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‘Prey’ review

'Prey' is more than a game, it's an immersive world you won't want to leave

prey review mimicswarm
‘Prey’
MSRP $59.99
“Arkane Studios’ Prey is a master class in the immersive simulation, and perhaps its breakout title for this generation of consoles.”
Pros
  • True successor to System Shock 2
  • Rich, dynamic systems
  • Taut horror
  • Story is an engrossing mystery
Cons
  • Uneven pacing
  • Difficulty spikes toward end

Good morning, Morgan Yu! Take your time to check a few emails and rifle through the drawers of your sunny studio apartment. There’s no rush: Your commute to work is an immaculately soundtracked helicopter ride through the future skyline of San Francisco. We just have to run a few quick tests to prove how wonderful you are before you can resume your very important work. Wait, something isn’t right…

[This is not my beautiful house! This is not my beautiful wife!]

“Immersion” is one of the most delicate acts in modern gaming’s repertoire — an ever-moving target, just as defined by technical criteria as it is aesthetic and experiential. Prey (2017) works really hard to bring you under its spell in its opening minutes, just so it can bring the whole thing crashing down, turning your Groundhog Day-dream into a Total Recall nightmare.

After a couple of “surprises,” you learn to walk with your wrench readied above your head.

On it’s face, Prey is a narrative-driven first-person action-horror game, but the game is, perhaps, easier to understand through its lineage: Prey’s developer Arkane Studios was founded by co-creative directors Raphael Colantonio and Harvey Smith, who had formative roles in creating Deus Ex, Half-Life 2, and the Dishonored franchise. Though the name comes by way of ID Software’s 2006 first-person shooter, the game shares no DNA with that game’s long-dormant sequel.

Prey is Arkane’s confident riff on the Immersive Simulation — a system-rich “play your way” RPG designed to empower players to shape their own narratives. Which is to say, a first-person shooter sprinkled with character progression, inventory management, and a healthy dollop of scanning other people’s’ emails for lore (and passwords), that somehow tricks us into believing in another world.

Through the Looking-Glass, and what Morgan found there

This spell is at its most powerful in the game’s opening hours. Without giving it all away, you control Morgan Yu, a scientist who winds up aboard Talos-1, a privatized space station near Earth. Before too long, it becomes clear that something horrible has happened — the station has been trashed, there are corpses on the ground and inky alien creatures running around.

While all of this information is dispensed quickly, it is surrounded by a thick haze of confusion. Right from the get-go, you are imbued with the fear and urgency of a person in imminent danger. Exploring Talos-1, teasing out the mystery of what happened in fits and starts, along with the logic of the game’s systems, is intense and intoxicating.

The game bolsters that confusion through fear: Any enemy encounter can be deadly, and pop off at any time. One of the first and most common foes you encounter aboard Talos-1 is the Mimic — a skittering, four-legged shadow that can take the form of any nearby inanimate object. After a couple of “surprises,” you learn to stalk the halls of Talos-1 with your wrench readied above your head –a paranoid, defensive posture well-merited by the extent to which this space station wants to vent you into the cold vacuum of space like a parasite.

Yet, despite the constant tension, Prey wills you forward. Like other immersive sims, the world of Talos-1 is the real star of the show: An Art Deco utopia built on the bones of a joint Soviet-American space station, its extremely detailed features convey the depth and history that compel you to scrutinize its every nook and cranny. The inter-connected world — open, but gated off by story checks and abilities  — is a stunning work of reflexive level design that would be rightly compared to Dark Souls, if it wasn’t marred by annoying loading screens between every bulkhead.

Like Rapture, Talos-1 is the real star of the show.

Once you’ve found a stray shotgun or absorbed a few alien telekinetic abilities, you’ll go from acting cautious to becoming overconfident. The station reacts to your abilities, keeping your growing power in check.

