As I’m sure many of you are aware, the one hour Prey Demo has been available since April 27th. If you haven’t tried it yet, be sure to jump in and give it a spin! Oddly, the demo only became available to Xbox One and PS4 owners despite the fact that the game is blatantly optimised for a PC audience. Something I will get into later.
Longing For Days Gone By
I went into Prey wanting it to be absolutely brilliant. I’m one of the apparently few people who actually played the original 2006 release. That was a spectacular game, ahead of its time graphically and conceptually. It was the first shooter that I’m aware of to introduce things like gravity boots and portal guns. Yes it was before Portal and yes, I do believe the original Prey is the reason Portal exists. As a result of all these breakthrough and original ideas, I naturally became very fond of the original Prey.
Eagerly I awaited Prey 2 with diamonds in my eyes, pouring over the same gameplay and cinematic trailers time and again. It offered a free roaming world where the player could whizz around as Human Head Studios’ equivalent of Boba Fett, hunting marks and completing contracts. It’s safe to say everybody into Prey was super hyped for the release of its sequel.
Bethesda Sent The Prey IP Back To Square One
Puzzling to this day, however, is the fact that Bethesda deemed it “not up to our standards” and the game was canned. In my bitterness, I discovered the reveal for this new impostor at last year’s E3. Naturally when the Prey Demo released, I hoped that it would be really bloody good. It would have to be to dispel my bitterness and continued disappointment at the cancellation of Prey 2. Honestly, the Prey Demo doesn’t reveal so much to draw a complete conclusion. Yet, what is in there is indeed very promising. As someone with a predisposition of bias against the game before having played it, that’s a bold statement.
Firstly, within the first fifteen minutes of playing, we already have a tonne of questions. Great questions that will likely keep many a gamer hooked. These involve such juicy sci-fi queries as “is Morgan Yu stuck in a time loop?”, “Is Morgan Yu’s entire life so far a set of fake memories?” or “is everything he’s experiencing just another simulation?”. An air of intrigue is masterfully established fairly quickly. Gameplay is also classic Arkane, reminiscent of their Dishonored titles. Munching on fruit for health and collecting many different items as currency or for use with repairs ring the same way.
Similarities To Bioshock Have Been Targeted And Implemented
Players will also have a Bioshock style level up system where they must find spiky things to stick in themselves to learn new skills. Cleverly in the case of Prey, these are called Neuromods. They poke you in the eyeball and upload information to the brain. While we’re on the topic of Bioshock, I started to feel pretty strongly that Arkane has sat down and said “right what do people love about Bioshock and how can we get those things in our game”. Say what you will, but I like this approach. I’m sure you wouldn’t argue that Bioshock is a masterpiece of a game.
So in the case of Prey we can draw comparisons when we freeze enemies with glue and smash them with our wrench. Or when we explore the space station, built in a distinctly art deco style, very similar to Rapture. I believe all this is no coincidence or mistake. So much as a smart move to give gamers (many of which will have likely played Bioshock) a comfortable sense of nostalgia.
Not All Is Well On Talos 1
Yet, Prey is not without it’s pre-release issues and worries. I feel some balancing work needs to be done in the area of enemy difficulty and variety. Humanoid foes tend to have a fair bit of health. Resources needed to fight them seem to be sparse. They also have attack patterns that are unreasonably difficult to dodge. Perhaps this is something that will be resolved by the player learning new skills and finding new weapons. After all, we are told some enemies can be circumnavigated without a fight at all. Sadly, I found button input lag exacerbated the situation yet further. This led to slightly uncomfortable aiming and messy fights. Bethesda has promised us this will be fixed by release… we’ll see. I’m also concerned that all we’ll be fighting are these black mass type aliens which could get a little stale a few hours in.
Lastly, the Prey Demo gives me the impression things would be better on PC. As if Arkane designed the game for PC first and for consoles second. Which is entirely their decision to make and the PC gaming market has exploded in the last few years. Perhaps I feel this way because of the input lag and that the quick precision aiming required of you would be better with a mouse. The many computer screens in the game literally expect you to use a mouse to navigate them anyway!
Think Doom 3 kind of interfaces where the aim reticule turns into a mouse. I’ve always liked this rarely used idea in sci-fi games. It makes things seem a little more real. Yet in the case of navigating these screens with a joystick, selecting smaller points within the screen can be a twitchy game of stick fiddling. Again, an actual mouse would be preferable. Perhaps Arkane released the demo on consoles to get a feel for things without angering the loud voice that is the “PC Master Race”.
After all, the game is rendered by the CryEngine. An engine I’ve always found to be optimised for high end PCs as its outings on console have always appeared a little sloppy (with the exception of Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture). I used to get excited at the prospect of playing a CryEngine game on consoles. Now, I realise the consoles can’t really keep up and that I have a lack of anti-aliasing and soft textures to look forward to instead. Unfortunately, I can see the graphical prowess of the Prey Demo attempting to burst on to my television. Yet, it doesn’t quite make it as these woes are present yet again.
A Very Promising Game Awaits
When all’s said and done, the Prey Demo offers a very promising premise aside from handling issues. It has a strong story setup, deep RPG elements, an initiative for reward system similar to Deus Ex and even brings a few original ideas of its own to the fore. If anything, I’ll be looking forward to playing the full game for the story that has gotten its claws into me already. Sadly, as a big fan of the original game, I’ll always be looking back to what Prey 2 could have been and if it would have actually been better.