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    dkirschner's Prey (2017) (PC)

    [May 24, 2021 09:16:37 AM]
    Prey didn't live up to my expectations. Here's what I expected: shapeshifting, mind-bending and fast-paced FPS action, maybe some portals (re: the last Prey game). What Prey is: a slower-paced immersive sim with a ton of crap to pick up and a ton of audiologs/computers/emails/notes to find. It has cool pieces, but the whole was underwhelming.

    Talos 1

    The Talos 1 space station itself is huge. There are maybe 12 areas of the station, plus you can put on a spacesuit and explore its exterior. It's a neat, well realized environment. This is perhaps best exemplified by it feeling lived in. You can, in fact, find every single person aboard the space station, and that's, according to the internet, 268 people. Most of them are dead, but they leave their traces. Although I didn't find them all, and I don't know how many I did find, I did get an achievement (unexpectedly) for reading every single email and listening to every single audiolog. So I feel like I was close! Anyway, the fact that I found all the extra narrative stuff speaks volumes about how engaging Talos 1 is.

    Search Everything for Neuromods

    The downside of this is that they had to try and make 268 people and their lives compelling enough that players would want to explore everything. Most of the side stories are fine and, after a while, you realize that the main point of them is to get neuromods. Neuromods are central to the game's story, but the short of it is they are skill points. You start the game with few of these. They seem hard to come by. You think you'll never have enough to get the many useful sounding skills in the (initially) three skill trees. But eventually you gain access to recyclers and fabricators.

    Recyclers allow you to deposit all your junk (you know, from obsessively searching trash cans, beneath stair wells, and kitchen cabinets) to convert to raw materials. Place the raw materials in a fabricator to craft items ranging from guns to ammo to other useful items. Eventually, you get a recipe to fabricate neuromods, which is obviously awesome. And they turn out to be pretty cheap, requiring one rarer ingredient that you get from killing Typhon (the alien enemies). Well, if you pump points into the skills increasing yields of exotic material, and if you choose to fight Typhon around Talos 1 instead of avoiding them, then you'll wind up with tons of neuromods. Seriously, by the end of the game, I had about 50 unspent neuromods (average skill cost is probably 4 or 5).

    Difficulty Curves

    The thing is, you simply don't need all those neuromods. You'll search high and low and spend time managing your inventory, but the game becomes quite easy as it goes on. At first, wow, Prey gave me a challenge. Each new enemy type was dangerous and scary as I scanned them and learned their strengths and weaknesses. Ammo is scarce at first and you have no psi powers for a while. I relied on sneaking up with my wrench to melee enemies--saves ammo, but risky! But once you do learn all the enemies' strengths and weaknesses and you get some basic Typhon powers (these open up three more skill trees for a total of six), you will be more efficient with ammo and you'll have all the items you need to kill anything. Even the "Nightmare," the big scary alien who occasionally surfaces to hunt you (and you can kill it or hide from it for 3 minutes and it'll go away) becomes simple to take down.

    A Dull Plateau

    What all this culminates in is a dull plateau of gameplay that persists for at least half of the game, which is long if you bother doing all the side quests (which I did). You'll be a packrat searching for stuff to convert to neuromods, which you don't really need, completing side quests for characters who aren't really that interesting, that give you more neuromods and items that you already have enough of because you are a packrat. And you'll be able to hack anything, lift the heaviest objects, repair the most difficult electronics. In short, I could go anywhere. I wound up debating whether or not to just pursue the main objective or continue with side quests just to see if there were some really cool ones. It wound up feeling very MMORPGish: go here, click that, go there, retrieve that, bring it to the NPC, follow their next instruction to go back there, search that, get your reward.

    By the time you are at this point in the game, you will be doing a lot of backtracking, whether you are doing side quests or not. You will have unlocked the exceedingly complex travel system within Talos 1 (consisting of an anti-gravity tunnel, a central elevator that doesn't work for a long time, airlocks to get to sections of the ship from outside) and you will be acutely aware of how you still have to take specific routes to get to specific places despite the myriad doors, hatches, and elevators you will have unlocked. I bet if I hadn't bothered with all those side quests, reading emails, and listening to audiologs, the game length would have been cut by 25-33% and if there was a fast travel system, it would have been cut by another 10-15%. I guess, by the end, it just felt bloated, and it went on for ever and ever. In fact, in the very last area of Talos 1 that I explored, the game tossed 4 or 5 new side quests at me. Like, I'm about to finish the game! More of these side quests!? Uuuugh!


    Okay, at the beginning, I said that I thought Prey would focus on shape-shifting. This is what I remember from the ads years ago, and promos always focused on this. There is an enemy called a Mimic and they can transform into ordinary items (coffee mugs, chairs, etc.). This is, again, central to the story, and I remember learning that the player-character could also transform into things. This sounded like great fun. In practice? Mimics (and Greater Mimics) are the first enemies you find and they are a complete gimmick! Yeah, you'll walk into a room and get jump scared by a coffee mug. It's cool, it's fun, you'll kill the Mimic in two swings of the wrench. Sometimes they'll run off and turn into something else, but whatever.

    Eventually, yes, you can turn into coffee mugs too. This is not exciting. It allows you to be a little sneaky, evading enemies as they walk past the ordinary office printer you have become. I get it. It's an immersive sim and this is a clever way to take on the stealth element. But it's just so unnecessary. You can already sneak. Enemies are not hard to kill. Maybe you want a pacifist run or something? I thought this would be more central to the gameplay, but it isn't. No enemies hide except the Mimics, the first enemies you encounter. And there's nothing else you can do with it except turn into something and sit there.


    The main story is pretty interesting and kept me engaged throughout. The choices seem fairly binary. The ending (whichever ending you get) is not the ending though. I was underwhelmed at the ending, and had it predicted since I had gotten a "secret" earlier ending that spoils the actual ending. But after the credits, Prey redeemed its narrative. It made me feel bad for wondering if I could kill a friendly NPC because I really shouldn't have done that. I was judged accordingly. Oh well!

    I'm going to try out Control next, which hopefully is not very similar to Prey. And hopefully it doesn't melt my laptop.
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    dkirschner's Prey (2017) (PC)

    Current Status: Finished playing

    GameLog started on: Friday 14 May, 2021

    GameLog closed on: Saturday 22 May, 2021

    dkirschner's opinion and rating for this game

    Feels very Bioshock. Super neat. -------- Good, but underwhelming. Other immersive sims are better.

    Rating (out of 5):starstarstarstar

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