At E3 2016, Bethesda revealed something that stunned the gaming community: a trailer for an upcoming game called Prey. This reboot of the cult classic from 2006 had had a sequel in development hell since the original’s release, but the developer’s rights to the IP expired in the process, leading to Arkane Studios of Dishonored fame taking the helm.
With official demos and gameplay videos being released, however, we now have a good idea of what to expect from the much-hyped science fiction thriller. For starters, there is something oddly familiar about the setting and game mechanics of Prey: an isolated area inhabited by mutated creatures, a biological compound that can grant characters superhuman abilities, a single radio voice guiding you through the space station, and even the starting weapon being a giant wrench.
That’s right, this is highly reminiscent of both the System Shock and BioShock series. Like Dishonored 1 & 2, Prey takes clear influence from these revered franchises, and they could not have chosen a better precedent. Anyone with fond memories of the claustrophobic environments of Rapture or the genuine dread of walking around the Von Braun will find morbid nostalgic glee in the Talos 1 space station that makes up the locale of Prey.
Adding to this tense situation are the game’s main antagonists: the mimicks. Based on everything that Arkane has released, they look to be complete nightmares owing to the simple fact that they can imitate every item in the game, from chairs to barrels to even coffee mugs.
Supplementing all of this is a key feature of good horror games, and that is the sound design. The soundscape of Prey could not be any scarier: metal grates creak, hallways echo, mimicks scatter across the floor like spiders, screams of dying crewmen unexpectedly pervade corridors, and glass windows shatter amongst a plethora of frightening noises. Add on top of all this an eerie score composed by Wolfenstein and Doom composer Mick Gordon, and you have some genuine thrills erupting from the music choice alone.
Not everything, however, will be as good as it can be. For starters, Arkane partially shot themselves in the foot by releasing the literal first hour of Prey as the demo, meaning a lot of the surprises and plot twists that should have naturally occurred to potential players have been stripped away. There’s no more tension in the beginning now, which is a shame given that the opening is actually quite great with the main character getting thrown into a simulation of sorts.
Outside of that, there is another glaring issue with the game, and that is its story. As stated before, the original Prey was something of a cult classic as it was not the most successful video game, selling less than 400,000 copies. That did not stop fans from hoping that the long-awaited sequel would deliver on the promises set forth in its predecessor. Arkane’s decision to do a complete reboot over continuing off this hype may have freed them up creatively, but it also risked cutting them off from that fan base. And it, unfortunately, doesn’t help that their story decisions do not appear to be in any way imaginative. The original Prey gained notoriety for not just being an alien invasion storyline – it intermixed Native American mythology into the game environment, creating an experience that was as spiritual as it was satisfying.
The reboot’s narrative, on the other hand, seems to be a generic takeover of a spaceship by a foreign organism, something we have seen countless times in titles like Metroid Prime, Halo, Dead Space, and yes even System Shock 2.
And lastly, even though the mimics are unique enemies, their role is essentially the same as all the other organisms players have fought over the years. Without a compelling story, these exceptional creatures are reduced from being tension-inducing critters like the Alien from Alien: Isolation, to merely jump scares, and we all know how old that horror trope can get.
[Featured Image by Christian Petersen/Getty Images]