This is where the game stumbles: The first act is perfectly taut because you have to avoid combat at all costs in order to survive, but the game escalates unevenly as you progress through the station. Gaining new weapons and powers, including telekinesis and the ability to “mimic” objects like your attackers, is fun, but the second act is unexciting because you are more than capable of blasting your way through any reasonable threat. You’ll then find yourself lulled into a false sense of complacency before the game’s action-packed finale, which overcompensates by throwing swarms of robots and non-stop set pieces that will overwhelm anyone who isn’t insanely prepared. In short, the game’s difficulty is uneven.

From a wrench to a physics-based multitool

A wrench may be the first weapon you find, but your signature sidearm in Prey is undoubtedly the GLOO cannon, a physics-based multitool in the proud tradition of the Aperture Handheld Portal Device and the Zero Point Energy Field Manipulator from Half-Life. Like its predecessors, the GLOO cannon allows you to manipulate the environment and address your problems with indirect physics rather than brute force. In the GLOO cannon’s case, it shoots out balls of quick-hardening caulk that can be used to block off hallways, entomb skittering enemies, or reach new heights with improvised handholds.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Bolstering your equipment are a wide array of “neuromod” upgrades spread across six skill trees. Three are available from the beginning: broadly, Science for hacking, Engineering for crafting, and Security for combat. Once you’ve acquired the psychoscope, however, and the ability to scan alien lifeforms, you will unlock three additional trees of alien-derived skills: Energy, which confers fire and electric attacks; Morph, which gives you the ability to “mimic” objects like your enemies; and Telepathy, which gives you the ability to move objects with your mind.

The breadth and depth of skill available to you over the course of play forces you to make specific choices about what sort of protagonist you want Morgan to be: a resourceful human survivor, a telepathic alien nightmare, or something in between? The game takes great pains not to push you in any direction, gracefully accounting for all of these possibilities without moralizing or railroading the player too badly.

More than choice, Prey is a game about consequences

The range of possible builds may be partially to blame for the game’s uneven tempo — it’s tricky to balance a game around such a wide range of styles. As you enter new parts of the station you are met with new threats to match your newfound abilities, but this is nearly impossible to time perfectly when you can’t control player’ choices with those abilities. On more than one occasion we encountered insurmountable threats that could have been easily dispatched had we chosen a different loadout.

Depending on how you look at it, the issue is either Prey’s most glaring fault, or an example of its crowning achievement. More than choice, Prey is a game about consequences. Your choices help and hurt and you, often in ways you can’t predict. If the immersion — the spell Arkane’s cast — has you entranced, you’ll take it in stride.

Our Take

Despite its rushed final act, Prey is an impressive accomplishment. It’s a successor to System Shock that allows for modern conveniences without sacrificing depth. It may not have the philosophical underpinning of BioShock, but it manages to bring you to essentially the same place, questioning agency and identity, all without hammering Ayn Randian Objectivism down your throat. Prey is a game defined by its references to other games, and it has more than its fair share of game-developer humor (a golden gun, a cheekily-named protagonist, “Looking Glass” terminals). Nevertheless, the experience is immersion par excellence, justifying the extensive lineage within the genre.

Is there a better alternative?

Prey comes from a rich history of obsessively-crafted games. Students of the medium will want to go back and play through Warren Spector’s foundational work (Ultima Underworld, System Shock, Thief, and Deus Ex), but otherwise Prey is a great jumping-off point for the genre.

How long will it last?

Our first playthrough took roughly 30 hours from start to finish, with plenty of room for additional exploration, side-questing, and alternate narrative paths.

Should you buy it?

Yes. Prey is a master class in one of PC gaming’s core genres.

Editors' Recommendations

Will Fulton
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Will Fulton is a New York-based writer and theater-maker. In 2011 he co-founded mythic theater company AntiMatter Collective…
A field-of-view slider headlines Starfield’s latest update
An astronaut explores a planet's surface in Starfield.

Bethesda just released Update 1.7.36 for Starfield, and it officially added a highly requested feature: field-of-view (FOV) sliders.
Even though Starfield is a game that can be entirely played from a first-person perspective, it did not have this feature at release. Fans had to previously resort to mods to add this functionality to the game. Bethesda did promise it'd add FOV sliders to the game shortly after it launched, though, and now this feature has finally arrived. By going into the Accessibility tab of the Settings menu, players can adjust the FOV of both the first and third-person cameras on both console and PC.

