I accepted an invitation to become scientist Morgan Yu, shoot stuff with a glue gun and read other people’s post-it notes in Bethesda’s upcoming May sci-fi-themed first person shooter release…
I was invited by Bethesda to play Prey (2017) before it releases this coming May. My early impressions of the first hour…
The monotonous and automatic repetition of our morning rituals says a lot about our existence and how we take hold of our identity in the world. Minutia takes us away from this drudgery but for Morgan Yu, scientist in the near-distant future, there is no escape. As the game starts, Morgan Yu (choose male or female) goes in to his first day at the office to work with his father, Alex Yu. Curiously, given Arkane’s work with how extensive Dishonored 2 treated Emily and Corvo in the gameplay sense, there was no immediate difference between choosing either gender, which seemed completely superficial.
Once at the facility, you pass through a series of tutorial tests in a sterile lab and await the next instructions from the voyeurs. When something in the lab attacks one of the scientists, they sedate Morgan Yu -- you wake up in your apartment again like nothing happened. You exit to find yourself in a different reality filled with conspiracy and intrigue.
Prey’s strength, much like Arkane Studios’ Dishonored 1 & 2, is the extensive world and lore that is meticulously forged and designed, even within the first hour. There are tons of emails and notes to read that clue the player into the characters and large scope of the world. At some point, you do a personality test, which later is passed around in an email chain where the other scientists comment and point out irregularities. There is always something interesting in the emails and sticky notes on computer monitors that you find. Additionally, the game world of the space station is massive.
Prey’s gameplay is rooted deeply in science-fiction first person-shooters that lean towards stealth and crafting. Think SOMA and Alien: Isolation with a dash of System Shock. There is crafting for your weapons and a skill tree that will let players play how they want.
As the preview continued, we were given access to mods that could change how the game would be played. Although not immediately apparent in the first hour, Prey’s combat and experimentation was regulated to just hitting things with a blunt object or shooting them with a shotgun – although I did notice that some weapons could be created depending on which skills you chose.
One of my favorite weapons was a Glue Gun that shot wet cement that hardened on contact with enemies so you could get in a few easy hits. One of the more unorthodox applications is to create a barrier in a door frame to allow easy escapes. Combat felt at home with Bethesda’s own The Elder Scrolls series but, at certain points, Prey’s combat became slippery and unmanageable. But I will attribute that to playing an early version of the build and not the final release.
Player choice was also not a prominent highlight of the first hour. There just weren’t enough varied skills/abilities that we could poke around with. More health, stronger hits, and more inventory space don’t scream player options. The hacking and repairing that I did see had no immediate benefits during gameplay. The developers assured us that later in the game, you will gain alien powers as well to enhance your player pallet and options.
The demo ended with the player encountering a recording of a different Morgan Yu telling the player that there was more, that this was only the opening of the rabbit hole. Thematically, Prey (2017) combines elements of science-fiction stories like Edge of Tomorrow (2014) and Total Recall (1990) but is firmly planted in gameplay that is reminiscent of scavenging for resources and item management. The recording was the end of the demo and I was left to explore the area until the final moments of the play session.
Prey (2017) has no relations to the Prey released in 2006 back on the Xbox 360 and PC. It shares in name only and doesn’t take place in the same universe, have the same characters, or even make nods or references to Prey (2006). Prey (2017) is about identity and discovering who the real “Yu” is. We’ll see, when the game releases in May of this year, whether it can carve out its own niche in an expansive year of titles.
If you’re so inclined, Bethesda was kind enough to allow attendees of the Prey Preview event to capture the entire session. If you’d like to see the footage for yourself, you need only click below.