A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away there arrived a much under-appreciated game called System Shock which was light years ahead of its time. I rarely replay games, but this one I have played three times and could easily play again. A few years later saw the advent of a sequel, amazingly called System Shock 2. Now comes a new game Prey which at the very least has been made as an 'homage' and a spiritual successor to the original SS.
Some may argue that both System Shock and indeed Prey are not really RPG's, but I beg to differ. You are most definitely playing a specific character who grows and develops throughout the game, though not in the same manner as your more traditional RPG; there is no experience, for example. Instead, as you solve and complete quests you are able to open up and unlock new skill trees which allow you to customise your character precisely in the way you choose to do so. For example, there are three main ways to fight in the game; melee, guns, and psi-powers. You can choose to focus on developing one of these, or spread yourself around. Either way, at times, you will need to use all three.
In System Shock, you awake without any memory on an orbiting space station that's filled with hostile life forms which used to be people. In Prey you find yourself on an orbiting space station which is also filled with hostile life forms, many of which used to be people as well. While there are still a few people left alive on the station, you won't actually meet them for quite some time. This is a solo adventure, not a party campaign. Your memory is full of holes and nothing is what it seems. You have to discover what has been happening from reading emails and listening to voice mails you find as you search the eerily empty rooms and corridors of the badly damaged space station.
As you wend your way through the various levels of the space station, the story of the game slowly unfolds. Exploration is a massive component of the gameplay and since you can crouch, jump and make your own staircase there's a great deal to discover. Climbing the walls is a literal, rather than an emotional response to several situations. Almost everything can be manipulated, or collected. You can throw objects around, break glass, put out fires, or start them. Most objectives can be achieved in several different ways so thinking creatively is encouraged. Initially, some options may not yet be available, but as the game opens up, so do the possibilities. Many of these are linked to the skill tree progressions.
Skills are learned by using Neuromods; a device you helped invent. These can be found throughout the space station either on open display, or quietly hidden, but find them you must. Eventually, you'll even be able to fabricate your own. Let me digress for a moment. Two important devices which can be located throughout the station are a 'Recycler' and a 'Fabricator'. All the junk and trash you collect, plus any spare weapons you don't need go into the recycle bin to create raw materials which can then be used to fabricate almost everything that's available in the game including weapons and ammunition, once you discover the plans for their manufacture.
You begin the game with three possible skill trees; Scientist, Engineer, and Security. What might surprise you is that computer hacking is part of the Scientist tree, not the Security one. Eventually, you will obtain a device which opens up three more trees; Energy, Morph, and Telepathy. There are over 90 different skill choices in the game with some being higher tiers of a basic skill, so for example you would have Repair1, which opens up Repair 2 and eventually Repair 3. Each higher tier costs considerably more Neuromods, so you won't be able to even obtain every skill in the game, never mind maxing all of them out. Plan your character's development carefully. I'd suggest that increasing your inventory size and health pool are worthwhile early considerations.
The game doesn't swamp you with weapon and ammunition choices. There is one melee weapon, a wrench, one shotgun, two pistols, one laser, a gloo-gun which has several uses a stun gun and a toy crossbow which fires floppy darts that are perfect for shooting at computer monitors to activate door unlocks. Finally, there are the various Psi abilities which can be used to devastating effect once obtained. Fortunately, all your options are quickly and easily selectable and changeable and the game actually pauses while you do so. Your research will also let you know what type of attack will work best on which enemy, but discovering how that works is part of the fun of the game.
So, what types of critters are you facing during your travels? The first and possibly the most annoying is the Mimic which while it looks a little like a black four legged spider can actually, as the name implies, disguise itself as absolutely anything; a stool, a waste bin, a bottle, a book. Just as you go to pick an object up it might suddenly latch onto you and try to suck out your life. They also move very quickly which is why you need to slow them down with a gloo-gun. Soon, you'll be meeting assorted Phantoms, Telepaths, Nightmares and corrupted flying robots. All of these are accompanied by great sound effects and atmospheric music. I found it very immersing.
It's probably worthwhile here to mention the issue of respawns. Yes it happens, but not randomly. Somewhat like the different chapters in Gothic, when you leave a newly opened up area, you may find some respawns in previous areas, not many, but one or two. I feel this adds to the overall atmosphere of the game as you can never feel totally safe; there's always something there to surprise you, annoying as you may find it.
Visually, the game doesn't disappoint. You not only have the opportunity to explore an entire space station with several floors and areas which illustrate just how massive it is, but you get to travel outside as well for several quests as you power around the station in your special suit fixing holes, or gaining vital information, or rescuing trapped survivors. Everything is in first person 3D look and everything just feels right. When you're in a weightless area, you move just as you'd expect which is both realistic, but at times, frustrating.
The game develops through a series of interlinked quests. The main storyline has a multi-faceted line of assorted quests which lead you through the story, but there are a plethora of side quests you pick up along the way which can keep you occupied for hours while taking a short break from the main action. During the well over 60 hours I have spent with the game I have never been left wondering what I should be doing; there was always plenty going on.
So, the bottom line; what do I think of the game as a whole? It's a blast, literally. I've had a ton of fun with Prey and enjoyed every part of it, even those frustrating times that all games have. There may be some bugs in the game for some people, but to the best of my knowledge, I didn't encounter any of them; other than the actual ones you were supposed to kill. If you enjoyed either of the System Shock games, or even Bioshock, then you should also really enjoy Prey, I know I did.
Developer: Arkane Studios
Regions & platforms
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2017-05-05
· Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
- Great atmosphere
- Lots of variety in quests
- Solid character progression
- Plenty of meaningful choices
- Replay possibilities
- Fairly linear story
- Some areas frustrating to reach
- Lots of retracing path
- Resources can be scarce