Yu Scam Clan
Developer: Arkane Studios
Reviewed on: PS4 (Review code/copy provided)
Bethesda are not a company aiming to make friends. Fresh from threatening to sue a team of three developers for using the word ‘Prey’ in the name of their small indie game, they also memorably announced they weren’t sending out advanced copies of games for reviews anymore. Except for YouTube influencers, because everyone knows if there’s one demographic you can trust it’s YouTubers.
The thing is, despite all this it’s difficult to ignore old Bezza because they produce gems like this. Originally pencilled in as a sequel to the 2006 game of the same name, this is instead a whole new beast. Atmospheric, twisting and original, Prey generated a lot of interest since its announcement, and justifiably so.
Despite this, Prey is not quite the game it thinks it is. Amongst the anxiety-building and suspense there’s some oddly tacky choices in design. During a helicopter flight in the opening moments, you get the logos for the developers and the game title itself presented as part of the architecture of the city you’re skimming across, something that would have looked naff ten years ago in a Hollywood film, never mind now. The launch version of the game featured some unfortunate input-lag on the controls, which was happily later fixed in patches.
It’s also not quite as graphically sharp as you’d hope for. This is perhaps Bethesda’s thing, though; their biggest titles such as Fallout 4 and Skyrim, and those they attach their name to as publishers, have been capable in the visual department rather than outstanding, with the focus instead on gameplay and progression.
And who can argue with that? Prey feels like a smarter brother to last year’s fantastically violent and blunt FPS, Doom. Creepy, abandoned space stations? Yep. Inhuman beasts? Yuh huh. But whereas that game threw a wealth of bigger and badder cannons at you every ten minutes, Prey is more resourceful in it’s weaponry. There’s more than a touch of survival horror here, particularly when your main weapons are a wrench and a non-lethal cannon that fires glue. Enemies are infrequent but powerful, and you’re often making a smart move if you sneak around or just run rather than stand and fight. That glue gun (officially titled the GLOO Cannon) is a great problem-solver too, and can be used to create surfaces for climbing or making dangerous situations accessible, like a really gung-ho Health and Safety officer.
But you’re not a Health and Safety officer. You have the choice of playing as either a male Yu or a female Yu. They’re also Asian, so look forward to the usual whining from certain sections of Twitter who feel there aren’t enough white males in video games. Throwing something of a twist at you less than an hour into the story, your chosen Yu is suddenly embroiled in a battle with a cavalier sibling in space, something I think we can all relate to.
Onto those enemies, then. It’s timely that these mainly look like Giger’s aliens, what with the release of Alien: Covenant this month. The mimics are oily, stretchy spider-things that you’ll find it immensely satisfying to pummel with a wrench when they’re not disguising themselves as coffee mugs or something. Yes, the main MO of these skittery lunatics is that they can pretend to be any inanimate object they please, something which obviously lends itself to jump scares. While this could just be the set-up to plenty of lazy shock-tactics, it’s used well, although does get a bit played-out by the end of the game. Still, spotting a mimic scuttle into a dead-end room and following leads to tense stand-offs as you survey the area with your scope, looking for what looks out of place before ATTACKING IT WILDLY WITH A WRENCH! ATTACK IT NOW! They also have bigger brothers; upright xenomorph-like creatures that are far stronger than you. While they’re fairly menacing, they are somewhat less interesting than the mimics by comparison, but do well to add to that survival-horror vibe, being generally intimidating and taking a serious pummelling. Creeping around them is actually manageable, unlike some stealth games, but when you get rumbled the GLOO cannon does at least give you a third option in addition to the usual fight or flight choices.
So if the enemies are original but not that scary, where does the sense of dread come from aside from in the game, as if watching the news and the constant threat of nuclear war in our everyday lives wasn’t enough? Well, Prey is a surefire entry for some sound design awards. Orchestral and electronic mix in crescendos and swells, jittery and stuttering to suit the strange and unfamiliar setting you find yourself in. It’s alienating, inventive and uneasy, like playing through a Kafka novel but way less dull.
The game throws the usual mechanics du jour in such as crafting and skill trees, the latter particularly similar to the aforementioned Doom reboot. These are done by the way of neuromods, collectable throughout the game to aid abilities including repairing damaged electronics, lifting heavier objects and firearm handling. You’re also eventually granted the ability to harness Typhon mods, derived from the mimics and Phantom. This is a novelty indeed, and no doubt the first one you go for will be the ability to pick any object in the environment and disguise yourself as it. For a game that takes itself quite seriously, allowing you to flop around on the floor as a lively desk chair or coffee cup is pretty hilarious. You can craft by collecting seemingly useless items such as fruit peel and wire coils, converting these into materials suitable for 3D printing using recycling stations and fabricators for ammo, air-propulsion packs and more. It’s still crafting, but a plausible future-twist on it.
Pesky publishers aside, Prey is an original and enrapturing experience. From sales figures it almost seems possible Bethesda may have cut off their noses to spite their proverbial faces, with the lack of reviews and attention prior to launch stifling the interest in those outside of the inner-circle. Had Prey had the usual reviews dropping prior to launch the buzz generated could have been huge. Instead it was pipped to the post by Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, an excellent game but one that was nevertheless only released on one console that no one can seem to find anywhere to buy.
But dodgy press decisions aside, this is not a title to dismiss; genuinely atmospheric and deep and with a novel way of battling enemies that makes you feel at risk and underpowered throughout, struggling for survival. It’s also go its fair share of bugs, both the mimics and otherwise, that could hold back a lesser game. As it is, there’s more than enough to get you past all that.