I had high expectations and high hopes for this game. It’s not often I actually look forward to and get excited about a new game that comes out, especially AAA games. The last time I gave a damn was Total War Rome 2, and we know how that turned out. Even games from Zenimax. After the cascading issues with Dishonored 2 last winter, where the game had performance problems across the board – on PC for literally 5 days after launch before Arkane fixed it – they really needed a win. They really needed a game to come out with a smooth release. Especially after Colantonio – who is now stepping down as CEO of Arkane- said
“In the case of Prey, we’re using CryEngine and it’s an engine that’s already shipped stuff before. So it’s not the same configuration. But nevertheless, we are aware of the problem; we were already but it got us by surprise. This time we’ll be paying more attention for sure,”
Well, guess what, this game was rife with technical issues. They happened on launch day. They continue to happen two months later to a lesser extent. It is not my machine causing these problems, as you can see the specs below. Fortunately, the vast majority of the game runs buttery smooth and doesn’t. suffer from crippling frame loss problems.
Despite all the manufactured drama from the insanos, about how “Prey 2 is what they should have received.” and how this game “Is trying to ride off the success of the original”, Prey (2017) looked like it was going to be great. It is great.
Let’s get one thing straight. Zenimax isn’t riding off of the success of anything, with Prey. Prey (2006) was not a good game, nor was it a very successful one. Judging by the current owners on Steam (which sit at about 75,000), it’s not even reasonable to think the original sold as well over its lifetime as the new title will, which has sold over 500,000 copies so far. Prey (2006) – as of October 2006, had sold 1 million copies between two systems. So far this title has pulled in at least those 500,000+ copies between Steam and PS4 and it will surely sell more copies in the future.
Keep in mind the original came out over 10 years ago when it was far easier to sell a game – any game – to an audience that wasn’t jaded and utterly toxic, not to mention full of kids who have to ask Reddits permission before they get any new game. People bought Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) for fucks sake. A lot of people. Not to mention, people on Steam do not buy games. The statistics don’t lie. That isn’t to say PC gamers don’t buy games, but people simply do not buy games on Steam. Unless it’s the latest open-world, unfinished survival game that has no point and no gameplay, or a free to play game, it’s going nowhere on PC. There are very few exceptions to that, like Skyrim or Civ 5.
It’s pathetic, honestly, to look at the PC space now and see a game so deeply rooted in the most significant period of PC gaming dominance – the 90s, where developers like Looking Glass, Origin Systems, id, 3DRealms, Valve, Ion Storm, Red Storm or Eidos were laying the foundations for the next 20 years of game design – sell so poorly in comparison to games that are objectively not as well-made and over-all not nearly as good.
Many people are still calling this “BioShock in space”, i.e System Shock – or more accurately, System Shock – but new. BioShock is “System Shock 2 underwater” minus all the hardcore game mechanics like hard RPG stats, putting your nanites into your abilities, weapon degradation, inventory management, etc. However, it’s more accurate to call Prey “Deus Ex 3 in Space”. Although the ending makes it clear just how much this game is like System Shock, the story at least seemed to follow a Deus Ex 3 vibe for a while as it debated and touched on the ethics of artificially speeding up human evolution.
So Prey (2017) combines the combat mechanics of System and BioShock, some enemies reminiscent of Dead Space, with the stealth game-play of System Shock and Deus Ex 3, the research mechanics of BioShock 2, and themes/story elements of all three. Add to that a story heavily influenced by and reminiscent of Philip K. Dick’s “We can remember it for you wholesale”, and it sounds like the recipe for a delicious game. How could it possibly go wrong? – you may ask yourself. I did.
Well, start with your bullshots.
Next, give the audience the comforting illusion that you actually tested this game in a hardware lab in order to avoid the reputation-damaging issues your previous game -released 6 months beforehand – suffered from.
Then, to go along with Zenimax’s industry standard pre-release review embargo, force the media to rush to beat an ultimately 20 hour long game within 24 hours, while still trying to do all the side-quests and not die and not rip their hair out. Yes, 20 hours.
Also make sure not to put any significant effort into explaining why you chose to buy an IP that a couple of extremely vocal trolls had an attachment to, instead of just naming it literally anything else. This way the Reddit echo chamber and Steam can maximize the possible collateral damage from people with an unhealthy, nearly autistic attachment to the original game and its sequel that got cancelled because the developers admitted it sucked.
Anyone who has ever played System Shock 2 knows that game is difficult. It doesn’t hold your hand. There are no quest markers. You can’t consult your inventory and have it set an easy path or even a way-point to guide you in the right direction. On the topic of those quest markers, they are the real reason – ignoring the insane technical issues that made the game literally unplayable at one point – that this game is infuriating.
