Review: Prey (PS4)

Formats:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One

Format/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • 4K HDR

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
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Title: Prey
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (40.82 GB)
Release Date: May 5, 2017
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Arkane Studios
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: M
PEGI: 18
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Prey is an interesting game in terms of a review. I found myself engaged, exploring every corner, email, and piece of backstory I could get my hands on.

Every side mission needed to be completed and the beauty of the game’s location was awe inspiring. The level design and mechanics did a lot to pull me in.

Yet… along the way I was always left wanting. Providing pinpoint criticism for this feeling had evaded me. How is it I could feel so indifferent about a game I was so committed to finishing?

At its core, the game offers a play-your-way adventure in a very unique setting. Arkane Studios has an excellent pedigree here.

Both Dishonored games were critical successes in an era where “AAA” publishers shy away from single-player only experiences. Those games created real atmosphere and pulled ideas from steam-punk and fantasy aesthetics to deliver an amazing experience and intriguing world.

Prey, in contrast, fails to establish that level of depth for the player. A disappointing story mixed with tragically shallow art direction kept me from feeling fully invested. If it weren’t for the stellar gameplay mechanics and player choice, I feel I would have lost all interest in finishing the game.

Is this game worth your time, money, and attention? I can’t answer that for you, but hopefully the account of my experience can help you make that decision.

Gameplay:
Prey promises flexibility in how you approach each problem at Talos I. On that, Arkane Studios delivered. Once the space station descends into chaos, one of your first tasks provides you with three options: find a back-way into a room, hack into the room, or scrounge around to find the door’s password. Nearly every scenario provides similar choices, allowing you to leverage your strengths and skill tree to achieve your goal.

The skill tree in this game has two main sections, normal human abilities, and abilities derived from the typhon, an alien life form at the center of the game’s story. These powers allow to you learn many skills, from hacking to psychokinetic abilities.

As you develop your skill tree, it’s best you focus on becoming a specialist in a few areas. Those are completely up to you to choose, but be aware that the generalist approach will be met with death as the game is unforgiving.

There is a great deal of scavenging and crafting required. The good news is that the game has an excellent recycling system that allows you to harvest many things and turn them into usable materials. You can then craft those materials into bullets, medkits, weapons, and neuromods – the game’s path to expanding your skill tree.

Recycling and crafting machines are littered throughout Tallos I which makes this system much more convenient and less burdensome. Even the crafting system offers great choice, helping inform your particular approach to missions.

With scavenging there is some light resource management. Now you’re not going to be starved for bullets like many horror games, but you won’t be flush with them either. In this area, I believe the game strikes a serviceable balance.

… There are some balance concerns …
If my shotty ran out of bullets, it was only a matter of heading to the nearest recycling and crafting machine to make more. You’ll also find some ammunition scattered around for you to pick up.

In my playthrough I focused on powerful attacks and hacking. My main focus: I didn’t want to have to sneak around, and I wanted to leave no corner unexplored in the station. While very difficult at first, once I grew my typhon powers and heavily modified my shotgun there was not a foe who could stand in my way. This was satisfying as I powered my way through and explored every square inch of Talos I.

There are some balance concerns to be sure. The first half of the game is WAY harder than the second half. And as I mentioned before, it is possible to “incorrectly” spec out your character. Not a great thing considering the “play your way” nature of the game.

Now I won’t get into any spoilers here, but I will be speaking to some high-level themes. If you’d like to go into the game completely blind, please feel free to skip to the visuals section.

This story in the simplest terms is generic, lazy, and disrespectful of my time. No matter how hard I explored, how many pieces of lore I read, there was never a real payoff.

… There’s also no real strong antagonist …
Given that the game’s location and theme would provide an outstanding opportunity to tell a great story, I found myself devoid of any emotional investment.

Basic themes remained just that, basic. The game’s effort to tell your story through other characters fell prey (eh… eh…) to the classic cinema sin of telling you rather than showing you.

I get that I’ve lost my memory, but that’s no excuse for just providing me expository dialog when a main plot point needs progression. I would expect the writer to be creative in getting me that information in a more engaging manner.

There’s also no real strong antagonist. In fact, by the time one comes around toward the end, it’s too little too late. The typhon hardly qualify as an antagonist, since there is never a well explained reason for their hostility.