This update does bring some other improvements as well, like fixing a progression-blocking issue in the Echoes of the Past quest and improving stability and performance. In particular, Bethesda claimed stability with Intel Arc GPUs will now be better for PC players. For most players, though, the FOV slider is the most important new feature included in this update.
Starfield isn't the only Bethesda game to get a notable update this month. Last week, Redfall finally received a patch that overhauled the game's encounters, tweaked its stealth system, and added a 60 fps Performance Mode. While this Starfield update isn't as large or monumental as that one, it does show Bethesda's commitment to improving Starfield and adding heavily requested features. Hopefully, updates that add things like Nvidia DLSS support, an HDR calibration menu, ultrawide monitor support, and an eat button for food aren't too far off.
Starfield is available now for PC and Xbox Series X/S.

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Major Redfall patch adds 60 fps performance mode, a stealth overhaul, and more
Redfall Cover

Xbox exclusive Redfall just got a major patch. The update adds a long-awaited 60 frames per second (fps) mode to the game, as well as a heap of quality of life upgrades and an overhaul to stealth gameplay.
Among lots of other problems, the dame infamously only ran at 30 fps at launch on Xbox Series X and S. While Arkane Studios promised a performance mode patch was in the works prior to release, it didn't arrive until today.

On October 6, Arkane Studios and Bethesda dropped Update 2 for Redfall. The most notable addition is Performance Mode, which lets players prioritize frame rate over resolution to finally get the game to run at 60 fps on consoles. Simply navigate to the Video tab within Redfall's settings menu to activate it. The patch notes for this update claim it brings improved stability on PC, in addition to solutions to memory-based crashes and AMD GPU-related graphics corruption. The update also contains some new gameplay tweaks to hopefully make the experience better.
Redfall will now encourage stealth more, as Arkane added the ability to sneak up on and do stealth takedowns on enemies and made it clearer which weapons are silenced in menus. It also added more options for players to fine-tune aim assets and dead zones while aiming, increased the number of enemies wandering the game's open world, and added unique ping colors for each player in a multiplayer squad. You can check out the full list of patch notes to see the additional tweaks and bug fixes made.
Redfall had a notoriously rocky launch this year, so it was hard for anyone outside of Microsoft to truly know whether or not improvements to the game would actually be delivered. Bethesda's Pete Hines had previously claimed it wouldn't abandon the game, and this update is our first real indication that it's true. While this isn't a Phantom Liberty-level rework for Redfall, it certainly seems like the game is now in the best condition it's been in since launch.
Redfall is available now for PC, Xbox Series X, and Xbox Series S.

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Every blockbuster reveal from the Xbox leak: new consoles, Bethesda games, and more
Xbox's logo used during the Extended Games Showcase