They somehow found a way to make it harder than the 19 year old game that inspired it. There are quest markers and way-points, but they’re incomprehensible until you understand the layout of the station. Sometimes they guide you to the outside of the space station – when that isn’t at all the right way to go. Sometimes the quest marker will show on a door – and like an Elder Scrolls you assume that means you need to go through that door – then as soon as you get through the door, the quest marker shows on that same door again. As expected, there are also multiple quests in the same area so your quest markers just turn into several different markers which each read “multiple objectives” unless you only track one quest at a time. It’s confusing as all hell.
If that weren’t bad enough, there are multiple quests to find specific people. Some of them literally have tracking bracelets so if you have the appropriate skills, you can get to a computer terminal and activate a tracking beacon on them. When you do this, however, the computer only knows their last position. So you have to activate the marker from a computer terminal, and then go to their last known location, only to discover they are long gone to some other part of the station. If you don’t manually set that marker, you’ll never find them unless you keep a notebook by your side and write down the location of every dead or alive NPC you find like it’s 1996.
Prey also respawns enemies in areas you’ve already cleared, but it doesn’t just respawn enemies. It spawns newer, harder enemies, and more of them. If you clear the lobby it may have just been home to a regular Phantom. Come back and it’s a Voltaic Phantom or Thermal Phantom, or 6, or a Weaver, or hell why not a Technopath and a Weaver and 30 Cysts. In fact, why not make it a Nightmare and every type of Phantom too. On that note, Nightmares are basically this games version of the Big Sister mechanic. Once you make so much progress, they send a Nightmare after you – a huge , hulking Typhon beast that can kill you in less than a second if you get hit by enough of its energy blasts before healing.
What makes it frustrating is these enemies take a lot of punishment to die, in the beginning, and you have the exact opposite of a lot of ammo, all the time. Even with as easy as the crafting system is to abuse using recycler charges, you still have to actually have a recycler charge or 5 to begin with. The game punishes you for cutting back and forth across the station, and for not taking it slow and exploring every square inch of a new area repeatedly. While some may appreciate that, myself included on most occasions, it gets really frustrating during long stints – especially if you are saving many of the side-quests for the end.
Prey‘s main method of obtaining ammo and healing items, Psi hypos, etc. comes from a crafting system. Nearly every object that exists in the game world can be “recycled” i.e turned into raw materials. Some of these items are just junk you pick up and fit in your inventory – banana peels, notes, crumpled paper, flower petals, typhon organs, computer fans, circuit boards, hard drives. You drop those in a recycler and it breaks them down into raw materials. For objects you can’t carry, you toss a recycler charge and run away – a grenade that basically creates a singularity which crushes the objects into materials.
Once you have the raw materials, you can pay a visit to a fabricator – one will normally be located right next to a recycler – and create as many items as you have materials for. As long as you have the plans, which is where a lot of the difficulty in the game comes from. You must explore everything, everywhere, to find all the needed plans – including the outside of the ship.
One thing in this game in particular sent me over the edge and kind of soured the experience. There’s a sidequest to find an NPC who is located in a maintenance tunnel in the reactor room. Your only option up there is climbing i.e platforming. I have no qualms with platforming. I love Dying Light, and Dishonored. On paper it may have made perfect sense. However, clearly no one play-tested it. When you jump towards these gloo protrusions, you don’t get prompted for a “press space to climb” mechanic unless you are facing the perfect angle. If you press space facing any other angle, it doesn’t work, period. Even after you do vault on top of this dried gloo, it’s more likely to bounce you off because of some collision detection issue, than to let you to stand on it. It’s the most infuriating thing in the entire game and I cannot believe that the developer who made Dishonored and Dishonored 2, two games with buttery smooth first person platforming and climbing mechanics, had any part in this. Even with neuro-mods dedicated to jumping higher, the Gloo cannon is still involved and it’s very annoying that the game sheds its normal multiple approach game-play in order to force you to play one way.
The god awful gloo climbing and searching for Lockwood, combined, absolutely killed my enjoyment of the game. I struggled with motivation to finish the game at all, even as I slowly knocked out the remaining quests, because of the constant performance issues (until installing new drivers) or simply annoying mechanics. Of fourteen hours playing the game at that point, I had already spent two of them fighting against poor design choices and things that weren’t made clear to me as the player.
Other than, the game is fantastic. It’s beautiful and maintains the CryEngine tradition of eating silicon for three meals a day, while still conveying Arkane’s unique almost-realistic art style. The computer terminals, the emails, the little personal dramas between the researchers and employees on the station do a swell job of subtly telling the story, making this giant floating skyscraper seem like it used to be a real place.
Arkane and Chris Avellone, whatever writing role he actually had in the project, definitely deserve props for the ending. It wasn’t totally unexpected or original but it was a great ending that raises some questions – mostly around understanding how it makes any sense. They definitely topped System Shock and I would say the ending is certainly on par with Bioshock.