey" is worth players' time. Let's just hope a sequel won't take as long to reach fans as this follow-up.
Three stars out of four
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
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