In the vastly overcrowded world of the first-person shooter, it’s strange what makes a mark. The ability to transform into a coffee cup and roll around the floor, for one, as it’s with little shame I admit that’s what first peaked my interest in Arkane Studios’ latest, Prey.
That, and the fact Arkane are behind the wildly entertaining series, now once more teaming with Bethesda on a remake-in-name-only of 2006’s Prey.
We’re flinging ourselves a world away from the towering Victoriana-steampunk of Dishonored here, however, with the preview I had the chance to play seeing you wake up as Morgan Yu (with the option of playing as a male or female rendition of the character) in the sleek metallic dream that is your futuristic apartment.
Prey takes place in an alternate timeline where JFK was never assassinated, instead fuelling his visionary talents into the US space program, culminating in the construction of the prodigious Talos I space station, placed in orbit around the Earth’s moon.
Your world is a clean, shiny vision of domestic bliss that only subtly hints at something deeper; underneath the coffee cups and throw pillows, lie small hints of something brewing.
Documents detail the mysterious powers of Neuromods, a way to restructure the human brain to grant (sometimes superhuman) abilities. “What if I told you I could turn you into a mathematician on the level of Einstein in under 10 minutes?” one page notes.
A concept that’s not entirely unlike Bethesda’s own Bioshock series, though a couple of plot twists and turns later, the source of these Neuromods becomes disturbingly apparent.
Now aboard Talos I, I underwent a short baptism of fire/tutorial, as Morgan is processed through various scientific tests and challenges, all rather rudely interrupted by an alien attack. You see, all this space activity didn’t go unnoticed by the intergalactic community, with an alien force known as the Typhon turning up to attack Earth.
These guys are particularly sneaky in nature, which is where Prey gets one of its most immediate thrills, as the Typhon have a predilection for mimicking everyday objects. Every room you enter initially looks calm, inviting even, just until one of these sludge-like creatures jumps out of your nearest water cooler and start clambering straight towards your face.
You are, thankfully, granted a small arsenal of weapons to take them down. Though, be warned, ammo is pretty rare in space. There are shotguns and pistols for the traditionalists, while the GLOO gun traps the Typhon in their own personal foam party. Except the foam instantly solidifies so you can brutally smash them into alien dust. Fun!
Yet, the one upside of this Typhon invasion is the invention of the Neuromods, carefully crafted by studying their alien physiology. Which means, fast-forwarding through the game for the second part of the preview I played, that you’re eventually granted their ability to mimic objects.
Hence, the whole becoming a coffee cup and rolling around with a surprising amount of glee; useful for sneaking around unseen, delightful for feeling like you’re pranking your enemies at the same time. Nobody expects to be KO’d by a stapler.
What’s most immediately striking about Prey is that, between the GLOO guns and the coffee cup transformations, this is a game about options. One of the most valuable aspects of Dishonored was that, despite the linearity of the overall gameplay versus a true open world platform, the vast number of ways to succeed in your goals lent the whole thing an air of infinite playability.
The same seems to be true here, too. Prey is a game that promises to mould effortlessly to a player’s own personality. You can go in hard and brutal, always choosing the most explosive way out of your problems; or there’s the tactician’s approach, with a keen eye for alternative paths or out-of-the-box problem-solving.
Or, like me, you can just roll around as a trash can in a blind panic until the problem gets bored and goes away. The choice is yours.
Prey will be released on PC, Xbox One, and PS4 on 5 May.