Arkane's history is one that's been carved out of the blood and cracked grandeur of games like Deus Ex, System Shock, and Arx Fatalis; the games they make wear these inspirations on their sleeves easily, mainly because Harvey Smith and Raphael Colantonio have either directed, written, or done extensive QA on all of those aforementioned projects. Arkane has continued a strong tradition of skill trees, power sets, worldbuilding through documents and audio logs, freewheeling hubs, dark secrets, and continuous espionage with their products over the course of their existence. In Dishonored 1 and 2, there was a beauty in the mechanics and the freedom of choice--the ways in which to conquer each objective and utilize a terrifying mystical arsenal in rich, satisfying ways.
Prey, although hewn from the same sharp minds that collected and dispersed the wonders of Dishonored, goes further in both narrative and game design, especially when it gifts you the subtle poison of being unfaithful to the player. In times past, games like Metal Gear Solid 2 and Bioshock had the audacity to commit a sin: lie to the player. In recent years this is not so shocking, but as an early concept in the last 10 or so years, deliberately leading you on is a quality that many games are not particularly partial to. Prey is built to test your perception of self inside and outside of the game, leading you to confront your own actions as you explore a story that is built on the environment and relics left behind.
Prey begins with a lie that slowly spreads like a death blossom, countering what you fear to be the worst case scenario with even worse half-truths. As Morgan Yu, you're suddenly privvy to an accident at a research facility that you and your brother Alex are in charge of. The science being undertaken at the Talos 1 Space Station is both life-changing and gruesome, as the same wonderdrug that grants humans unbelievable abilities has ties to an interdimensional menace known as the Typhon. These aliens are not only versed in elemental attunements and psychic blasts, but can do things such as split into many or even mimic ordinary objects in order to ambush you with their deadly tendrils. What follows is a battle of attrition and paranoia, as the first half of the journey is spent in fear over whether or not a simple cup or a chair might turn into a dangerous spidery Typhon. This is a mission of not only survival, but one of discovery and re-discovering who you are, what you will be, and how you want to end this nightmare--before the literal Nightmare enemy stalks and destroys you.
Your means of exploration and self-defense are sometimes an overlapping junction, as one of your primary tools is the GLOO gun: a machination that serves both as a halting containment to most Typhon and natural hazards, and a constructor of platforms that you can climb upon to reach almost anything. Aside from that, you'll be taking a page from Gordon Freeman with a blunt wrench, a standard pistol, shotgun, and a few other specialized grenades to do battle with your alien enemy. Aside from these weapons, you'll begin accruing Neuromods--the product that your TranStar company is famous for. Plugging one into your skull grants hacking power, health upgrades, agility boosts, scientific knowledge, or repair abilities. Later on, once you've studied enough Typhon, these powers will divert into 3 more skill trees of morphology (turning into teacups and cellular regen), telekinetics (psionic shocks, telepathy, and remote control of machines) and energy-based power (elemental attacks, resistances, and siphons.) The drawback in ingesting such alien material is yet to be seen, although it does mark you as hostile to any turret systems currently in use on Talos 1.
Speaking of Talos 1, it's a wonderous art noveau juggernaut that holds a wealth of unique installations and facilities, from the lush Arboretum and the wide space of the gallant lobby to the core reactors and dark reaches of the cargo hold. What's even more unique to Talos 1 are the airlocks, which serve as "fast travel" points and allow you to spacewalk outside the station itself to quickly get from one area to another as they are unlocked. Spacewalks were a highly enjoyable way to float back and forth between areas, and even the cold reach of outer space holds its own secrets and side-ops for you to discover.
Although the main narrative--one of conflicting histories and memory banks of deceptive directives--will be guiding your hand towards one of several conclusions, the real meat in the skeleton of Prey's gameplay lies within the world contained in company emails, documents, and audio recordings. Like Dishonored, this is a game that hides the most interesting tidbits in plain sight; however, with Prey, these side stories are substantial in scope and will often cascade and intersect with each other. There is a mindblowing amount of detail in this web of relationships, from a far-reaching RPG game group across the space station to a huge amount of information for Danielle Sho, who could be considered almost a full-fledged character when you see just how much information and history she leaves behind. Sho is a character who you could easily never read about, care about, or encounter once--but putting in the work to discover new things in Prey pays back with a myriad of fascinating facts about Morgan Yu and his ever more dangerous projects.
Even though the exploration is the main hook to Prey, you're still trapped in a space station with a hundred hungry Typhons and all their terrible abilities. As the game moves onward, more and more breaches will mean that not even the central lobby hub is safe from bigger and badder aliens inhabiting it. The combat that takes place in Prey is a mix of stealthy assault and psionic warfare, depending on your build halfway into the game. A shotgun blast is reliable, but indirect attacks hacking security drones and creating pyrotechnic implosions can be just as good, depending on resistances and enemy type. Luckily, your constant psychoscope can pinpoint weaknesses in each alien as you gradually analyze more of them. I wouldn't go as far as to say Prey's combat is on the same tier of Dishonored's dance of teleportation and hidden blades, but
Through both the main story quest and the missions, evidence, and scandals you collect along the way, Morgan's story will quickly become your own--due in part to the memory erasure of the Typhon mods and the delirious experimentation Morgan took upon himself. In more ways than one, the game becomes an exploration of identity and consequence: in the circumstance that you are embroiled within, how can you avoid the mistakes of the past and build upon the future? Will your sense of truth and reality affect your actions? What does it mean to be humane--or even human? Being that Prey is essentially a game about mimics that transform and mirror everything from people to desk lamps, the greatest transforming act of all may be within your own story told through Morgan. There is so much more to the elements of self-consciousness, ethics in science, and transhuman development, but it will be up to you to define the path ahead and decide how Morgan Yu should--or-would--react.
Within the rich construction of both the inner world and the inner self that Arkane creates in Prey, there's a story even greater than the shocking ending and ramifications therein. There are particles and pieces in the scenery that echo the spectacle of Dishonored 2's Clockwork Mansion, and much like how amazing peeling back the layers of that level was, there's a hidden joy in combing over the intricacies of how Prey both seduces and deceives you. Whether it's seeing for yourself how the ridiculous intro was "created" or connecting the dots from one departed scientist's project to the far reach of the space station's outer workings, the best moments lie within systematically finding your own truths. Even as the final beats of the story tick down and leave you with even more questions, the answer for me was clear: Arkane once again delighted and intrigued me, even against the darker and challenging moments posed in the middle of the experience. If this was truly Rafael Colantonio's swan song, it was one hell of a fucking game to go out on--combining everything he and Harvey Smith touched in their 20+ years experience and crafting an immersive experience that asks you to similarly touch upon a plethora of stories in one package. Prey is, for this multitude of reasons and psychological queries, a fantastic example of what a videogame can accomplish.
Amazing and topical!