Unredacted documents submitted and made publicly available to view as part of the ongoing Microsoft vs. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) trial just led to what may be the biggest leak in video game history.
A flood of files have revealed deep secrets about Xbox's upcoming plans for the bulk of the decade, giving us unprecedented insight into what's on the horizon for the gaming giant. That includes information on upcoming hardware refreshes, next-gen consoles, and unannounced Bethesda titles, as well as a further peek into Microsoft's acquisition ambitions. It's a lot to trudge through, so we've rounded up five key revelations that you'll want to know.
A new Xbox Series X model is coming next year
https://twitter.com/stephentotilo/status/1704121068519133313
The most shocking thing to leak as part of the trial is a new Xbox Series X model. Referred to as "Brooklin -- Xbox Series X Refresh" in the leaked documents, this is a diskless, cylindrical version of the Xbox Series X with 2TB of internal storage, a USB-C port, and smaller technical improvements to the system's Wi-Fi, PSU, standby mode, and more. An upgraded Xbox Series S code-named Ellewood may also be in the works and released before Brooklin.
If Microsoft still follows the plan laid out in this "Roadmap to 2030" document created in May 2022, it would release Brooklin in late October 2024 for $500. If Microsoft still plans to release Brooklin next year, it does contradict recent statements from Xbox chief Phil Spencer, who acted bearish on the idea of a mid-gen refresh in Gamescom interviews. It's possible Microsoft's plans have changed since these leaked documents were made, but if not, we now know what to expect in terms of Microsoft's console refreshes.
A new Xbox controller is in the works
https://twitter.com/charlieINTEL/status/1704088621475598345
Throughout that Brooklin leak, a new version of the Xbox Series X controller is also teased. The Xbox Series X controller is great, but lacks the unique features of controllers like the DualSense or Joy-Cons, so it makes sense Microsoft would want to change that. Referred to as "Sebile -- The New Xbox Controller," this controller can seamlessly pair and connect to the cloud.
It also will feature haptic feedback, an accelerometer gyro, quieter buttons, modular thumbsticks, a rechargeable and swappable battery, and the ability to wake just by being picked up. The same road map that lists Brooklin and Ellewood's release windows says the Sebile controller will launch sometime in late May 2024 for $70.
First details on Microsoft's next-gen console leak
https://twitter.com/AR12Gaming/status/1704102055206322389
It's hard to believe we're almost already three years into this console generation and that Microsoft is planning for its next major console release, but that is the case. Unfortunately for Microsoft, its current technical ambitions for the platform were included in this leak. A leaked document states that Microsoft's ultimate goal is to "develop a next-generation hybrid game platform capable of leveraging the combined power of the client and cloud to deliver deeper immersion and entirely new classes of game experiences." 
In practice, a list of technical improvements lays out that we can expect an ARM64 CPU that balances big and little cores, a GPU co-designed with AMD, and an NPU that balances "the desire for flexible, programmable ML silicon versus high-performance silicon for targeted workloads," as well as support for better ray tracing, global illumination, micropolygon rendering, and an ML-based Super Resolution. Microsoft also mentions a "thin OS" meant for cheaper consumer and handled devices, likely to play games via the cloud.
This next-gen console is currently slated for a 2028 launch.
Several upcoming Bethesda games leak

Enough about hardware -- several upcoming Bethesda games also leaked. A document from 2020 outlining Bethesda's game road map through fiscal year 2024 includes some games we don't know about. Alongside games we know of like MachineGames' Indiana Jones project, the list also includes several code-named projects, remasters of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and Fallout 3, a GhostWire: Tokyo sequel, Doom Year Zero, and Dishonored 3.
Another document also confirmed that The Elder Scrolls VI won't launch until at least 2026. Some of these games have missed the release windows listed in the documents, so it's very possible that these dates are no longer accurate and that some may not be released at all. Still, it lays out a clear picture of what was in development at Bethesda just a few years ago and provides insight into the lineup that enticed Microsoft to purchase Bethesda in the first place. 
Microsoft considered acquiring Nintendo and Warner Bros. Interactive
https://twitter.com/tomwarren/status/1704021807341203802
A leaked email from 2020 gives some insight into Spencer's acquisition ambitions at that point. Namely, it sounds like he'd love to acquire Nintendo as it would be a "career moment" for him.
"I totally agree that Nintendo is THE prime asset for us in gaming, and today gaming is a most likely path to consumer relevance," he wrote. "I've had numerous conversations with the LT of Nintendo about tighter collaboration and feel like if any U.S. company would have a chance with Nintendo, we are probably in the best position ... At some point, getting Nintendo would be a career moment and I honestly believe a good move for both companies."
Ultimately, Spencer didn't want to do a hostile takeover of Nintendo, so he settled for playing the "long game" when it came to acquiring it. This same email also reveals that Microsoft was interested in acquiring Warner Bros. Interactive around the same time as Bethesda, although the lack of any WB IP ownership was its undoing, Spencer is also as intrigued about acquiring Valve as it was Nintendo.
It's worth noting that this email is from over three years ago, and these acquisition ambitions might have been quelled following changing economic conditions and the rocky and expensive process of acquiring Activision Blizzard. 

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