The lessons that Prey can learn from Dishonored
How Arkane’s latest might be the most interesting shooter of 2017
If Dishonored 2 has unequivocally proven anything, it’s that Arkane Studios is one of the very best developers in the world when it comes to distilling down the elements that make up a great, reactive and expansive, first-person experience. That expertise will feed into Prey, a beast the likes of which we have never seen from the studio – or, for that matter, so far during this generation.
It’s easy enough to classify Prey as a first-person shooter. You are, after all, locked behind the eyes of protagonist Morgan Yu (who can be played as either a man or a woman) and, yes, you’re going up against an array of creepy extraterrestrial monsters just begging to be blasted by futuristic weaponry, but to write it off as such would be doing it, and yourself, a huge disservice. Prey, like Dishonored before it, falls into that awkward ‘immersive sim’ category; a genre that exists without proper rules or definition – though it’s that flexibility that works to the benefit of Prey. It’s an inherently flexible game, designed in such a way that you’ll be able to determine your own destiny as you explore the overrun hellscape that is space-station/secret government research facility Talos I.
You are caught in a loop of survival and struggle as you push your way deeper into the mysteries of the space station and its experimental work on the strange alien life forms dubbed the Typhon. You are, of course, hilariously un-equipped to deal with – let alone escape – the threat of enemies that warp the laws of nature as we’ve come to understand them, and so you must survive with whatever you get your hands on. Be it weapons, wits or mind-bending abilities, each will play a pivotal role in your progression.
We know Arkane Studios can work its way around a good ability system. Dishonored 2 has given us that much, with the studio demonstrating a skill set that amplifies creative play but maybe struggles on the narrative end of things. This will be something that Arkane will need to work on, of course, although the comparatively open-ended structure should allow for a greater emphasis on environmental and emergent storytelling.
Prey is designed around a system of power consumption, whereby you are able to absorb some of the powers of your alien-foes and exhibit similar techniques. There’s Mimic, which lets you become literally any item in the game so long as it is in close proximity to you; perfect for those occasions where transforming into a coffee cup will allow you to roll through a small security booth window undetected. There’s a Leverage ability that allows you to harness great strength to move otherwise unmovable objects, and another called Kinetic Blast which can clear the ground of frozen enemies or propel objects into the air.
Speaking of freezing enemies, that’s done from a foam-spitting Gloo-Gun that you can acquire through the Fabrication system, a 3D printer of sorts that allows you to create items (be they tools, jet packs or space suits to get outside the station) so long as you have the relevant items and blueprints. Of course, the fact that these abilities are absorbed from enemies means, you get it, that every enemy type you encounter in the game will have a maxed version of these powers – think about it, that means that any object in any room could conceivably be an enemy, which is absolutely terrifying.
These abilities can all be combined and abused in a similar fashion to the system seen in Dishonored 2, which should make for excellent variety of play – though it’s perhaps more impressive in how it will effect the environment. Prey isn’t designed around select missions or traditional narrative structure, instead it is designed in such a way that it feels like a compartmentalised Metroidvania, encouraging you to obtain new abilities and tools and then explore areas to find new ways to progress.
BioShock in the stars then, right? That might be a bit of a stretch, though the Neo-Deco art vibes will certainly help you arrive at that conclusion. Though, truth be told, Prey is building on a variety of influences to become something quite unique and enthralling; alongside the spirit of Dishonored you’ll find systemic and mechanical iterations and innovations born out of System Shock 2, of Half-Life and even the original Prey. Arkane is stretching itself here, building a game that takes cues from some of the brightest science-fiction games of the past three decades, creating something wickedly unique in the process.
Who are the masters of the FPS? Our Trigger Happy guide to the genre has some ideas. Grab a copy for yourself.