Prey is a big game. It’s long and it’s so puffed up with stuff that a lot of the time a player spends in its space station setting can feel more like a too-long chore list than a life and death journey to ward off an impending alien invasion. But Morgan Yu has a job to do. The enormous Talos I has to be saved and knowing what deserves her attention is the first step forward.
In its first hour, Prey sets up what looks to be a pretty decent science fiction story. For the rest of the game, it ignores it (until an unbelievably goofy post-credits twist ending). Players expecting to see the opening’s focus on alternate history and fallible memories develop throughout will be disappointed. Prey is better approached as a toy box. Its greatest accomplishments are in the many ways Morgan can choose to navigate the broken down space station, not in the story it’s hardly interested in telling.
A last piece of guidance regarding tempered expectations: Prey is a lot of things, but a good shooter isn’t one of them. Though the player collects plenty of weapons—guns, grenades and super powered abilities alike—none of them are particularly enjoyable to use. Combat typically plays out as a panicked rush to find where aliens or turrets are attacking from then a blurry chaos of swinging wrenches or shooting bullets and bolts of energy at the target until it stops moving. For the most part, this can be avoided, especially in situations that require simply getting from one previously explored area to another. Prey’s stealth is a bit too messy to count on—the best way to avoid combat is to run as fast as possible to the appropriate elevator or airlock and leave the suckers behind.
Following the last piece of advice: get the ability that allows Morgan to hijack robots as soon as they start to represent a threat. The floating “operators” are one of the biggest nuisances of the game, spraying a constant beam of damaging laser when nearby. Being able to take control of them (and their evil cousin, the turret guns) so that they fight each other makes it easier to avoid a frequent annoyance. This ability is even more important later in the game when operators become, for a good long while, the most common enemy patrolling Talos I.
Even running from enemies or turning them against each other, getting through Prey still requires at least a bit of shooting. While most of the weapons aren’t too hot, the shotgun is pretty decent. Lining up a quick blast can tear a chunk off an alien’s health bar or, in some cases, take the smaller enemies out entirely. Morgan comes across a lot of weapon upgrade kits throughout the game. Make sure to apply most of them to the shotgun, the first and last choice in monster killing.
The only notable alien variety in Prey is the “mimic.” Most of the time it’s a pretty boring little creature that looks like a crab made out of tarry phlegm. But at others, it scuttles off into a corner and seems to disappear completely, turning into one of the many unassuming objects (coffee cup, gas canister, cardboard box) littering the space station. Once Morgan is able to access alien powers, she, too, can act like the mimic. It’s a great ability that makes hiding from enemies or moving through obstructed spaces possible. More importantly, it lets the player take control of an inanimate object and have it jump or roll around at the press of the button. At these moments, Prey turns into the Poltergeist game the universe has so far denied us.
Talos I’s best feature is its high ceilings. Not only do they lend a sense of grandeur to some of the space station’s most lavish rooms, they often hide viable ways to access what might seem like blocked areas. The GLOO gun, which shoots out clouds of caulking, can be used to create ledges and ramps Morgan is able to scale. A stretch of metal grating might not look like much, but, as the basis for a makeshift climbing wall, it can turn into a pathway to a network of vents and structural beams that run across an entire area and above apparently closed-off areas.
The GLOO gun is both tool and weapon. It can be used to make paths to new areas, sure, but it can also gum up a gas pipe venting flame or a broken power terminal arcing deadly spikes of electricity into the air. Shooting bursts of it onto attacking mimics, robots and aliens also slows them down. Smacking them with the wrench or unloading some buckshot onto them while in this petrified state causes more damage than it otherwise would. The GLOO gun is handy in almost every situation the game can throw at Morgan. Keep it close by. Give it a pet name.
Prey’s interior space station design is sadly drab, but once Morgan heads through one of the airlocks that allow her outside it becomes much more visually exciting. When seen while floating around in zero gravity, Talos I seems like a more cohesive place. The moon glows nearby. Earth rises in the distance. Everything looks impressive and, more importantly, bizarre (a familiar view of space altered by the constant presence of a huge, human-constructed building) in a way that the rest of the game’s levels don’t. On a purely utilitarian front, finding and opening the airlocks also makes it quicker to get from level to level of the station. Zooming through space is far more enjoyable—and is usually less dangerous—than making the trek through the interior on foot.
Talos I is big. It’s also overwhelmingly crammed with things to look at (and drawers to search through). Luckily, Prey’s story maintains a level of constant urgency so high that, ironically, it negates any real sense that Morgan needs to get things done anytime soon. Go to the next mission objective whenever you want. It’s not going anywhere and poking around the station is more rewarding anyway.
That first tip about Prey’s disappointing story applies to its side missions and scattered audio and text logs, too. If one of the many optional objectives seems dull, don’t worry about doing it. If a Talos I crewmate isn’t about to die, don’t worry about them. The narrative isn’t strong enough to make doing boring tasks worthwhile and Morgan will be tough enough to survive until the end of the game even if she skips some of the worst errands she’s asked to complete. Again, Prey is a toy box. What it succeeds at most is letting the player mess around with its many component parts. Take it on those terms.
Reid McCarter is a writer and editor based in Toronto whose work has appeared at Kill Screen and Playboy. He is the co-editor of SHOOTER (a compilation of critical essays on the shooter genre), edits Bullet Points Monthly, co-hosts the Bullet Points podcast and tweets @reidmccarter.