All this is capped off with a “twist” ending that even M. Night Shyamalan would curse at. I mentioned that the game was disrespectful of my time, and that comment was specifically referencing this. I couldn’t think of a lazier piece of writing if I tried. Cutting to a black screen after you’ve completed the final mission would have had more creative integrity.

… Enemy design is unimaginative …
Visuals:
Within the first hour, I was in awe by the visuals and location. Right off the bat, you’re met with a breathtaking view out the lobby of the Moon and Earth. An awe-inspiring view to be sure.

The problem came as I continued to play, I noticed how off things began to appear after long exposure to the environment. While the facility itself has a lush and retro design, the futuristic elements are just plopped into place.

Basically, take the set of Mad Men and plop a modern LCD touchscreen computer on the desk. It doesn’t fit. Small details in the the game lack an artistic cohesion that make the history and culture of this alternate timeline believable.

Enemy design is unimaginative. Despite the fact that there are many different types of enemies, they all look strikingly similar and offer little in terms of uniqueness. Just slap electricity on a phantom and… BOOM new enemy type. Oh, what about a nightmare? Sounds scary. How about we just make a phantom really big.

There are also some distracting visual glitches the further along in the game you get. One time I floated up through the floor, while another time after I searched a corpse it fell through a couch.

If the studio spent more time defining the game’s aesthetic, we would have had a much more immersive experience. The money is in the details, and unfortunately all we got was the shallow expression of a McMansion.

… it’s hard to find yourself immersed in the soundscape …
Audio:
In terms of ambient and environmental noise, Prey does a poor job. The surround sound allows you to clearly hear enemies and surrounding NPCs, even if they’re in the next freaking room.

There are some serious balance issues happening, causing confusion and pulling me out of the experience. I did like what they’ve done when you’re in the vacuum of space. Sounds are either muffled or completely deadened, adding to the feeling of emptiness.

The music is another example of the lack of artistic direction. There are so many different genres, styles, and themes that it’s hard to find yourself immersed in the soundscape.

Individually each selection is fine. But there’s no link that draws them together, no defining style for the world that taps into your emotions to fully commit you to your surroundings.

The music is another source of genuine disappointment.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is one player only with no online component.

Conclusion:
Point of pride, I’ve made it through this entire review without referencing BioShock or System Shock. I know people hate it when you compare two similar titles, but frankly it’s usually a very relevant topic to explore. Even the developers at Arkane Studios have made the comparison.

And that’s the trouble with comparing yourself to your peers. You better damn well make sure your product is superior. Play the opening hour demo, you’ll see plenty of similar queues to BioShock and understand why the comparison is valid.

What the game can only hope to achieve is something merely just as good. But when it comes to story and aesthetic, we’re given a Volkswagen when expecting an Audi.

Out of all the games this generation I’ve excitedly completed, this is my least favorite.

Score:
6.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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Written by Sam Jividen

Sam Jividen

Musical guy, went to college for it. Now like many musicians I’m working at a tech startup.

My first gaming memories harken from the NES. While I had a Genisis later, I always found myself going back to the NES to play Super Mario 3 or Mega Man 2. These days I’m usually gaming on my PS4 or PC.

Some day I’ll be Honey Boo-Boo famous.

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  • DEVILTAZ35 .

    What an insult to VW mentioning them along side this piece of total shite. Perhaps if Bethesda addressed all the major issues with the PS4 version it might help. Instead they not only ignore everything they messed up , they then have the audacity to tell people to have a good 4th of July break and show them sunning themselves up somewhere.

    I know this game might be half decent on PC and to my knowledge it is not bad apart from a recent Hud issue , On Xbox as well but on PS4 it never should have been released as first it was bad input lag that they lied about from day one as being fixed and now it is severe frame pacing issues and broken quest markers.

    They have had weeks and weeks to put this right instead they steal people’s money under false pretences.

    The only place Bethesda bosses should be is behind bars where thieves belong.

    I have already enquired about legal proceedings against them to try and stop this sort of garbage occuring again.

    • Cool, keep up updated on the legal proceedings

    • lol

      • DEVILTAZ35 .

        lol apparently word from Bethesda is they are working on PS4 problems haha. They should get a job as stand up comedians.